Digitally and humanly 'live' from the Occupy eviction
Well, it wasn't quite the evening, night and morning that I'd planned... but just as I was about to go to bed the news came through that the forcible eviction of the St Paul's Cathedral Occupy camp was about to happen, and everything changed.
Thanks to the simultaneous 'feed' from texts, Twitter, email and mobile phones, 24-hour rolling TV news and live webcasting (none of which existed when I started out as a journalist in 1981), it was possible to produce up-to-the-minute news stories and briefings as events unfolded - even though I'm based in Edinburgh, several hundred miles away from St Paul's.
New media and social media have played a big part in the Occupy movement and a whole variety of 'citizens awakenings' across the globe in the past 18 months. While corporate power centralises, the countervailing influence of grassroots aggregation increases enormously too.
But this is not a 'virtual' struggle. It depends and hinges upon real people and real situations: like the one unfolding outside one of the world's most famous Cathedrals in the early hours of 28 February 2012 (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/16338).
For at the opposite end of the story, among many others, were my two colleagues Jonathan Bartley and Symon Hill, both inside the police cordon - observing, reporting and joining the Ring of Prayer which was convening in the midst of a fraught situation.
In one slightly surreal moment, I found myself talking to Jon on my mobile phone, to pick up the sad story about St Paul's collusion with the forced removal of protesters (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/16340), while watching him live on BBC News!
More seriously, both Jon and Symon, who has been a co-organiser of the Ring of Prayer initiative, were violently shifted from the steps of the Cathedral while kneeling quietly in prayer. Symon was removed five times (twice while praying), sustained bruising. He was understandably shaken. "St Paul's Cathedral have behaved shamefully," he Tweeted in the immediate aftermath. "They've allowed police to drag away people peacefully praying on their steps."
More than 'allowed', it would appear from the evidence available so far. A Trespass Order was agreed, though that still raises questions about why a civil procedure has handled forcibly.
Jonathan, meanwhile, was kicked and pushed violently in the back several times as people were shoved away by the police. (Inter alia, I wonder whether those groups who sound off about supposed 'Christian persecution' in the UK will take up the issue of political and religious authorities working together to have people who are praying kicked off Cathedral steps? Or are they only concerned to support sectional privileges for those with conservative views?)
In an article last month, Giles Fraser (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/16341), who resigned as Canon Chancellor from St Paul's because he feared precisely this kind of thing happening, said: "Occupy London's eviction is a failure for the church, not the camp." He added: "The protesters [due to be] removed from the steps of St Paul's could have helped the cathedral find a compelling new narrative." Quite.
Ekklesia's primary function is as a thinktank: recently we have been working on welfare reform, rethinking economics, discrimination and equalities, community transformation and much more. A major concern for us is the transitioning of church to new forms of life in a changing, plural society where its institutions no longer 'call the shots'. That includes lessons from Occupy and other grassroots initiatives which inspire a recovery of the nonconformity of the originating 'Jesus movement'.
But what happened last night is a reminder that we do not engage in reflective, theological and collaborative research tasks from a safe distance or from a position of presumed neutrality. As our values (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/content/about/aimsandvalues.shtml) make clear, we stand in participatory location to what we comment on, report, analyse and theorise.
So right now, I'm even more admiring than usual of my colleagues. They're good and brave people who are prepared to put their bodies where their hearts and minds are.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Bartley has been on ITV's Daybreak show this morning, and Symon Hill is talking on the radio to LBC's Breakfast.
Our reporting and commentary has also been kindly picked up by Episcopal Cafe (http://tinyurl.com/74f82q4) in the USA, among other places.
News spread fast in the digital environment. It's not always comfortable or easy news, but the seeds of hope (and creative contemplation) are to be found even in the presence of brokenness.
(c) Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia.
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