Occupy London Stock Exchange are likely to be evicted from their camp near St Paul’s Cathedral, within the next few days. I am determined to be praying at the camp as the eviction happens. Along with others, I will attempt to form a ring of prayer.
Since the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of eviction last week, there have been various calls for the occupiers to leave “peacefully”. It is clear that most of the people making these calls mean that they want them to leave “passively”. But it is possible to be peaceful without being passive. Indeed, active nonviolence is an alternative to both violence and passivity.
Ever since the idea of a ring of prayer was first promoted in October, it has met with an enthusiastic welcome from both religious and non-religious supporters of the Occupy movement. It has also been criticised – sometimes constructively, sometimes with pointless aggression. Its purpose has occasionally been misunderstood.
The idea grew out of Twitter discussions in October, shortly after the cathedral’s staff closed their doors and asked the protesters to leave. The protesters were outside the cathedral only because they had been prevented from camping any closer to their real target – the London Stock Exchange. Along with many other Christians, I was angry that the cathedral’s leadership seemed to be more concerned with the inconvenience of the camp than with the damage and destruction inflicted by the City of London.
On Twitter, I said that I would pray at the camp if it was evicted. Others had expressed similar views, and a London-based Christian activist suggested a ring of prayer around the camp. I thought this was an excellent idea, and it was soon mentioned to journalists. There was coverage in the mainstream media, but the idea went quiet until the occupiers found themselves in court earlier this year. I then joined with other members of Christianity Uncut to make some basic plans for prayer at the camp at the time of eviction.
We have been overwhelmed with supportive messages about the plan. Some have also criticised us, suggesting we are being too hasty or that it will not be effective. Others have been more aggressive. Some of these are anti-religious supporters of Occupy who think we are trying to impose Christianity on them. Others are Christians opposed to Occupy who think we are supporting a dangerous extremist movement and making a mockery of prayer. Several people have accused of being naive in thinking that we will be able to form a ring of prayer around the camp in the midst of the chaos and confusion of an eviction.
The last accusation misses the point. We may not be able to form a literal ring, but that does not matter. If the police cordon off the camp, it may be that only a few people get there to pray before this happens (including, of course, those sleeping in the camp). If so, others will pray outside the cordon. Their witness will be visible to the police and the media, and some may still aim to get in the way of the bailiffs.
With regards to the other points, I should emphasise that I cannot speak on behalf of the many people planning to join the ring of prayer. Not everybody’s reasons for joining are identical. Some basic principles and guidelines are available by clicking here. I can, however, give my own reasons for joining the ring of prayer.
Firstly, by praying at the eviction we will be bearing witness to the power of God’s love and justice. This is a subtler but greater power than the powers of money and markets idolised in the City of London, or the power of violence in which bailiffs place their trust. God’s power will of course be present whatever we do. We will provide a testimony to the choice faced by all people to respond to that power.
Secondly, the camp, and the wider Occupy movement, will know that there are many Christians who support their stance. This is particularly important given the shameful actions of St Paul’s Cathedral. It is not necessary to agree with every aspect of the Occupy movement in order to stand alongside it in resisting economic injustice.
Thirdly, the ring of prayer, along with the many other acts of active nonviolence during the eviction, will give the public and the media an image of the reality of power in the situation. Pictures of people being dragged from their knees as they pray will expose the violence of the Corporation and undermine attempts to portray the Occupy movement as violent. This sort of imagery was well understood by Gandhi, who argued that active nonviolence should force the powerful to choose between two things that they don’t want. The Corporation of London do not want to leave the camp in place. Nor do they want their violent nature exposed. It is a choice with which they will soon be confronted.