In a fascinating blog on St Paul’s and the politics of the TAZ ('temporary autonomous zones'), Luke Bretherton has given us something of the history of anarchic protest. Politics is often more protest than proposal. And protest is the acknowledgement that in acting we are taking the risk that we will become someone different, and that others will be changed too. That is part of the inherent human excitement of protest since, as with all ‘becoming’, we cannot know in advance who we will become (or what the effects of our act will eventually turn out to be).
In their protest-act, by creating a new crowded space to which some kind of response is inevitable, the St Paul’s protestors are in fact triggering change. The question is: what kind of change? For TT, wherever there is the possibility of real change, then something is at stake and Christ is there. We seek him in our crowded spaces. ‘What would Jesus do?’ is our modern way of saying ‘what does Jesus want us to do in this here and now?”. There is a real and concrete question of how our discipleship needs to be lived in the light of his presence in our crowded spaces, and particularly, from a Christian perspective, in those crowded spaces, like St Paul’s, which are deliberately created.
St Paul’s new intervention and offer to mediate between the protestors and the City of London is the right response. Christians are those who can name the present Christ in such situations of becoming and who can take measures to ensure that what people do in such ‘crowded spaces’, and the way we are all changed by our own and by others’ acts, will be as far as possible eirenic and creative.
The Church must work to ensure that we will all become better people, more human and more aware of our shared human project together, through the genuine protest-act, even if this means that we have to acknowledge our mistakes, or give ground, in the creation of mutual space. Why should this space not be used eventually as a continuing sign of legitimate social and human interests at the heart of our financial sector, moving between the necessary stage of conflict to the necessary stage of mutuality? Why should St Paul's itself not become central to a new project of exhibition and the visible presence of the broader social consensus at the heart of our global finance?
In other words, in acting from the conviction of protest, we are perhaps learning a new and fundamental way of being human in our hugely complex world. We often do not have the technical expertise to know what exactly is needed in complex situations. But we do know that the status quo is wrong and so we rebel against that in ways which make us vulnerable.
But there are multiple dangers in concerted action (that it might be a form of narcissistic or destructive attention-seeking for instance). The role of the Church may then increasingly become a very particular one. It may be to ensure that when people act from the conviction of protest, what they do can be set within Jesus’ own very radical and deeply inclusive ‘protest-act’ of total self-offering. To this, in one way or another (and like it or not), we are all still struggling to respond.