As the sun began to go down this evening, and the warm autumn day faded into a cold night, most of us will have been sat comfortably at home relaxing before the working week begins. Most of us, but not all of us.
Outside St Paul’s Cathedral a tent city has sprouted and a few hundred people are braving the cold as part of the worldwide movement that has emerged since Wall Street was occupied last month. In a much quieter part of town, tucked away from main roads and tourists another group of people are bravely fighting the cold, and Brent council, as part of a campaign to keep Kensal Rise Library open.
The occupiers outside of St Pauls are an organised bunch. Food from local supermarket bins has been sought out and spread on tables for people to share. Tarpaulins have been erected to create a media space, banners have been painted and long meetings continue to take place to draw up a list of grievances and demands. Some of the protestors are anti capitalist, some are not. One banner read ‘This is Bullshit, I want social democracy’ while another read ‘Capitalism is Crisis’. As we sat in our small group to discuss why we were there the list of grievances with the present state of the world was endless. The system is obviously broken one said, and it’s time ‘we take responsibility and fix it’.
Half an hour away and the protestors outside Kensal Rise library look rather different. Far less facial hair on the adults and far more children hang around outside the beautiful, hundred year old building opened by Mark Twain. One man asked another ‘So how is your property portfolio?’ But it isn’t just middle class parents with lots of time on their hands who care about this library closing. It was, according to one of the organisers, Paula, a great resource for unemployed people looking for work. The library is now shut and the high court has backed Brent council’s closures. But the fight for Kensal Rise Library certainly doesn’t stop there. When contractors came to board it up last week they were met with one hundred and fifty school children demanding that their library stayed open. The campaigners now have a twenty four hour vigil to ensure that the library isn’t boarded up before an appeal is launched against last week’s verdict.
In some ways these protests couldn’t be more different. One is about the systemic problems associated with free market capitalism; the other is about a place where children can read books. But, more than anything else, I was struck by the similarities. Both are being run by committed groups of people who are giving up their time to fight for something they believe in. Both are a reaction to the financial crisis and the ensuing austerity measures. Both are reflective of struggles that are happening all over the world. As one protestor outside the library said, after I told him I was off to the occupation in the city: “It’s the same fight…we’re just the thin end of the wedge”.
Both sets of protesters will be freezing cold tonight as they fight against injustice and, for their endurance and their determination, the rest of us should be incredibly grateful.