When I recently spent a day in London on a long layover, I expected to wander the city taking pictures of well-known sites and generally just trying not to fall asleep on the sidewalk. I never expected to actually see people camped out on the sidewalk.

This is what I saw across the street from Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. At first all I saw were the tents, so I was very confused. A colony of tents seemed very out of place in the middle of a tourist area of London, and I wondered why they were there. Then I started looking around and noticed a variety of posters and realized these were protesters.

Some of the signs held messages about peace and messages against the war in the Middle East. Some appeared to be protesting the Iranian government. It was very powerful to see that these people were so passionate about their beliefs that they were camping outside in freezing cold temperatures. I could tell by the condition of some of the signs and tents that they had been there for quite some time. They cared deeply about spreading their messages and were making a huge sacrifice to do it.

I used to work in midtown Atlanta at a busy intersection, and every Friday a group of protesters would gather in front of the building with their signs. They were protesting the war and trying to get passers-by to “honk for peace.” But they stood outside on the corner for a couple of hours at lunchtime one day a week. I’m not sure what they ever accomplished by doing this or if they ever got the attention of anyone who could actually do anything about it.

Though I did get plenty of pictures of the nearby tourist attractions I walked over to see, I spent more time looking at the tents and reading the signs than I did admiring Westminster Abbey or Big Ben. I guess that was the point. As emotional and passionate as we get about certain issues in America, like the war in the Middle East and Afghanistan and TSA, I’ve never seen anyone here do anything quite as drastic as the protesters in London that day. Sometimes it seems like a lot of talk, or a lot of the media blowing things out of proportion, and not much action. I’m not a political person at all, and I don’t know enough about many of the issues out there to get involved in heated political debates. But I wonder if those peaceful protesters in front of my office building had done something more drastic, like camp out in front of the Georgia Capital building, would they have made more of a difference?

As I boarded my flight to Prague that evening, snow flurries floated through the air. A day or two later, London got some real snow. I thought about those urban campers and wondered if they stuck it out through the bad weather. Now, several weeks later, I’m still wondering if they’re sleeping on the sidewalk, hoping to get the attention of the right people and hoping to make a difference. When you’re so committed to something that it leads you to such drastic, and potentially dangerous and unhealthy, measures, at what point do you decide you’ve done all you can? At what point do you pack up your tent and go home to your warm bed? Does anyone in London right now know if those protesters are still out there or how long they stayed?

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16 comments on “Camping Protesters in London

  1. Caroline in the City

    I’ve seen them the last three trips I’ve taken to London (including summer 2004 and winter 2008) and I always wonder if they stay there! I guess they do!

    1. Ali Post author

      Oh wow, that is a long time! I wonder if maybe they go in shifts or something. It can’t possibly be the EXACT same people from 6 years ago!

  2. Jaime

    Very interesting post: I find my self passionate about so many things going on the world. Especially things that our government is doing that I don’t agree with. I wish I had the slightest amount of courage to do what these people are doing. I have never stood in a protest, even though it is something I wanna take part of one day.

    I admire what these people are doing and have so much respect for them. I hope all the governments of the world listen and bring all the troops home. I wish they would “Listen to the people”!!!

    1. Ali Post author

      I know what you mean. I don’t think I have the courage to do anything like that either, plus it does always seem like no one listens anyway. It would be nice to see examples of protests like this that actually worked.

  3. Andrew

    As for an example of protests that actually worked, you should be able to go to the 60’s and the civil rights movement. My history isn’t so strong, but I would expect to find something there. The point though is that they actually went about changing things, not just shouting with posters.
    I see plenty of demonstrations in Freiburg. Some I agree with some I don’t. I haven’t seen really any changes come from them. One of the things that I find odd about the protests is their singlemindedness. Ok, this is passion; but not always thought through. “Close the nuclear power station.” Ok, this means more coal and gas being burned, or windmills being built on hills. Both of which draw similar protesters. “Free university education for everyone,” is one of my local favorites. Ok, who will pay for this? And the german system is set-up so a portion of the population won’t even get the chance to go to university without a lot of struggle. The causes are good (or at least well meant), but could be perhaps fought in different more effective ways.
    Very cool post, Ali.

    1. Ali Post author

      Ok I wasn’t thinking very far back, definitely protests in the 60s that worked. And I know what you mean, I have seen plenty of protesters who may have a good point but not a good solution & both are needed to make a change. I just don’t think I’ve ever seen people camped out like this & no matter their message, it definitely shows dedication. Thanks for reading, Andy!

  4. Andi

    Do you know those protesters were there like 6 years ago in that very same spot!!! Talk about dedication!

    1. Ali Post author

      That’s crazy! They must have shifts or something. Dedication yes, but have they accomplished anything in the past 6 years?

  5. Bess

    Wow! From these comments, it sounds like the protesters never leave. I think what you said is really interesting though. It’s so hard to know if what you are doing will make a real difference, but if you find something you believe in, it’s so amazing to be able to put so much of yourself into it. I know I could use more courage in my life.

  6. Kirsty

    I came across them this summer whilst heading to some landmarks and was wondering the exact same thing, how long do they stay there. It could be quite possible that they have been there since the war in Iraq started, I know there was a lot of protesting then. It’s been -16 in london recently so I hope they are keeping warm!

    1. Ali Post author

      Wow that’s really cold! In a way I admire their persistance but at the same time I wonder what, if anything, they’ve accomplished.

  7. Emily

    I have definitely encountered these protesters in London before. I’ve also seen some just like this in Washington, D.C. More power to them for making a statement, but I’m with you–how do they do that in the cold weather?? I wonder if it actually changes minds.

    1. Ali Post author

      I know, I struggled with the cold & I was just walking around the city for a few hours. Thanks for reading my blog!

  8. LeslieTravel

    Wow- these urban campers are more hardcore than the typical backpacker. They must truly believe in this cause. That’s admirable.

    1. Ali Post author

      I didn’t think about it that way, but definitely more hardcore than most backpackers!

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