London Protests: More Fun Than Violent

One newspaper called him the "Great Britain's most dangerous man," because he has been fighting the "system" he abhors for decades. His autobiography is titled "Bash the Rich," and the newspaper he founded is called Class War.

Ian Bone, 61, has wanted revolution so much and for so long that, on this sunny morning, the last thing he wants to do is chat. Trembling with excitement, he says: "No time, no time, man. There's so much going on, the revolution, you understand."

Revolution is a word that will be uttered again and again in the coming hours. The younger protestors say it nonchalantly, the older ones rave about it, and some, like London anthropology professor Chris Knight, wear it on their sleeve. "This is no demonstration, it's the revolution," Knight announces, his face painted white and his mouth blood-red. With his black top hat, suit and cape, Knight is a dead ringer for Count Dracula. But then his cell phone rings and he reaches into his pocket to retrieve it.

The first doubts as to whether the masses will indeed rise up in revolution begin to emerge during the morning hours. It is 10:30 a.m. at the London Bridge, and in 30 minutes one of the four protest marches will begin heading toward the Bank of England. So far, there are an estimated two journalists for each of the roughly 50 demonstrators. There are cameras, microphones and curious young faces everywhere. Angry retirees, deprived of the fruits of their labor by unscrupulous investment advisers, are nowhere to be seen.

Later in the day, the large demonstration on "Financial Fools' Day," as protestors are calling it, remains little more than a happening for cheerful and well-behaved young people. They want to "take a stand," make their "voices heard" and "finally do something." The middle-class kids demonstrating in London may be saying that they are furious, angry and upset, that they feel let down, treated unfairly and even exploited, but they are smiling, joking and making music at the same time. Their marching band plays the song "Tequila:" Dadapdadadadadapdap. The crowd roars.

Of course, there are a few crazy, flipped out and drunk demonstrators in this crowd in front of the Bank of England, which the London police estimates at 4,000. A small group of hooded protestors dressed in black even wants to "finally see some action, some riots, that's what we came here for," according to their leader, who introduces himself as "Jeff." But the opportunities are few and far between. The streets have been cleaned of every possible projectile, even wads of chewing gum.

And then there are the police officers, supposedly thousands of them, looking oversized and threatening in their riot gear, backed up by helicopters and other officers on horseback. They have quickly sealed off the square in front of the Bank of England, allowing no one to enter or exit the area. The colorful group of protestors, surrounded by police, suddenly has no place to go. What next?

What happens after that is precisely what the television stations will broadcast in endless loops from then on. Some of the demonstrators begin scuffling with police, leading to pushing, cursing and blows in the streets. Protestors are taken away from time to time, but the number of arrests the police will later report is small, a mere 20. Neither of the two sides seems overly violent. In fact, there is probably more violence in the parking lot after some German regional-league football matches.

Given this overall lack of violence, a relatively harmless attack on the global financial system is enough to attract at least some attention. In the afternoon, a demonstrator smashes the front window at a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland and is quickly surrounded by cameramen and photographers. After that, hooded protestors allegedly storm into the bank and spray-paint the word "thieves" on the wall. But that is about the extent of the excitement.

The feared attacks on bank employees also failed to materialize. The London Chamber of Commerce had recommended that employees who work in the financial district avoid wearing suits and ties or, in the case of the women, business outfits and high-heeled shoes. Many complied with the recommendation. A few businesses also boarded up their windows or hired determined-looking men with very short haircuts to stand guard. "There is a strange mood in the neighborhood," says equity trader Jeremy Batstone-Carr. But is it a revolution?

"This crisis is abstract and complex," says Alexis Passadakis, a spokesman for the anti-globalization group Attac, who made the almost 20-hour bus trip from Berlin to London with two friends. According to Passadakis, the lack of a clear target of individuals who could be held accountable for the crisis has made it difficult to drum up large numbers of protestors. "Perhaps that will still change," he says.

But one thing is already clear on this afternoon. As Passadakis puts it, "the system won't be overthrown."

Translated from German by Christopher Sultan

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.