London moves to evict protestors near St. Paul's Cathedral

By Matthew Davies
Posted Nov 17, 2011

[Episcopal News Service] Protestors around the world joined those in New York and other parts of the United States who marched and demonstrated on Nov. 17 in a Global Action Day marking the two-month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Morning livestream video views of Wall Street marchers ran beside views of marchers in Greece. The OWS website listed plans for university student strikes in Spain, Belgium and Germany, and “spontaneous solidarity actions in Tokyo.”

Begun Sept. 17 and inspired by the Arab Spring movement, OWS protests against greed and economic inequality have spread to more than 2,400 locations across the country and around the world. Recent days have seen police in many locations working to oust encampments of protesters, from New York to Portland, Oregon, to Halifax in Ontario, Canada.

In England, the City of London Corp. on Nov. 17 proceeded with eviction notices for protestors camped on the land it owns surrounding the precincts of St. Paul’s Cathedral, giving them until 6 p.m. (1 p.m. EDT) to clear the “public highways” or face legal action. The protestors have said they have no intention of moving from the site.

Cathedral officials initially supported legal measures to clear protestors, but following widespread criticism – resulting in two senior clergy resigning – agreed to suspend such action.

“We are committed to maintaining St. Paul’s as a sacred space in the heart of London,” cathedral officials said in a Nov. 16 statement. “We recognize the local authority’s statutory right to proceed with the action it has. We have always desired a peaceful resolution, and the canons [cathedral clergy] will continue to hold regular meetings with representatives of the protesters.”

Responding to a similar encampment some 170 miles north outside Sheffield (Anglican) Cathedral, whose motto is “a place for all people,” the Very Rev. Peter Bradley, dean, has said protestors do not have the cathedral’s permission to use the churchyard.

“The cathedral does, however, respect the protestors’ right to make their voice heard. Some of what they are saying is very important,” Bradley said in a statement posted on the cathedral website.

But Occupy Sheffield protestors have expressed disappointment “that the cathedral seem[s] intent to continue along an obstreperous and obstructive path, rather than embrace this opportunity to reaffirm the commitment of the church to its core doctrine of seeking a … just society through courage, dialogue and action.”

Meanwhile, a further 250 miles north in Edinburgh, Scotland, city officials seem more tolerant of the Occupy protestors, and the Scottish Episcopal Church has expressed its support.

The Most Rev. David Chillingworth, primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and the Very Rev. John Armes, dean of the Diocese of Edinburgh, recently met with members of Occupy Edinburgh camped in the city center’s St. Andrew’s Square.

“As a church, we try to build relationships and engage in dialogue in every part of our society. This visit was part of that developing picture,” Chillingworth said in a Nov. 15 statement. “For us as representatives of a church, it was both challenging and encouraging to find how quickly those we met wanted to discuss ‘what the Bible says’ and what we believe about issues such as justice and equality.”

Members of the Occupy Edinburgh encampment believe that they are modeling a better society – “a community of sharing and one where leadership is based on service rather than hierarchy,” Chillingworth said.

“Our church must continue to be involved in debate about the better ordering of our society — particularly when so many aspects of our financial system seem to be failing. We look forward to continuing contact with the members of the Occupy encampment — as we also look forward to contact with those who are involved in our political and financial life at every level.”

The Edinburgh protestors said in a Nov. 16 statement that they’d had “a communicative and productive relationship with our neighbors [and the] police.”

The statement described the Nov. 15 New York evictions of campers at the birthplace of the movement as an example of suppressing those who stand up for the voiceless and the vulnerable. “However, we know that the clearance of Zuccotti Park will end neither Occupy Wall Street, nor the global Occupy movement,” the Edinburgh protestors said. “Parks can be cleared. Nonviolent protesters can be arrested. But no one can evict an idea.”

— Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.