Scenes From An Occupation

09 May


London, October 2011

The Occupy London Stock Exchange movement set up camp at St Paul’s on the 15th of October 2011 after failing in an attempt to position the protest right outside the Stock Exchange building itself. Partly by chance I was there two days later.

Astonishingly, protesters had organised themselves into a society with almost all the governmental structures a fledgling civilization required. This was followed quickly by the cultural and social institutions which we take for granted in the modern world. A voting assembly established a structure for the protest through a period of debate, more than 500 people gathered outside St Paul’s on the 26th of October 2011 and ratified a 10-point statement, a framework for the occupation. This example of direct democracy would evolve as the society matured. More facets of a modern civilization became established with medical and social services, food distribution and an entertainment centre followed by a library and education through the University of OLSX.

The early days of November saw much public debate supported by workshops discussing the aims and objectives of the movement. However it was not one way traffic: vocal opposition to the camp and its ideology brought interesting and powerful responses from protesters. Although OLSX spread out to other venues none remained for long except Finsbury Square which, after being largely ignored by comparison to its parent camp, was removed on June 14th 2012 ahead of the impending Olympics.

Like all civilizations throughout history, Occupy London Stock Exchange at St Paul’s grew then diminished, in physical presence at least, and was eventually washed away by Old Guard authority and bailiffs supported by the City of London Police, themselves inevitably part of the one percent that OLSX had challenged.

Of all Occupy protests worldwide,, that at St Paul’s lasted the longest, until midnight February 28th 2012, by which time the buzz and presence of the camp had dissolved into an air of resignation to its physical fate. The original remit was a demonstration against economic inequality however, visually at least, this argument seemed to become more and more diluted as additional protests became attached, some only tenuously related but attracted by the enormous media presence during the early days of the camp.

Gone but not forgotten, OLSX may have been small in physical dimension but its occupation, along with the other sites, of the world’s media was, and continues to be, successful in keeping its message in the public eye. And that seemed to be the point. There was a historical precedent set back in 1969 by John Lennon and Yoko Ono who occupied the world’s media from their bed with a message of peace and goodwill. Gone but not forgotten.

As a documentary photographer I was immediately hooked and returned as often as possible to record development and changes. This is not a definitive critical review of the occupation; it is my view as a dispassionate observer working to preserve, in images, the first important protest of the 21st century.