Occupy London: Word of truth from 99 per cent

Over the two weeks during which the Occupy London demonstrators have camped outside St. Paul’s Cathedral, we’ve been reminded of many things. Not just of the massive and still-widening gap between rich and poor, the destructively irresponsible actions of global financial institutions, or the divisions within the Church of England. We’ve been offered a chance to reexamine our place in history.

When we think about the failures or triumphs of conscience of past individuals and societies, it becomes rather easy to tell it like it is. But the decisions of our own time are rife with the challenges of an unknown future; we have no hindsight, and the cultural context is for us to perceive and create. As the threat of a forced eviction from St. Paul’s looms, the leaders of the church and the Bishop of London will be, in turn, forced to reevaluate their own actions in siding with the Corporation of London and its financial interests. The question they must ask themselves is simple: Is this worth defending?

Yesterday, during the Sermon on the Steps outside St. Paul’s, the protesters opened their forum up to leaders of diverse faiths who shared messages of solidarity. And the most important parts of those sermons were not the support they gave, but the tales of history they recalled. Whether it was recollections of past actions of the Church on the side of human rights, or teachings based on biblical stories, each one helped to define a sense context for this movement. It is one of genuine change, of an oft-stifled voice that needs to be heard. That voice, whether it recalls Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus, or a student seeking a brighter future, is worth defending.


During his public appearance outside St. Paul’s this morning, the Dean of the cathedral, Right Rev Graeme Knowles, told the protesters that he no longer supports them because their movement must be based on “more than just slogans”. Dr. Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, was slightly more supportive in his own speech, but also made it clear that he would not side with the protesters. After stating that he would return for more questions and discussions, left the premises.

There is thus a line of rather deluded thinking, clearly accepted by the Dean and his church, that goes like this: Since Occupy London consists of a bunch of sign-waving rabble-rousers with no concrete solutions for the ills of society, the protesters should be glad that they’ve been given the right to congregate for so long, leave quietly, and, as Knowles wrote last week, “recognise that their voice has been legitimately heard”. What the Dean fails to understand is that by trivialising the movement, and by ignoring the people and thinking only of the signs they carry, he is attempting to remove them from history. That is not his right. It is also, at this point, impossible.

The thousands of pounds in donations and the thousands of individuals who have flocked to take part in Occupy London should remind the Church where the voice of the people lies. It does not reside in slogans; it resides in the open forum they have created in order to address one of the great injustices facing humanity today. It does not come from a wish to be heard, it comes from a right to be heard.

The truth about corruption, greed, and capitalism’s attack on democracy is one that must be addressed – not only by protesters, but by the authorities themselves. Clearing away this congregation, a site of democracy in action and a place to search for those answers, would do but one service: it would tell us that the spirit of human rights movements of the past is not strong enough, or real enough, within us today, or within those who claim to protect and support the people of this country. It would be a shame.

So when the Dean and the Bishop think about calling on the police to beat Occupy London into submission, they shouldn’t think about what Jesus would do. They should about think what they should do, and about what the way in which both of them will one day be seen through the lens of history. Is the truth worth defending?

They should remember the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, which speak through time eternal.

“One word of truth outweighs the whole world.”

(Photos by Sam Spokony)