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When Occupy's lights turn off, the rich will stop dissing the rich

The Occupy London camp area outside St. Paul's Cathedral in London. The rich are rushing to show their solidarity with the Occupy movement by scuttling as quickly as possible away from the other rich.

Sang Tan/Associated Press

It seems that Jay-Z, esteemed rapper and celebrity husband (estimated net worth, according to Forbes magazine: $450-million) is going to show his solidarity with the social-justice aims of the Occupy movement by selling T-shirts that proclaim "Occupy All Streets." Really, all streets? Even the one where he and Beyoncé live, in their bungalow with a Toyota in the driveway?

According to a report in Business Insider, Jay-Z's company, Rocawear, has "not made an official commitment to monetarily support the movement." So he'll sell the revolutionary message, but not fund the revolution.

This has been a banner week for the über-rich to show their solidarity with Occupy by scuttling as quickly as possible away from the other über-rich. Celebrity chef and wearer of supremely ugly shoes Mario Batali created a firestorm when he suggested, at a panel to discuss who should be Time Magazine's person of the year, that bankers were analogous in their actions to Hitler and Stalin. If those dictators – "evil guys," as he put it – could be Time's choices in years past, why not the new evil guys, this amorphous crew known as "bankers?"

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Oh, except those are the very people he's been feeding for years at his New York restaurants, such as Babbo. There you can have the white truffle tasting menu for $144 but, if you're feeling skint, the squab only costs $34. Although, the last time I checked, a squab was just a pigeon in a fancy coat.

Now the bankers are biting the hand that used to feed them, and some are boycotting Batali's restaurant. (He has since apologized for, and backtracked from, his comments, perhaps because he's contemplating an Everest of rotting truffles.)

It gets better: Roseanne Barr, who once played a poor person on television, has been a vocal supporter of the Occupy movements, and has suggested the return of the guillotine for anyone whose worth is above $100-million, and for greedy bankers in general.

I gather from the preceding that all these celebrities keep their money in holey socks under the bed, and none of them has any investments, or owns shares in any company, and they all pay precisely their fair share of taxes, which they calculate on an abacus while eating bowls of cold porridge.

Now, I'm as opposed to income inequality as anyone. I support the Occupy movement's aims, or at least what I think are its aims. I too believe the financial industry could use a good spanking, if I wasn't worried it would enjoy that too much. But surely the answer does not lie with a comedienne advocating mass murder or a pasta pusher deciding that working for a bank is akin to committing genocide.

You know you're in trouble when it's chic for the rich to diss the rich. I can't decide if it's more like Winston Smith in 1984 ("Do it to Julia!") or Danny the drug dealer, mourning the co-opting of radical ideals in the film Withnail & I: "They're selling hippie wigs in Woolworths, man."

Down at the Occupy London camp outside St. Paul's Cathedral, you won't find many people who can afford dinner at Babbo. You will find people who are there because they've got grievances about the way the express train we've been riding for a decade has come off the rails. I didn't see any celebrities or champagne socialists, but I did meet Ashley Bignall, a 30-year-old from South London who's upset about cuts to local services, including libraries. He set up the camp's library, cheekily named Starbooks, where donated paperback thrillers are in rather higher demand than the selection of Malcolm Gladwell books. "David Cameron always talks about the Big Society," he says, mentioning the British Prime Minister's pet project for encouraging civic spirit. "But this is the real Big Society, all of us looking out for each other." A set painter named Aaron admits his friends are laughing at him for camping out on the freezing cobblestones. "But it doesn't matter," he says with the conviction of a 20-year-old, "this is a global awakening."

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Nearby is Seth Winter, 63, sitting with his dog Cochise. He lives on a disability pension that's being cut. He came down to check out the camp shortly after it began on Oct. 15 and decided to stay. "This has grown into something bigger than we imagined," he said. "It started as a march, now it's an international movement."

After a bitter battle with the officials who run St. Paul's, the protesters won their battle to stay until Christmas. This makes them more fortunate than some of the Canadian Occupy movements, which are in danger of being uprooted.

At some point, the tents will be gone, although the issues will remain. The lights will shut off, the cameras will disappear and celebrities will find there's a cozy hospitality suite where they'd rather be.

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About the Author
Columnist and Feature Writer

Elizabeth Renzetti has worked at The Globe and Mail as a columnist, reporter, and editor of the Books and Review sections. From 2003 to 2012, she was a member of the Globe's London-based European bureau. Her Saturday column is published on page A2 of the news section, and her features appear regularly in Focus. More

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