London protesters open ‘bank of ideas’
Anti-capitalist activists formally opened their third London site Saturday, in a ceremony marking the transformation of a building owned by Swiss financial giant UBS into a “bank of ideas”.
Three-year-old Hali and grandmother Tina Rothery cut a red ribbon, cheered by activists from the Occupy London Stock Exchange Movement and under a shower of confetti made from shredded copies of the Financial Times.
“This is a space where everyone is welcome, a place where you can be part of making a real democracy,” said Rothery.
“This is where it starts.”
The group, which set up its first camp in London a month ago, occupied the disused office block in the Hackney area of east London on Friday and have been busily fitting it out as a community centre.
Around 50 people worked to set up a conference room, an operations room filled with computers and other technical gear, and even a creche for activists’ children.
The London protesters, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators in New York, also have sites outside St Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of the financial district and in Finsbury Square, near some major banks.
In their latest move, the London protesters are following the example of the “Indignados” movement in Spain which has taken over a derelict hotel in Madrid to house homeless people or those whose homes have been repossessed.
The protests have captured much media attention, but commentators note it is more an expression of anger at the gulf between rich and poor than a movement with coherent political aims.
Occupy hopes the “bank of ideas” might be a step towards changing that.
Lucy, a spokeswoman for the group, said they had made some tentative moves into the political arena, such as backing a November 30 public sector strike and a tax on financial transactions.
But the 33-year-old, who did not want to give her surname, acknowledged it might be more difficult formulating the group’s own proposals.
“Lots of people have not been in politics before,” she said.
“It’s going to take some time.”
The activists’ dream of a democratic collective may however be short-lived if authorities follow the example at St Paul’s, where the local authority has served eviction notices to activists and plans to take legal action.
The St Paul’s activists have pledged to fight the attempt to move them.
And UBS said on Friday it would take “appropriate action” over the Hackney occupation, and three police cars were stationed outside the building on Saturday.