marchers and drummers walk on the street

protester march on street

Over a thousand people marched from the camp at St. James Park through downtown Toronto to Nathan Phillips Square on Saturday, one week after the beginning of the Occupy Toronto protest.

“I think it’s really exciting and I’m really glad to see this big mobilization today,” said activist and researcher Emily Paradis, accompanied by her teenage son and his friend.

After a week and extensive media coverage, it was still unclear whether Occupy Toronto would be able to maintain the public’s attention.

“I was [at St. James Park] in the middle of the week on a night when it was just pouring rain and it just felt like this very small band of incredibly brave people camping in the freezing cold and the pouring rain,” said Paradis. “I didn’t want them to feel isolated or like an island, so it’s nice to see this big mobilization today.”

Protesters gathered at St. James Park in the early afternoon before marching through Toronto’s financial district on the way Nathan Phillips Square outside Toronto’s city hall.

people gathered in a park

Drums and chants of “This is what democracy looks like!” echoed as marchers streamed into the square shortly after 3 p.m.

As has become typical of the Occupy protest movements, the Occupy Toronto rally brought together people representing a wide range of issues including student debt, unemployment, native rights, environmental protection, housing, sexual and gender diversity and war.

The movement has brought the divergent groups under one umbrella against increasing income inequality and what is perceived as undue corporate influence in politics.

marchers and drummers walk on the street

Speakers at the rally included representatives of the First Nations delegation, two unions, a social housing advocacy group and an anti-poverty group as well as author and activist Michele Landsberg.   Organizers also announced that a sign-up sheet for speakers at future events would be made available.

The rally took on a more political tone than the movement’s first assembly one week earlier with some speakers criticizing the Conservative government and calling for change at the next federal election.

Meanwhile, Mike Roy of Occupy Toronto’s media team transmitted the rally over the group’s live online video stream. “We’ve been able to access mobile points and broadcast live to people all over the world,” said Roy.

Roy also talked about the state of the movement one week in. “I’ve been down there since day one and every time I wake up in the morning there’s another ten or twenty tents so it keeps getting bigger and bigger even though the weather keeps getting crumbier and crumbier,” he said.

a map on a piece of cardboard hangs on a tree

NDP Member of Parliament Olivia Chow rolled into the square on her bicycle. “The organization is tighter, it’s growing and I think the message is getting through,” she said.

Olivia Chow“People are fed up with the 1% getting everything and the rest, middle class Canadians, are working longer hours and barely getting by,” said Chow. “The gap between the rich and the poor is widening, young people are graduating with huge student debt and that’s just not fair. So I’m here in solidarity with the folks that are out in the street and I support them.”

The rally was marked by an unusual incident when a protester went over a fence and scaled and sat on top of one of the arches that cross the square’s fountain.

“He’s not intoxicated, he’s just making a peaceful demonstration,” said Peter, a volunteer with Occupy Toronto and marshal for the march who spoke with the man as police and others looked on.   “It’s his way of performing a solemn protest and he is going to come down,” said Peter, who did not want to release his full name.

Photos by ©Alistair Maitland and Tomas Urbina.

people make signs with markers

Hundreds of people were still gathering in St. James Park on the east end of downtown Toronto late Saturday for the Occupy Toronto protests inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Earlier, reports said about 3,000 people rallied and marched from Toronto’s financial district to the park, the group’s chosen occupation site, at the corner of Jarvis Street and King Street.

The movement, which is against increasing financial inequality and excessive corporate influence in politics, arrived in Canada with the New York City protest set to mark a month at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan on Monday.

The protest gathered high school students, seniors and everyone in between with a variety of viewpoints.  Signs could be seen in support of the Marxist party, socialism, environmental concerns and even American politician Ron Paul though most evoked the main themes of the movement.

people make signs with markers

“I’m sure that you’ll even see many people here that are pro-capitalism, but think that it needs to be a fairer form of capitalism,” said William Anderson, a father and train conductor.

“So when I look around, I see everyone having one common interest, which is a war against apathy.”

Peaceful protest, curious observers and cameras

Police on bicycles were stationed in groups on the edges of the park, but did not enter.   The protest remained peaceful into the evening and reports say police were pleased with the conduct of the crowds, though two arrests were made.

As of mid-afternoon many people had left the site, but a core of about a thousand protesters remained while others flowed in and out of the park.   Those who planned to stay overnight continued setting up tents in the park’s southeast corner.

people and tents in a city park

In addition to participants, the protest attracted curious observers.

“I came down because I didn’t really understand what was being demanded here and what the goal was,” said blogger Amanda Stratton.

“And I haven’t seen that there is one here.   So there’s sort of no contract to this protest, if that makes sense. There’s nothing that’s being demanded so what are we expecting governments to do.”

Stratton found it positive, however, that a committee had been formed to set out the concerns of the protesters.

As the afternoon went on, people chatted, held signs and walked around the park waiting to be called to a meeting, the Toronto movement’s first general assembly modeled on that of the Wall Street protests.

At times, spontaneous marches of protesters broke off onto the streets around the park.   17-year-old high school student Katharyn Stevenson and friend Becky Martinez took part in one of the marches.   Like many at the protest, Stevenson carried a camera.

“I’m planning on writing something for our school newspaper,” said Stevenson.  “I think blogging, Twitter, taking pictures, Facebook, whatever, is a really great way to spread the word about the movement. I think that’s what people want here, to raise awareness about what’s going on.”

two girls hold up a signThe movement has been notable for its use of social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, blogs and live video streaming that has allowed viewers from around the world to watch in detail what has been happening, from the mundane to confrontations with police.

Marches and general assembly

As one group of marchers returned to the park, the larger group shifted away from the central gazebo and gathered for the group’s first general assembly.

In a crowd of hundreds, volunteer facilitators used a voice echo technique sometimes called the ‘human microphone’ to speak to those gathered. The facilitators spoke in short fragments and waited as parts of the crowd closest to the speakers loudly repeated what was said for the benefit of those standing further back.

The assembly provided updates from the New York City movement and Canadian cities like Montreal and Vancouver.   The focus, however, was on laying ground rules for how discussions would be organized, including explaining hand signals for agreement, misunderstanding, adding information and opposition.

One by one, volunteers from the medical, legal, logistics, food, ideas and facilitation committees each spoke to the crowd with their words echoing out to the edges of the park.

Retired actor Richard Partington arrived on his bike, and hung back in the crowd.

“Well I knew that it was happening and I knew that it was happening worldwide and I wanted to show some solidarity because I believe firmly in the principles behind these ‘occupy’ situations,” said Partington.

The Occupy Toronto protesters took to the street again on Sunday in Toronto’s downtown and plan to march to Ryerson University Monday to join students in a midday rally against poverty. Some reports claim a ‘large-impact’ action is also in the works.

Photos by Tomas Urbina