An Occupy London rally at the gates of Victoria Park turned into a march to City Hall on Saturday afternoon, with the crowd of about 200 demonstrators demanding the resignation of Mayor Joe Fontana.
The march left Victoria Park at around 3 p.m., taking up the southbound lanes of Richmond Street and defying police requests to stay off the street. They marched to King Street, where they turned east and headed up Wellington Street towards City Hall, all the while chanting slogans including “Hey hey, ho ho, Joe Fontana has got to go.” The march then returned to Richmond and travelled east on Oxford to Wellington Street, where they turned around, returning to Victoria Park at around 4 p.m.
While the march remained mostly peaceful, Dennis Rivest, media relations officer for the London Police Service, said that one 21-year-old man was arrested for assaulting police.
The rally was held to protest city council’s decision to evict the Occupy encampment in Victoria Park on Tuesday night, which had been there for several weeks.
Before the march began, the crowd heard a series of short speeches from representatives from the London and District Labour Council, the Canadian Auto Workers’ Union and from Western professor David Heap, who was met with cheers. Heap was recently detained in Israel after attempting to enter Gaza by boat.
One speaker read off a list of demands from the previous night’s general assembly, which included “the immediate return of all tents and supplies police have taken from the Occupation site, an apology and financial compensation from the city for the eviction [...] and the removal of all other policies which interfere with peaceful assemblies in public parks.”
Council’s decision to evict the occupation was made behind closed doors, drawing criticism from the movement’s supporters.
Oliver Hobson was present at the Occupy encampment before it was evicted and was one of a handful of protesters making announcements to the crowd via megaphone on Saturday, but denied being an organizer of the rally. “There’s no leadership in relation to this movement. People are getting together because they have had enough of leaders,” he said. “We’ve had them in City Hall pulling tricks with their in camera meetings and their deviousness. One of the reasons why we’re here is because of the leadership that we’ve had in our official institutions.”
Demonstrators represented a variety of causes and demographics, ranging from Western students to senior citizens. While some were specifically concerned with demanding Fontana’s resignation, some were there to show solidarity with the American Occupy movement, and others to support Heap.
“I’m present at Occupy London first and foremost for solidarity with the global movement,” Jordan Coop, a third-year media theory and production student, said. “The criticisms that Occupy London lacks direction are misguided, mostly because [Occupy London] is not necessarily about the financial institutions which have run rampant in the United States, but rather just a sense of inequality […] These people have something worth saying, and to discredit that by saying they don’t have direction is out of touch.”
Not all occupiers were supportive of the march. Eric Sheppard, one of Occupy London’s original organizers, announced the end of his support for the course of the movement in an open letter posted to the Occupy London Facebook group on Sunday night.
“Our safe space has been repeatedly and unrepentantly violated by individuals and groups within and from outside the movement. Positivity and mutual support have given way to personal attacks and petty bickering,” Sheppard wrote. “As well, I fear that the group’s consensus about our intended direction is not compatible with my goals. I wish to see positive social change in the world: an overhaul to the way that we do democracy, and progress toward solutions to the problems that we can all see. Instead, Occupy London is pre-occupied with anger and pettiness.”
Despite reports of infighting, most protesters appeared undeterred on Saturday, with some calling for the re-establishment of the tent city. However, Rivest warned that police would not tolerate this. “The protestors have been told that they are not allowed to set up any tents in Victoria Park whatsoever, and they were also advised that they can only occupy the park between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. And we will hold to that bylaw,” he said.