Protesters have set up a tent city in the shadow of St Paul's Cathedral in London
Demonstration inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States
Activists are calling for a completely new financial and political system
Demonstrators say they will stay at the site until their demands are met
On the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, tourists gaze out over a tent city within the City, an impromptu encampment in the shadow of one of London’s most enduring landmarks.
Below, the colorful canvas of more than 150 temporary shelters fills the gray sidewalk, and bright posters and banners festoon the statue of Queen Anne.
Hundreds of protesters began camping out near the cathedral on Saturday, after their attempts to occupy the London Stock Exchange failed.
Like many others which have demonstrated across the world in recent days, the group was inspired by the actions of the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States, which took to the streets of New York more than a month ago.
The London collective was given a boost on Sunday when Giles Fraser, Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, welcomed the protesters to the church grounds, after police blocked them from entering neighboring Paternoster Square.
The police are still here – their vans line up alongside London’s famous red double-decker buses in a nearby street. The officers inside are poised for action, but the peaceful nature of the protests so far means they have little to do but watch.
Finance workers in sharp suits wander past the protests, staring – some bemused, others amused – at the makeshift campsite which has sprung up in recent days.
Others ignore the flyers, placards and protesters as they hurry along, apparently assuming the fuss is nothing but a flash in the pan – something those camped out are keen to disprove.
“We’re staying forever,” insists Bryn Phillips. “We’re staying until the rector says we have to go, and he says we can stay, so we’re staying until our demands are met.”
Asked what those demands are, Phillips reels off a list which veers from the idealistic to the jokey, which his friend, artist and fellow protester Laura May, says “sounds like a Christmas wish list” – and which suggests the campers may be here until well into the new year.
“We’re a solidarity movement. We want to replace the G7 with the G-seven-billion, we want a global democracy: Government by the people, for the people, not by governments acting for the big banks,” he says.
Historian Farhan Rasheed, who has been part of the protests since Saturday, and camped out at the site overnight, told CNN he was taking action to call for a new financial system.
“It’s not that the system is broken – it’s going on exactly as it is supposed to: People buy, buy, buy, until they have homes full of stuff and no money, so they stop buying, sales go down, companies get into trouble and the economy crashes – it happened in the 1990s, in the 1980s, in the 1970s. It’s happening now, and it’s going to get worse.
“The system needs to change. We need to focus not on big profits, not on the headline figures, but on what they mean to people’s lives.
“I work in schools, and the kids are terrified – they really don’t like the generation above, they think ‘You’ve screwed us.’ They are left with no opportunities, but they are the ones who are having to pick up the costs.
“It is manifestly unfair, but the mood seems to be changing. This morning we greeted the people coming to work at the Stock Exchange, and there were lots of people saying “We’re with you.”“
“We are part of a global movement of people who are fed up with the current system,” says session musician and builder James Banks, who traveled from his home in Birmingham to take part in the protests.
“We have a sickening feeling in our stomach at the way things are, and at the way humans are enslaved.”
Banks plans to stay at the camp for at least a week, and says he has been pleasantly surprised by the reactions of passers-by to the camp.
“There is a real atmosphere of fun and of camaraderie not just between us, but between us and the public. There’s been hardly any hostility, people have been donating food – one guy told me “I just wish I had the balls to do this.”“
German tourist Anja Kloos, who stopped by the tent village after visiting St Paul’s Cathedral with her family, said she was impressed by the protests.
“I know England has been badly hit by the economic crisis, and people here have lost their jobs, so I think it’s great that people have come out onto the streets.
“It is becoming a global thing, thanks to the internet and YouTube and Facebook – and it is in America too, though they aren’t so famous for demonstrating – we’re normally better at it in Germany.”
Not everyone is so positive.
“They’ve obviously got a lot of time on their hands,” says one city worker, dismissively. “I don’t think a lot of it, but at least they’re peaceful.”
“I’m just amused by it really,” says another, who has been watching the protesters discussions. “They’ve got nothing better to do, I suppose.”
But 71-year-old retiree David Norman told CNN that taking part in the protests was a question of ethics, saying that protesters across the globe were calling world governments to account.
“The U.S. started this, and now it’s gone global, to more than 80 countries. God bless America for that! But get your act together, for goodness sake, or else the people will make you.”