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A social face-off sounds imminent

world Updated: Oct 29, 2011 22:52 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar
Dipankar De Sarkar
Hindustan Times
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When David from the elite City of London School, where pupils pay £12,267 (around R10 lakh) in annual fees, stopped by at Occupy London on his way home last week he couldn't have imagined the excitement he was about to cause.

As David and his classmate Sam, both dressed smartly in suit and tie, made their way past the tents that now cover the small square outside St Paul's Cathedral, they asked an activist: "So, what do you guys want?"

A melee of activists surrounded the two 17-year-olds to engage in a heated debate, before amused, unarmed police officers moved in from the shadows. "In our economy, some will fail," David pronounced, calmly. "If you are thrown out of a job, you just have to try harder to get another one," prompting howls of protest. "Watch these boys," shouted a man his 50s. "They will be cabinet ministers one day." In fact, David wants to join the army and Sam the reviled world of finance.

Occupy London has set up in the heart of the city's financial district and rubs shoulders with the London Stock Exchange. Men in suits scurry past the activists every minute of the day and some look exasperated.

Is history being made once more by the great unwashed of the world's financial capital? If the answer to that question is less than unequivocal, it may be because there are no great unwashed at St Peter's. Reportedly, the square empties in the evenings when activists return home - for a hot bath.

But during the day, Occupy London throbs with life and, even, the thrill of looming confrontation. Every day, there's a General Assembly, where activists hear from Working Groups and adopt statements after discussions. Food and drink are in plentiful supply, owing apparently to the largesse of local businesses. There's a measure of goodwill for the Occupiers of the 200-tent encampment. But the patience of authorities is running thin. The Mayor, the City of London Corporation and the clergy that runs St Paul's have all urged an end. The Cathedral has had to shut its doors for the longest period since the Blitz, and is counting the losses from having to shut out tourists.

Activists, however, want to occupy the piazza for as long as possible -they are angry about the government's decision to cut £81 billion from the public sector by 2015, involving up to half a million job losses. A face-off seems imminent.

Everyone has one question for HT: 'What's happening in India?' And some have answers. "The anti-corruption movement in India may be seen as a part of this global movement," said Joe Spence, 23, who spent two years working with an NGO in Rajasthan. "Moral corruption and financial corruption are two sides of the same coin."