- It was supposed to be a protest against the evils of capitalism, among other things, but the St Paul’s Cathedral campers have been spending as much of their time on their own economic affairs as on the global financial system.
- It was on Tuesday evening, after the campers had gathered for a meeting about money in their unofficial conference space, a Starbucks, that the equal people first came to blows with those who, to some minds, are more equal than others.
- While some Occupy London demonstrators cradled cappuccinos and others drank nothing because they considered the coffee house to be a “symbol of capitalism”, heated exchanges took place over the state of the financial system — the one within the campsite.
- The self-appointed finance committee, angry voices among the protesters have since claimed, had turned into an all-powerful and unaccountable force comparable to the ruling elite in George Orwell’s political satire Animal Farm.
- Yesterday, amid a growing row over transparency and allocation of funds, the committee, which consists of between four and six people, stood down en masse. One of its key members, Tess Jones, 25, from New York, said, however, that she would stay on and help to form an interim committee after receiving a vote of confidence.
- During Tuesday’s meeting, the camp’s first aid team and “tranquillity” team, which is responsible for welfare and night patrols, had asked the committee for £1,200 to buy equipment including walkie-talkies and trauma kits for treating stab and gunshot wounds.
- The request came after what protesters described as threats and safety concerns at the site. The committee was accused of dithering and withholding money, putting campers at risk. It was claimed that it reduced funds for food, while other working groups such as the technology tent were able to buy expensive equipment.
- Last week, the committee said that a drop in donations meant that it would have to be “stricter” about funding. The camp’s bank balance was £12,000, Ms Jones said yesterday, including £8,000 in an account held by the London Camp for Climate Change and £4,000 cash in a secure location off site. She added that about £25,000 has been donated to the camp by well-wishers since it formed seven weeks ago.
- As tensions rose at the meeting, Ms Jones was implicitly accused of using the donations to fund flights to New York, prompting her to storm out in exasperation at the “wild rumours”. The first aiders and the tranquillity group stood down in protest at their treatment by the “elitist” committee, though both have since reformed.
- Yesterday, Ms Jones, who did a master’s degree in sociology at the London School of Economics, said that the allegation was completely untrue and that she and her mother had paid for the flights in question. After The Times was contacted by a whistleblower and made inquiries, the committee announced its disbandment.
- Ms Jones said: “We had a public meeting, and there was support and faith in the finance group. We decided that the working group will no longer be doing the finances . . . We are now trying to move forward, and deal with rumours and negativity.”
- She said that the maximum balance ever held by the camp was £17,000, but an anonymous whistleblower said: “About two weeks ago we had £21,000 in donations and there must have been more now but they said there would be no more money for the food tent or the tranquillity tent and that the legal team couldn’t use taxis or buy stationery.
- “We want to know where all the money has gone. The people who made the donations thought it was going to feed us but one younger mother has had to leave because they said there was not enough food.
- “It is becoming a nightmare and people are starting to leave. It is becoming intimidating. If you don’t agree with what the leaders say they shout at you and can be quite aggressive. We are now being ruled by an elite inner circle. They are telling us what to think.”
- She said the two main leaders were two veteran anarchists in their 40s or 50s, and three people in their 20s. “Paul [in his 40s or 50s] has written a charter which gives all the power to a tiny group of people,” she added. “We are all calling it the Animal Farm manifesto. They are always smartly dressed. I don’t know how they manage it when we are all camping, and they go off and have these secret meetings at Starbucks. A small number have decided they are more equal and are controlling the rest of us.”
a guest Dec 2nd, 2011 288 Never
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