As the clock of St Paul's Cathedral struck 4am on Tuesday morning and bailiffs took a chainsaw to the last remnants of Occupy London’s protest camp, Shimri Zameret fought back exhaustion to declare that the movement had unfinished business.
For the 27-year-old Israeli activist who was present for the final moments of both the St Paul’s occupation and the original Occupy Wall St camp in New York, the protesters’ work will not be done until banks, credit rating agencies and financial markets are subject to “democratic control”.
“My friends who are looking for a job still don’t have a job,” said Mr Zameret, beside a cordon of the riot police who deployed to St Paul’s late on Monday night to bring a tearful end to the worldwide movement’s longest-running occupation.
During four months in the shadow of Sir Christopher Wren’s 17th century masterpiece, Occupy activists attracted admiration and ridicule.
Spurred by the readiness of mainstream politicians – among them David Cameron, the prime minister – to move on to their rhetorical turf, protesters vowed to sustain their efforts.
Another “global day of action” – like October 15, when the movement spread from Manhattan to cities worldwide – is planned for May. But it is unclear what the legacy of the St Paul’s occupation will be.
The movement’s hallmark has been its diversity. Drawing in first-time activists alongside life-long agitators and combative anarchists, it has set itself apart from the anti-globalisation and environmental campaigns.
That means Occupy lacks the focus of other movements. It has preferred a broad critique of the economic order, from spending cuts with bank bail-outs to widening income inequality, the infelicities of the tax system and the power of corporate lobbyists.
While the occupation has caused ructions in the Church, other neighbours were ambivalent.
“It seems overdue,” John Sellars, 48, an IT worker in a nearby bank, said of the eviction. “Most people in the City weren’t saying negative things about them – some of their ideas were very interesting – but if you present your arguments from tents no one is going to listen.”
But the movement has inspired parts of a generation that thinks itself saddled by financial, environmental and social debts of profligate parents.
Many activists feel common cause with Arab youths who rose up to topple autocrats and the Spanish indignados outraged by an elite’s response to the sovereign debt crisis.
They say its structure – a leaderless “horizontal network” organised as much by social media as tent cities – let it evolve even before the City of London Corporation sent in the bailiffs. “It feels as if, like a mountain stream that disappeared from sight, the same excess of democracy, with its springs in the 1960s and 1970s, is bubbling up again,” Hilary Wainwright, co-editor of the leftwing magazine Red Pepper, wrote last week.
Mr Zameret says he hopes 2012 will reawaken the spirit of 1968, when opposition to the Vietnam war and repression fused with demands for civil liberties and women’s rights to spark worldwide protests.
He and his fellow activists find truth in Occupy London’s latest slogan: “You can’t evict an idea whose time has come.”
Additional reporting by James Pickford
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