It’s been one year since protestors first took to the streets of New York and the world to protest inequality, corporate greed, and corruption. To commemorate the months of protests, hundreds of arrests and overall sentiment of the movement we present an infographic summarizing the movement.
2011 Year-In-Review: News
With revolution in the streets from the Middle East to middle America, a major power shift in Ottawa and a smattering of other events that would have stolen the headlines in any other year, 2011 will be largely remembered as the year that got the ball rolling for the future, good or bad.
In late December 2010, Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi burned himself alive instead of bribing municipal officials. That act of defiance inspired others all around the country and by February a wave of protest had engulfed much of the Arab world. Rulers who had held power for over two decades in places like Egypt fell and in the case of Kaddafi (with a little American war machine help) lost their lives.
The Arab Spring, as it was later dubbed, also demonstrated the power of the internet as a mobilizing tool, a tool that became very prominent later in the year when Tahrir Square inspired Zucotti Park (or Liberty Plaza), the home base of Occupy Wall Street for several months until Michael Bloomberg evicted the protesters in the middle of the night. What started out as a protest largely ignored by mainstream media blossomed into a full-blown phenomenon within a month when it spread to other communities in the US and many Canadian cities including Montreal and Toronto just a couple of days after Bloomberg’s first and unsuccessful attempted eviction.
With most of those encampments dismantled, some through commando-style raids (a very heavy-handed enforcement of parks regulations if you ask me), terms like “the 99%” firmly entrenched in our collective lexicon and images of pepper-spray cops and injured protesters seared into our minds, thoughts have turned to the future of the movement and what the next step or steps would be. It looks like this idea won’t be going away anytime soon.
Another thing that won’t be going away for at least four years is the Conservative Majority Government in Canada. After having lost the confidence of the House of Commons for refusing to reveal the cost of several bills, Harper’s minority government fell, sparking an April election.
The result of that election gave Harper the power to bring in his full agenda. Now we’re facing multiple pieces of legislation jammed together as the “Safe Streets and Communities Act” (also known as the Omnibus Crime Bill C10). While there are some good parts to the bill that are hard to argue against, like the stiffer sentences for child molesters, they are packaged with other regulations that sound like the same type of retribution-based policies tried out in the states a decade ago and now rejected even by Republican governors.
Canada is looking at mandatory minimum sentences, the criminalization of recreational drug use, more prisons and stiffer sentences for pot dealers than the aforementioned child molesters. And all this when our crime rate has been dropping for years. People have been fighting it, though: LeadNow.ca has created a petition and email writing campaign and (FTB project) ItCouldGetWorse.com started a complimentary video campaign to fight the proposed bill. After C10 passed the Conservative-controlled parliament, attention shifted to senators and provincial premiers.
Will a mostly internet-driven campaign work? Well, before the election, mass online mobilization helped shelve the Internet Meter and efforts by OpenMedia.ca got the majority Conservatives to remove internet and cellphone surveillance provisions from the Omnibus, so it looks like internet campaigns do work.
The election also produced the biggest political power shift in recent Canadian memory. The NDP, a party that had been all but written off in Quebec rode an Orange Wave of popularity to become the official opposition for the first time in its history, jumping from one to 58 seats in Quebec, reducing the Bloc Québécois to a mere four seats and almost wiping out the Liberals in the province as well while reducing them to third place nationally.
The new opposition started off out of the gate running, attempting to filibuster a lockout of Canada Post employees and vowing to hold the Conservatives’ feet to the fire when needed. Things seemed to be going great, until leader Jack Layton, the man who had pulled off the political upset of the decade and who had considerably high appeal, especially in Quebec, announced that he was facing a new type of cancer in late July.
When he passed away roughly a month later, he left a message that inspired Canadians. He also left a leadership vacuum not only for his party but for the political left in Canada.
The NDP is now in the process of picking a new leader and has already held its first debate. A leader that will take charge of a party that finds itself in a much different place both power-wise and organizationally than it could have possibly predicted it would be in at the beginning of the year.
There were some ups and downs locally as well. Cafe Cleopatre started off the year facing expropriation. After both the city and developer Angus dropped their plans to expropriate, Cleo finished the year facing a different kind of threat: neglect. Intentional neglect of the surrounding buildings all purchased by Angus over the past few years and now left to ruin.
Meanwhile south of the border, President Barack Obama, after getting the credit for the death of Osama Bin Laden, is gearing up to face one of the handful of Republican candidates. He also signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law, despite promising to veto it. It contains provisions for warrantless detainment and execution on US soil, even of US citizens. That along with SOPA looming on the horizon mean that in 2012 we’ll only start to see the results of the restrictions that began this year.
If you consider the restrictive measures on the horizon in the US and Canada, continued global protest in the form of the Arab Spring and Occupy, a drastically changed re-alignment in government and the increased importance of the Internet, the proverbial shit is about to hit the fan everywhere. When people look back to where it started, chances are they’ll come to the conclusion that 2011 is when the spark was lit.
What can I say, we need some leverage…
According to a recent CBS News/60 Minutes investigation, members of Congress, including high profile Senators, not to mention the current and former Speakers of the House, are embroiled in a maddening scandal. Insider trading, using non-public information politicians are trusted with to protect the citizens, has made millionaires out of a majority of representatives.
If that wasn’t bad enough, not only were certain high-profile politicians given large quantities of IPO stock, they further used advance information concerning the 2008 economic collapse to sell off shares they knew would rapidly depreciate in value. They bet against the system, removed their wealth, and came out on top while millions lost everything they had.
This is treason. Economic sabotage by those whose job it is to represent the interests of the American people.
And if all this isn’t bad enough it is becoming increasingly apparent that civil liberties and our fundamental individual and collective freedoms are under threat by both American and Canadian federal governments. Civil servants are being used to silence and suppress the People; how hopelessly fucked we all are.
The rich get richer, sabotaging and destroying our economy to attain ever greater wealth, while the middle class disappears, youth are offered no reason to live for tomorrow and the poor are worked to early deaths. Our nation does nothing to improve the lives of its own citizens, let alone the people of the world we alone can adequately help.
Our democracy is a fallacy, a fanciful myth. Our wealth is illusory while its industrial impact ruins one of the last great wildernesses on Earth. Our elites are supremely self-interested, and the World suffers for it.
So where is our leverage? How can we fight back?
There’s a laissez-faire approach, neatly synthesized into a soundbite you can print on a t-shirt. It’s attributed to Gandhi, about the three steps until the revolution wins.
What that slogan isn’t telling you is that all revolutions need leverage, and we, the largely lethargic progressive socialist mass, still have nothing. Buried deep in the soul and foundations of our nation is an understanding and connection to our society, and yet we’ve been mislead to believe we act and operate as individuals, as self-interested as our elites.
A sympathetic ear in the media isn’t going to be enough progressives, revolutionaries, people fed up with getting screwed by those who are supposed to be working in our interests, we need to find our own ways of fighting government, the elites, corporations and anyone else who dares stand in our way.
And the best way to make them hurt, really, truly hurt, is by destroying the machine that creates this illusion of wealth in the first place. Something cannot come from nothing, and money cannot make more money without something being produced. This is fundamental.
I wouldn’t advocate the Galleanist approach, too messy. But removing our money from the banks and putting it in credit unions, yes now we’re on the right track.
How about selling all your stock? How about tens of thousands of Canadians doing both at the same time? Would that effect a change?
What if Canadian students refused outright to pay any and all tuition, en masse, to force provincial governments to seek a standardized low tuition rate? Would that get the attention of the government? What if we declared mass bankruptcy? Or decided to stop paying federal and provincial taxes? Why are voluntarily handing over our money to people who will only use it to further their own interests? It’s insane.
How many people would it take to cripple the economy, sink corporations, destabilize our currency, on purpose? How many people do we need to simultaneously stop paying all of their bills at once to create the economic equivalent of a gigantic gaping hole in the ground?
Suffice to say we need to re-think collective action. Demonstrations, protests and occupations can serve a community and society well, but as we have seen, they seem to all end the same way arrests, chemical weapons, young people getting hurt needlessly.
We’ve gone down this road before, and it only ever leads to more violence. Getting our government to listen to our demands and acknowledge their mistakes is going to take something dramatic, so why not demonstrate our dissatisfaction by removing ourselves from Big Capitalism as best as possible? It will take a major threat to the status-quo wealth of our elites in order to get them to play ball.
Let’s get some leverage. Otherwise, change is nothing but a far-off dream. Unless you think things are miraculously going to improve all by themselves, the time for drastic and effective action is now. We can’t afford to wait.
* Ghandi image: weknowmemes.com, Occypy NYC photo by Kamee Abrahimian
Enigmatic Zeitgeist: A reflection on the Occupy Movement
I feel we’re not that different you and I, at least I hope not.
We’re both here, so there must be something that unites us.
And even if it is difficult to pinpoint what precisely brought us here, perhaps that’s only an indication of just how grave the situation truly is. A uniting force we can’t yet properly define is braiding together diverse yet inter-related interests into a solid bond. And yet, all I can see for the moment are individual fibres, weak, limp, useless by themselves.
I’ve been reflecting. Haven’t come up with much – nothing but an endless series of questions whose answers elude me.
I’m writing this having spent several days in mock isolation watching countless videos of police brutality. We’ve all seen the videos I’m referring to. The incident at UC Davis, crackdowns in Syria, Tahrir Square – it’s all starting to look alike.
I’ve spent parts of the last few days engaged in an endless argument with an individual purporting to be a representative of the interests of the Occupy Movement. I’m perturbed not only by the images of police brutality, but also the lackadaisical and highly individualistic responses of people caught in the melee.
The individual with whom I’ve been arguing was advocating that the Occupy Movement must remain a peaceful one (which of course cannot be debated) and was cautioning readers against pursuing anything but complete non-violent protest. But does this mean we can’t take measures to defend ourselves against brutality? And what do the many egregious cases of police brutality say about the Occupy Movement in the first place?
Time and time again (and this has subsequently been reinforced through leaked NYPD internal memos and the fact that the Department of Homeland Security orchestrated a nation-wide simultaneous crackdown in the US) I see so-called law enforcement working together, presenting a solid and united front, acting as a team. They are trained to do so. Perhaps you may feel they do so blindly, and certainly, for all those speaking out against those lambasting all police for the actions of a few, I can understand the desire not to paint the aggressor with a wide brush. But on the flip-side, it is also clear the police are not using the same restraint exhibited by the demonstrators. They are the source of aggression, they are clearly to blame for all instances of violence.
Despite this, the police are getting away with it. Why? Because, as far as their portrayal in the Mainstream Media is concerned, the police look like they’re working together. The same cannot be said about demonstrators, who more often than not appear either to be willing to submit to brutality or, when confronted with brutality, work independently and achieve nothing. How do you think this translates through the media’s biased lens?
I’m not advocating to use of violence to achieve political goals. However, we can defend each other non-violently. Every time I see an abusive cop grab a helpless protestor, I wonder why all the other protestors don’t pull that person back, don’t put themselves between the victim and the cop. We have the mass, we have the advantage in numbers, we have all the reason in the world to demonstrate and protest – we are in the right, our world has been fucked by the elites who rule over us.
The very tenets of our democracy are threatened, perhaps more now than ever in the history of Canada or the United States, and similarly, like no time in our past, the foundation of our progressive society is being hacked-away at by the apparently representative governments of our nations. Yet despite the motivation behind the movement, in no way is the movement coming across as a united front that will not rest until change has been affected.
As long as we operate like individuals our cause is hopeless. True solidarity can only be created when individual men and women decide to shed their individualism for the sake of society. Solidarity occurs when you are willing to put yourself in between naked aggression and your fellow man, to defend a stranger as though they were your brother or sister.
When this happens, the media will show something very different to the viewing public – they will show the progressive microcosm, standing together to prevent the destruction of our society. Then, and only then, when we conduct ourselves as brothers and sisters united in a struggle, will we be able to effectively communicate our wants and desires. Until then, the protestors will be subject to abuse and near-total misrepresentation by media.
Perhaps it is time to back off and re-group. The problems we’re dealing with are not going to disappear between now and the spring, but we need to face an unfortunate climatic and geographic reality. For whatever reason, political and economic power in the US and Canada is concentrated in areas subject to the adverse temperatures of winter, and we can’t sustain large-scale occupations without building proper shelters, not to mention using stoves, which are in turn considered a fire hazard.
Moreover, there is additional problem that the Occupy sites have attracted drug addicts and homeless in nearly every major city. The Occupy Movement is in no position to deal with this reality, and the homeless and drug-addled have more a right to protest their condition and the failures of society than someone sporting the latest in high-tech camping gear.
Communications has been spotty and, again, lacks unity (both internally and between cities). The media can prey on stoned protestors for sound bytes inasmuch as the police can prey on unsuspecting victims to serve as a release valve for pent-up First World frustrations. Our lack of organization is no benefit to our cause, though I can understand the appeal of wanting to completely stand against the grain. The point is, if we wish to demonstrate effectively, we need organization, because societies are voluntarily organized out of solidarity.
Final point. Consider this; in the States, next year is a federal election year. If the Occupy Movement were to stand-down (disappear from the media’s radar completely) and spend the next few months organizing, we could return in the spring with larger numbers, more effective protest, and perhaps even play a role in determining not only the outcome in said election, but perhaps even steer the conversation and shape the dialogue from the outset.
The GOP has spent thirty years pushing the centreline of American politics off into the netherworld of populist, theocratic and fundamentally dishonest conservatism – it’s time for the pendulum to swing back to reality. Now, in my humble and honest opinion, is the ideal time to plan, to organize and to ensure, moving forward, we will be listened to and abuse against the people will stop.
The Spring of 2011 belonged to our Arab brothers and sisters, the Spring of 2012 could belong to us.
* Montreal photo Chris Zacchia, NYC photo Kamee Abrahimian, UC Davis photo pjlighthouse.com
Some people never change: Tremblay evicts Occupy Montreal
You know when you dislike someone and then they go and do something really cool and you start thinking that maybe you’ve misjudged them? Inevitably, they go back to their old ways and you realize that nope, you were right about them all along and you kick yourself for doubting your preconceptions.
That’s exactly how I feel right now about Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay and I doubt I’m the only one. For weeks, Tremblay kept a drastically different tone than the mayors of other major cities with an occupied public space.
Following the 1am commando-style raid on the original #OWS, Tremblay told the press that Montreal policy does not take its cues from the mayor of New York. When Toronto occupiers were going to court to fight the city, Montreal protesters were still working out details with the city on how Occupy would survive the winter, dismantling wooden structures deemed too permanent by the Tremblay administration and preparing for large multi-person tents to stave off the cold weather.
Shortly after those structures came down, Tremblay changed his tune. Bringing up supposed “fights” that may have occurred over the weekend as his reasoning that everyone had to go. This culminated in the cops forcing everyone out Friday morning, a few days after the original statement from the mayor. In this announcement, Tremblay brought up the fact that the city had let the occupiers camp for five weeks, and said that they now had to find other avenues to express their disappointment in the economic system.
This “you kids had your fun, now it’s time to go home” approach mirrors the paternalistic tone NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg took when he claimed that he was only “temporarily” evicting protesters for their own safety. He said the park needed to be cleaned and occupiers would be allowed back in after, but without tents or sleeping bags.
Not only did Bloomberg’s statement miss the whole point of this being an occupation instead of an easily contained and just as easily dismissed protest, but it also ignored the fact that #OWS had its own cleaning crews and medics. The mayor was well aware of this situation, in fact, it’s what foiled his attempted eviction a month earlier. Well, that and a mass mobilization on the internet to get everyone and their uncle jamming the city’s phone lines and those of public park “owner” Brookfield Properties.
Bloomberg wasn’t ignorant of what he was really doing, the choice of an unannounced 1am brute force eviction when many politically motivated people had gone to sleep for the night proves that. He probably is guilty of a more profound ignorance of what scenes of NYPD officers and sanitation workers throwing 5000 books in the trash means for his place in history, as Keith Olbermann pointed out, but that’s another story.
While Bloomberg tried to put a somewhat liberal spin on what was clearly a repressive act, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his administration didn’t bother, opting instead to keep repeating that what the protesters were doing was illegal. Makes sense, stay on your own superficial message but shut down occupy at all costs. They were, after all, probably part of the same conference call (and apparently so was US Homeland security).
Now, it looks like Tremblay was on that call too. What superficial political message did he have to maintain while getting the job done? Well, he’s not really left or right, nor is he progressive or repressive. He got in on an anti-merger ticket and then made life tough for de-merged communities. He claimed to be a champion of the arts then fought hard to remove a performance space from artists and replace it with an office tower in his brand-new entertainment district (dude likes to evict, just sayin’).
Now, he rode a wave of praise for a respectful and unique approach to occupy, possibly due in part to the legal precedent of huge fines for a similar eviction and the fact that Square Victoria is technically a public square so park hours don’t apply, then switched over night and copied what other mayors were doing. Classic Tremblay, really.
While we may have been duped by what seemed like a really cool, trend-bucking thing our mayor was doing, Montrealers have now been reminded of just who he works for. We’ve also just seen him attack our city’s foothold in the most important global social movements in ages, treating it like a bureaucratic nuisance.
His nuisance was a thing of beauty. I went there on the first day and witnessed people peacefully assembled, dancing, cooking for one another and planning something big. I returned a couple of times and witnessed a growing community, living in the shadow of tall buildings and big money. They were planning for winter, had invested in giant tents so people didn’t freeze, it was continuing and adapting.
In one swift gesture, Tremblay got rid of that. But he didn’t kill the movement in Montreal, just as Bloomberg didn’t kill it in New York, in fact he made it stronger.
As it’s been said, you can’t evict an idea, so now occupiers around the world are talking about what form the next phase of this movement will take. If phase two, three or even four gets rid of the ultra-rich politicians like Michael Bloomberg, a small-by-comparison lackey like Gerald Tremblay may simply one day be disregarded as a nuisance himself.
While sometimes it sucks to be wrong about someone, at least it’s better than being on the wrong side of history.
* Photos: CBC, OccupyWallSt Facebook Page and by Chris Zacchia for FTB
The 1% View on Freedom
A thought occurred to me the other day as I read about New York Billionaire Mayor Bloomberg releasing the hounds on the protesters occupying Zuccotti Park. As the police evicted, assaulted and arrested both protesters and journalists, destroyed a 5,500 book library and blacked out media coverage I couldn’t help but think that the rich of this world seem to look at freedom a bit differently.
In a land where freedom is taken for granted, where the average man’s idea of freedom is waving a flag on Independence Day, I find it natural that as a man begins to amass wealth, his idea of freedom begins to change. Often, power comes with wealth, and in many cases those with power lose track of freedom’s importance to others, but not to themselves; this is how dictators are born. It is also why we see so many politicians these days getting into politics not to help the people, but to help themselves financially.
A good example on how the rich think inward was taught to me recently in a speech that was given by author Oliver DeMille. In his speech (and book “freedom shift”) he went on to describe how every hundred years or so there is either a “freedom shift” brought about by the people or a “force shift” brought on by the government.
DeMille used the revolutionary war as his example of a freedom shift, understandable as it led to American independence in 1776. His example of a force shift was the creation of the Federal Reserve System and the ratification of the 16th amendment to the constitution back in 1913. Guess what all three examples have in common? They all have to do with taxes, as if freedom revolves solely around the amount of taxes we all pay.
Throughout the hour long speech, DeMille made no mention of real “freedom shifts” such as the three million plus slaves freed during the American Civil War, the Labor movement of the 1930s and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. He also made no mention of other “force shifts” such as the war on drugs and the weakening of the middle class thanks to thirty years of Reaganomics.
He went on to say that we are currently in the midst of another “shift” and said education and community were the keys to make sure we move toward a freedom shift. For his part, he’s right about education and community, but one has to wonder given his views on taxes just what type of freedom he’s referring to. I doubt it was the 99% movement.
I’ve frequently said that the freedom of a rich man will often oppress the freedom of a poor man, knowingly or unknowingly. The indirect oppression I’m referring to usually comes in the form of greed; a wealthy man who refuses to give back to society in the form of taxes, charity or both. There are those who understand that with great wealth comes a great obligation, a duty to give back almost as much as they receive. Bill Gates & Warren Buffet understand this; the Koch Brothers and the Waltons do not.
I believe that the occupy or 99% movements are in response to those individuals who have everything, but give nothing and the corporations who are incapable of thinking like a human being with a social conscience. Whose sense of entitlement is more important in society anyway? The man who works hard, has everything, but gives nothing or the man who works hard, but can’t feed his family in part because of the man who gives nothing.
I’ve heard time and time again that in order to be rich, you must think rich. While that little bit of information is true, it’s just as important to be careful of where that thinking comes from or you’ll wind up on the freedom oppressing side of the 1% or worseâ€¦ a politician.
For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others – Nelson Mandela
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Laurence Video Rants: The 1%
Like many, Laurence Tenenbaum isn’t pleased with how the 1% have ruined the economy, bought off politicians, ruined the lives of many people and continue to do so. He heads down to Occupy Montreal to deliver this video rant, which he sees as a warning to those who continue to rip off ordinary people like him.
Psych. Co and Occupy Wall Street
The great thing the truly amazing thing, about the Occupy Wall Street movement is its lack of unified voice. Every person who is a part of it or who seriously thinks about it is forced to decide for themselves if and how the status quo needs to be changed. Brilliant.
In following the Occupy Wall Street protests and the sympathy demonstrations around the world, I had to consider my own thoughts on the matter, and I came up with one obvious, glaring, pernicious facet of the world we live in: Corporate Personhood.
I believe that the best way to actually make changes that can be seen and felt in the world is by demanding status of the corporation change from a legal “person” to that of a company run by real live people. People who have real liability, responsibility and accountability, and will face real consequences for each and every action taken by that company.
This point was hit home to me recently while reading a novel recently published by an old business school friend of mine. When we were class mates, back at the University of Ottawa, and we had many an ideological discussion about corporate personhood and what it meant. Justin Mazzotta went on to fully imagine a world wherein corporations were not ethereal, legal technicalities, but actual breathing, walking and talking people. He wrote a book about it called Psych. Co: The Corporate Awakening.
It was one of the most horrifying pieces of literature I’ve ever read.
The premise of the book is that across the world, corporations are taking over the bodies of humans and using them to conduct business in the real world. They lie, cheat, steal and kill to make money. They admit it. They have no problem with it, because to a corporation none of those things are wrong.
The reason people are standing up and clamouring for change right now is because, at the fundamental level of our economy people don’t matter as much as profit. That’s not conjecture, and that’s not hyperbole that’s fact. A corporation in its current form is legally obligated to generate the maximum amount of profit before anything else and if people get hurt that’s just too damn bad.
In the novel, you get a picture of what it would be like if corporations were things you could talk to, but in the real world they’re not. They’re entities that affect our daily lives in myriad ways and have no concern are allowed to have concern – for the individual, for the environment, or even for the law. If the potential profit is greater than the cost of breaking a law… well, we’ve seen the result of that often enough.
I doubt that corporate personhood is an issue that will factor strongly in this round of dialogue, and that’s okay. There are scores of ways improvements to the system can be made without touching the matter, and there is an argument to be made about limiting personal liability in order to facilitate business. I’m not certain I agree with it but it’s there.
Whether or not corporate personhood is something that bothers you – the status quo must, and so it needs be changed. We can no longer tolerate the fact that large entities, who no one elected, and who bear no responsibility for their actions get to make decisions about our nations, our environment and our lives.
So protest. Demonstrate. Write articles, and blog posts. Shoot videos and write plays. Make your voice heard. I’ll do it because I believe that corporate personhood is wrong and allows otherwise moral human beings to take actions that would make any dictator blush. You have your reasons too.
The scenario painted in Psych. Co is a little too close to reality for my comfort.
Have you demonstrated? Will you? Why?
Ed note: We are glad to welcome back Megan Dougherty. Megan used to write The Lemonade Stand for FTB and has successfully been working on several other business ventures that have kept her very busy (too busy to write for FTB). Megan Dougherty is a Montreal blogger and marketer trying to carve out the smallest bit of respect for new writers, freelancers, interns and the otherwise entry-level over at Hire-Me-Dammit.com. She likes fall vegetables, skirts that reach her knees and chubby felines.
Occupy Montreal enters third week with march on premier’s office
Near a thousand protesters rallied in Montreal’s Victoria Square, site of the Occupy Montreal movement, before marching through the downtown core to Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s office on Saturday.
Dubbed the People’s Plaza by Occupy Montreal organizers, Victoria Square and the surrounding area is now home to over fifty tents on three adjacent lots in Montreal’s financial district.
The Montreal movement, part of the larger Occupy Wall Street protests against economic inequality and excessive corporate influence in politics, organized the march in solidarity with international Occupy protests. Marchers wound their way through the streets up to Premier Jean Charest’s Montreal office chanting, “Whose Montreal? Our Montreal!”
Retired Canadian air force pilot Joe O’Connell watched as the march passed his hotel. “I wasn’t expecting it,” he said. “We just got back from a tour in old Montreal and we had to get out of our taxi a block sooner because we couldn’t get to the hotel.”
O’Connell, visiting from Ottawa, hadn’t yet seen what he called the tent city in the capital, but sympathized with the middle- and lower-class or what has come to be known as the 99 percent.
“I think the fact that the big industrialists and millionaires get away with the taxes, that’s the hard part of it,” said O’Connell. “They have all this money and they have the wealthy lawyers to do everything they can to reduce their taxes whereas us middle class guys are taxed 45 or 50 percent– you’re struggling all the time.”
Across Canada, cities are publicly considering what to do about local Occupy protests. Calgary has decided against forcibly removing Occupy protesters from the city’s Olympic Plaza, while in Vancouver, mayor Gregor Robertson has acknowledged that the city must take protester plans seriously, but has raised concerns about the mounting cost of police monitoring and security.
Protesters and police have maintained peaceful relations in Canadian cities, in stark contrast with confrontations that have exploded in the U.S. over the last week.
In California, the Occupy Oakland protest took a violent turn on Tuesday night when U.S. Marine Scott Olsen, an Iraq war veteran, was struck in the head by police with a projectile that left him bleeding and incapacitated. Video from the protest shows police launched a flash bang grenade at people attempting to carry Olsen away for medical attention.
The incident lit a fire under Occupy movements across the U.S. with thousands marching in solidarity with Oakland in New York City and elsewhere. The image and story of the injured veteran have circulated rapidly over the Internet.
A laminated photo of Olsen was on display at the Occupy Montreal camp, an image which seems to have become a rallying point for protesters in the movement.
“The fact that he was a veteran, for the movement and for the general population’s understanding of what’s going on, could not have been better,” said Laurence Earner, a businessman in machinery sales visiting Montreal from New York City.
“It demonstrates to everybody who is seeing it that the people who are protesting are not a bunch of stupid, down and out, nut job kids,” said Earner. “They’re stand-up, employed or currently unemployed people who are saying to society at large that the balance isn’t quite right and we have to address it.”
Earner and his wife Ilze, a professor at Hunter College in Manhattan, crossed paths with the Montreal march as it arrived on McGill College Street outside Premier Jean Charest’s office. The couple had participated in demonstrations in New York City where they witnessed peaceful protesters beaten by police.
“Veterans know what violence is about. And anyone who knows what violence is about knows they don’t want to see any more of it. That’s understandable,” said Earner.
Canadian army veteran William Ray marched with the protesters on Saturday and said he helped set up the Occupy Montreal kitchen with members of the anti-militarism activist group Food Not Bombs.
Ray lamented the injury to Scott Olsen while pointing out the need for veterans to get involved. “We have a lot of the organizational skills for day-to-day living that are vital,” said Ray.
“There was a fellow named Felix from the Royal 22nd Regiment who dropped by [Occupy Montreal] and had just come back from his sixth tour in Afghanistan and he’d been on the ground [in Canada] for five days.”
“We need that set of experience because nobody who hasn’t had their face shoved right in real warfare can really convey the horror of it,” said Ray. “Most people have a very Hollywood entertainment industry idea of what war is and the reality of it is so much worse and certainly an excellent reason to change the system, a system that seems to perpetuate endless war.”
For Ray, the movement’s biggest challenges lie in integrating with other protests around the world and in communicating with the public. “These are complex issues and you’re not going to explain this to somebody in five minutes handing out a pamphlet on a street corner,” he said.
Photos by Tomas Urbina
Thoughts on Occupation, Patriotism, and Semantics
I’ve noticed a very interesting development over the last few weeks since the Occupy movement has really taken off. At first the criticism was that the protestors were vague and didn’t know what they were protesting. This became a pretty hard myth to push once it became very clear their position was quite simple: It is unfair that one group of people (billionaires) and one subset of society (corporations) are held to one standard while another group of people (the 99%) and another subset of society (small independent businesses) are held to entirely another standard. The message really doesn’t get any more simple that that. All of the complaints; that wealthy people are overly represented in our elected houses (both in the US and Canada) that corporations don’t pay enough taxes, that government is in bed with corporations, all of the complaints fit under that very simple belief of unfairness.
After it became impossible to criticize the lack of purpose, the next criticism, and the one that I find most intriguing, is that people supporting the Occupy movement are unpatriotic, and hate their country.
This criticism baffles me. There is perhaps nothing more inherently American than a big loud protest against tyranny. This was in fact how the country was founded. Canada and the US are two children of the same mother. America, her loud, brash, and passionate first born left the house in a fiery fit of rage holding up both middle fingers because he wasn’t going to take her crap anymore. Canada flipped back and forth on which side he supported until he too left the house a few years later. But instead of a fiery fit of rage, it was more a terse conversation with Mother insisting he couldn’t make it without her. Canada was the equivalent of a 40 year old basement dwelling online role playing game addict who never had a girlfriend when he was finally dragged out over 100 years later. So perhaps protest is a bit more unusual north of the 49th parallel, but there can be no question protest is in fact part of what makes America the great country it is.
But this kind of criticism, the straw man of suggesting that anyone speaking out against government therefore hates the country is not new. In fact it’s a constant and timeless tactic, one I became most familiar with during my university days where anyone who suggested the Israeli government was anything less than a model of humanitarianism and compassion toward its Arab citizens and Palestinian refugees was branded an anti-semite who thought at the very least Hitler had a press problem.
It’s a tired argument meant to work people up but it doesn’t hold water. To suggest that people who protest the current state of affairs in their city, country, or world do not love that world is as absurd as to suggest a parent who grounds their child for sneaking out or refuses to allow a drug addicted child to live at home does not love their child. Sometimes people we love do wrong things and as people who care we speak out to correct those wrongs. In fact it is one of the most loving acts one can do, to say “no you’ve gone too far and I won’t stand by and watch this in silence any longer.”
Why on earth would it be any different when applied toward a country?
There is an annoying tendency for those in power to associate themselves with the entity they control. Many years ago a friend of mine ran a petition to remove a corrupt executive from the helm of his student union. They responded by suing him for defaming the union. His defense was that he hadn’t defamed the union at all. If he’d defamed anyone, it was the individual. In fact he loved the union and that was why he was running the petition. They couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that, no, they personally were not the union.
Likewise, protesting the antics of government officials, of big business lobbying, of the way a codependent relationship was formed leading to housing crises and student loan crises… this does not in any way translate to “F*CK THE USA!” as some insist it does.
Rather, the protest is pointing out the pain being bestowed by these actions. Those protestors? They are fighting for freedom as much as any soldier. Freedom from corporate sponsors, from collusion. The people who fret that “if industry goes down no one will have jobs” sounds more like an abuse victim begging their fellow victims to be quiet and act real nice so not to piss off the abuser, blaming those who speak out for the angry temper tantrums the abuser throws.
Call them idealists. Call them unrealistic, Call them impractical. But let’s get to the point and have a conversation. Covering it up in accusations of anti-patriotism does nothing but avoid the issues.
Oh wait, was that the idea?
Occupy Everything: My Hippie Perspective
The Woodstock movie gives me chills. Truthfully, it makes me grin my face off and well up with joyful tears at the strength of spirit, the manifestation of ideals, the simple stand that we, together, believe this. When the Hog Farm announces breakfast in bed for 400 000, I’m awed that a bunch of people society thought were sketchy kept the equivalent population of Tuscon happily fed. I’m moved that they cared to. I’ve said for years that it was probably a perfect moment in time and collective consciousness that allowed the whole thing to go off so beautifully. I said that mostly because Woodstock â€˜94 crushed any dreams I had of my generation doing anything without it becoming a shit show.
So, for the past few weeks, my unabashedly hippie heart has been following #OccupyWallstreet hoping that it is not a momentary dream from which people will simply awake to resume their march to the grave, but rather the revolution I thought would’ve happened by now.
I never understood why the hippies quit; why they gave up their ideals and put on not only the suits but the airs they swore they never would. Some admittedly stuck to their water pistols. Some of them though, just fizzled out and gave in.
As gen Xers, we were half-heartedly maybe gonna make things cooler (well, urban living is a hipster paradise, so we did that), but we inherited the old standard with all its failings. We haven’t asserted ourselves, taken any meaningful collective stands, or changed any status quos. The last generation burned draft cards, we burn CDs while convincing ourselves that not voting is the new voting.
The movement is spreading. On day 19 of #OccupyWallStreet, my dad finally heard about it on the news and wondered if he’d been living under a rock. No, I said, it took the media a minute. Strangely, it’s still not a trending topic on Twitter, but put in the hashtag #ows or #globalrevolution. Go on. Do it. I’ll wait.
This isn’t a dirty hippie movement (we’re totally welcome, obvs). This is not, as Fox News’ Kimberly Guilfoyle called it, “Woodstock meets Burning Man, meets people with absolutely no purpose.” This is what it looks like when the people are dissatisfied, but still have hope and faith.
Not faith in the system as it stands, not hope that a super mega Platonian robot will rise above, hit a magic Utopia button making it rain sparkles and house deeds, but a conviction that if enough of us believe the same things that we can create a positive change, leading us down a brighter path. That small ingredient is the vital difference between a live-in and a violent regime overthrow.
I’m not losing site that this is a protest. but it’s one of creation and the message here is the method. Jim Morrison rightly pointed out that they’ve got the guns, but we’ve got the numbers; here the 1% holds the key to our money, our homes, those numbers on tickers that are gibberish to me (because I don’t have enough money to need them), but we are fundamentally the people. We are, by definition, society, and when we as a collective step outside the box deciding to create another space, the box and the 1% lose all their power. The economy, the whole system, can only hold in its current state if we close our eyes, clap, and say that we believe. This is the sound of eyes opening across the world.
The protesters in NYC are not being allowed sound equipment or bullhorns, so they, in their ingenuity, have created The People’s Mic: one person says “miccheck”, everyone says it back, then everything the speaker says is repeated by the crowd, sentence by sentence, allowing everyone to hear. They’re doing jazz hands in the air instead of clapping to avoid muting the message. That’s fuckin’ beautiful, man. If you took away the mics in parliament, they’d hold a committee and nothing would get said let alone done until next fall. And we’d foot the bill.
On October 9th, Sierra Voices reported that occupytogether.org was listing meetups in 1065 cities. On October 12th, it was at 1424. The same day, Mother Jones was reporting Occupy Rallies in over 190 locations worldwide. That doesn’t speak to how many really big protests are actually going on so much as to the growth of the movement and the solidarity of the global community at its grassroots.
We’ve finally started making our breakfast in bed. And it’s about time.
* Woodstock photo progressivehead.blogspot.com, Occupy Wall Street photos by Kamee Abrahamian. You can view all of her NYC photos and our Occupy MTL photos on Facebook
One week in, Occupy Toronto draws 1,500 to downtown rally
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
Welcome to Place du Peuple: #Occupy Arrives in Montreal
I’m a big talker and it can be hard to get me off the couch. For Occupy Montreal, I wanted to stand and be counted. Coming out of Square Vic all alone with my first ever protest sign, I was relieved to find a friendly campsite, replete with folks from all walks of life talking to strangers who looked nothing like them. It was around 4p.m, and everyone seemed settled in, with tarps strung through the treetops creating a roof above the campsite.
I was glad to see they took the lead from other live-ins, turning out with kids, freak flags, dogs, drum circles and some rocking the suits they wear 9-5. People came with their hearts open to the potential of a new society. While I know it’s an apolitical rally (I think the actual banner under which they unite is Disheartened & Inspired, but 99% is catchier, and Wholly Pissed Off is too aggressive), I believe Jack Layton would’ve shown up to a party like this.
The village had organically established districts; the campsite housed the long term essentials like the Wat Hub [sic], while steps away, a drum circle with dancers kept people in the mood for joyful noise. There were a lot of wanderers and a little uncertainty as I headed North.
I watched the crew led by a guy on stilts knitting up the poles and the ballsy fellow who climbed the queen sans adequate safety gear to put up the Zeitgeist Moving Forward poster and mask her (that being the precarious part, taking a couple of tries in strong winds). While admiring this guy’s nimble insanity, I met a grey haired man, well dressed and smiling. I thanked him for turning out, and he said that he hoped his presence would lend credence to a movement he thought was long overdue.
“I’ve been waiting years for this,” he said and he thanked me for turning out, which I hadn’t really considered.
Across the street was the general assembly, where proposals were made and votes taken. One passerby complained the event was disorganized, and maybe at that moment it was. There was a lot of chatter and a definite sense that there were spectators and others knee deep in procedure. Eventually, the vote was taken to march, leaving a respectable contingent at base taking up space.
We headed up Beaver Hall Hill, making our way to Ste-Catherine Street West, into oncoming traffic. Even the motorists, ironically gridlocked by humanity, smiled, waved, and honked their support (cabbies were unanimously on board). The shopping bunch and store staff were curious, and quick with camera phones. At least one person got out of their car, leaving it in traffic.
The chanting was sporadic, but the crowd was vibrant, with drummers and guitarists playing as we went, ghetto blasters, a guy on a unicycle, and the sense that especially here, this is more wake-up call than argument. It seemed that we’re all on the same side; yes, the chant of “we are the 99% / you are the 99%” helped, but the smiling officer in his car who flashed a shy peace sign back at me, sealed it.
An older Indian man chatted with me en route, starting with my sign and ending in Indian mountain tops and talk of gods, while I interrupted periodically. We talked about the causes at hand, and he told me that there could be no truely peaceful revolution.
“When you had your baby, did you do so without blood? A revolution is a birth.” He said before the blood, there is pain, and then after it’s all worth it. I couldn’t disagree, not only with his analogy, but also because of all I know of successful revolutions.
We walked up on a couple of students in onsie pyjamas with trapped-door butts, kissing as they went. It reminded me of the photo of the couple in front of the flames of the the hockey riots, just wonderfully goofier.
“That,” pointed out my compadre, “that can win a revolution. Love is the only thing that can win.” So, love and blood; back to the birth analogy, and I get where this guy’s coming from.
Next thing I know, I’m stomping my feet and making ruckus on the steps of the BMO head office, amazed at the crowd, and unable to see it all, though that may be a combination of adrenaline and bad math. I know that standing there, stomping there, screaming there, I was not afraid; we wouldn’t be arrested, the mob would not turn ugly (thankfully), and I was yelling at a building in a country that supports my right to do so. I felt pretty patriotic right then; still angry, but darned proud.
At camp, renamed Place du Peuple, the kitchen opened with supplies from local groups including Food Not Bombs, Frigo Vert, the People’s Potato, and awesome individuals. The line was long, the offerings ample.
Someone Tweeted later how stuffed they were from the goodies. People were winding down, settling in; most of the children and puppies had gone off to be tucked in elsewhere. The music picked up, and the beers came out. Pabst Blue Ribbon seemed the beverage of choice, while the smell of nice pricey buds reaffirmed that even the hippies were a classy breed.
The drum circle drummed, people danced, a bullhorn led choruses of “all around the world / we’re gonna occupy/ we’re gonna occupy” (which is fiercely catchy). The tarp ceiling billowed in the winds, perfect for the festive vibe. By the monument, the tune was different, with folksy rock, a little ska and whole lotta klezmer. Away from the music, a hardcore group at the general assembly prepped procedures for future votes.
Every part has a player, and here people flowed like water to where they ought be. The over-nighters started putting on layers, and I took off with that special exhaustion that comes when every ounce of adrenaline’s been burned off. Some people left their signs behind as they headed back to their lives, and a simple square in the window of Square Victoria read “Hope” signed, Jack.
As the winds picked up and the rains began, I thought about the people in their tents, sticking it out, while I relaxed my shockingly sore muscles (holding a sign over your head becomes harder than it looks, fast), and I wished them warmth, and commended them in my heart.
When I awoke, the world hadn’t changed, the establishment hadn’t crumbled, and really, I hadn’t expected it to; not in one day. A global dialogue has started; one that won’t be hushed, or tossed to the fringes. If it was put on a ballot, I believe the majority of people would agree with the protesters on the issues raised and these occupiers are bringing those issues to the foreground and getting the ball rolling.
When it’s down to brass tacks and the call comes, I was thrilled to see that even now, we the people can build our own village, be our own voice over the PA, promising breakfast in bed to the masses, and however briefly, save ourselves.
This will either be a poignant moment at the birth of civil revolution, or the ball that our kids will ask us how we dropped. Why did you falter when the people were finally in the street? How did you lose your voice while you held the mic? We’ve had no movement, no unifying political vision, no sense of yearning that couldn’t be quelled by an iPhone sale.
If we want to create the future instead of forfeiting our turn, now seems the time. It’s already late, but we’re here now, and we brought cookies.
[NOTE: The peeps are still camped out in Place du Peuple. Another show of support is being called for this Sunday, 10am-10pm. Saturday’s General Assembly in NYC brought 15000-20000… so bring a friend… or a thousand.]
* photos by Chris Zacchia, you can see all of our photos on Facebook
Occupy Wall Street Goes Global
Occupy Wall Street and the so called 99% movement got a big boost this past Saturday as hundreds of thousands of citizens from the developed world marched in cities across the globe. In Europe, the 99% movement spread to Spain, France, the UK, Greece, Germany and Italy to name but a few. Asia, Africa and Australia were also well represented and of course North America, where people turned out in dozens of Canadian cities, including Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Halifax and Winnipeg, and over 70 Cities in the United States.
The concerns of the activists differ depending on the country in which they live. Most European activists are protesting government austerity measures, the European Central Bank and NATO actions in Libya and Afghanistan. Japanese protesters chanted anti-nuclear slogans at the Tokyo Electric Power Co, while Canadians protested what they called “government-abetted corporate greed”. Regardless of their motives, all were protesting in solidarity with the 99% movement occupying Wall Street.
Since becoming the global economic powerhouse in the last thirty to forty years, American economic and financial practices have been emulated in much of the world, thanks in no small part to globalization and the heavily American funded IMF and World Bank forcing austerity and privatization. It’s no wonder that the citizens from Belgium or Greece can relate to someone from small town USA.
Fortunately, people are not yet as desperate in much of the world compared to the United States (Greece and Italy aside). The social safety net and banking systems are better in countries like Germany and Canada making the 99% movement in these countries more of a pre-emptive protest.
In the United States the damage has already been done. Preferential tax treatment has helped drive the U.S. to its worst level of income inequality since the Great Depression. Since the start of “Reaganomics” in the early 80’s, the income gap between the very rich and everyone else has more than tripled. Also, in terms of income inequality, the United States currently ranks as more unequal than the Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, and Pakistan (and just ahead of Uganda).
The current corporate oligarchy in the U.S. derives from three distinct seats of power in the United States; they are also in the order of where the responsibility lies.
- The American Supreme Court
- The White House
- Wall Street
The American Supreme Court
Back In 1886, the case of Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific, the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment equal protection clause guarantees constitutional protections to corporations in addition to natural persons. In short, a corporation is a person. The main purpose of the 14th Amendment was to protect freed slaves, but thanks to this ruling, corporations were given the rights of ordinary citizens without much of the responsibility. The operational principles of the corporation have since given it a highly anti-social “personality”: it is self-interested, inherently amoral, callous and deceitful and it does not suffer from guilt.
Fast forward more than a hundred years to 2010 and another landmark Supreme Court decision; Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. This ruling (reversing several election laws) gives corporations the ability to donate as much money as they please to political campaigns. In short, money equals speech. Through this law, Wall Street has more power and influence on government policies than it has ever had before.
The White House
Corporations have had the “person” status for about 130 years and yet people have only realized the way they impact our lives over the last decade or two, what has changed? The government had always been there with their corporate leash to ensure the relative stability of the economy and the companies themselves, kind of like a government police force looking over the corporate “persons” through regulations or laws. These regulations were in place to help protect the environment, the economy and everyday people. Because of the anti-social personality of corporations, a corporation left to its own devices through laissez-faire capitalism fully meets the diagnostic criteria of a “psychopath.” Psychopaths need to be watched.
Unfortunately Ronald Reagan didn’t see it that way and the era of deregulation began, only to be sped up by Bill Clinton and both Bushs. Thousands of lobbyist jobs have been created over the same time period to further loosen the leash. Deregulation is great for business as it brings down barriers previously off limits; add in free trade agreements, tax breaks for the wealthy and government subsidies in a now globalized economy and you get what we have today.
Blaming the other two institutions for the state of things without placing some of the blame on Wall Street is the equivalent of placing the blame for a child’s actions solely on the parents. The Federal Reserve, the central banking system of the United States, is considered part of the American Government, but is not actually controlled by it. The Fed is in fact privately owned with 100% of its shareholders being private banks. Through the Federal Reserve, banks are actually encouraged and rewarded to borrow more and more. Any change to the banking system requires a steep change to the Federal Reserve.
Wall Street crime is nothing new, but the schemes and methods they use are increasingly complex and at times perfectly legal. If a corporation has a legal way of making money fast and easy, it will not think twice, nor will it think twice about the consequences, knowing the government will bail them out.
Back to the People
The 99% movement and Occupy Wall Street are about to enter their second month. Occupy now has the backing of some unions, a few politicians and celebrities, a multinational movement to support it and some specific goals. The trouble is the grass roots movement still does not have any significant leaders, and in my opinion is not focusing its anger in the right place. Protesting corporate influence and Wall Street might feel good and righteous, but it is also futile. These days Wall Street does not have to answer to anybody and therefore won’t listen to anyone.
The only real place to lobby for change is in Washington. In order to fight the corporations we must play the same game they’ve been playing for years, we need to lobby the government. We need to occupy the White House in order to influence the Supreme Court, only then can change take place.
On paper the odds might seem against us: the courts, the government and the corporate elites have been in control for decades and have since entrenched themselves, but thanks to the actions of regular people from around the world this weekend, we are reminded they are but one percent, we are the 99%.
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Protesters occupy downtown park in Toronto version of Occupy Wall Street
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.
“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.
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.”
The 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 â€˜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 â€˜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 â€˜large-impact’ action is also in the works.
Photos by Tomas Urbina
We are The 99% and So Are You
At five in the morning on October 14, my Montreal based roommate Kamee Abrahamian (producer of the Blood Ballet Cabaret) and my native New York self crawled out of bed to head to Wall Street. We heard that chaos was going to go down before the sun even came up. We thought we would witness some arrests and be part of the fight for whatever these protests are about.
Everyone says it: it is unclear what the actual mission is at Occupy Wall Street. What is meant to come of it? To some, the protesters are seen as a bunch of unemployed young hippies. To others, these kids represent a growing, world-wide revolution.
As I walked alongside the protesters, I got handed a mushy apple from a smiling middle aged Indian man in a food line and slapped some high fives along the way. When I got into the heart of the park, I noticed the diversity of age and racial background. The one thing they all had in common? Backpacks. There were people beating on tin drums and couples cuddling under sleeping bags on the concrete. Photographers and press were relentless.
The so-called people express their disapproval in how things work â€” vague, but there seems to have been momentum. Since a New York Times article two weeks ago wrote about the protests being useless without a precise cause, now there are specific requests written for improving the fields of education, food, economy and unemployment (still vague but getting somewhere!).
An â€˜issue’ with our generation is that there are so many causes worth fighting for. It feels like a heavy commitment to just choose one. After my experience today, I believe the protests are an excellent starting place; a gathering place to cultivate direction and purpose out of this flustered passion, one that is triggered from the chaos of the world. There is a looming responsibility to be a part of the solution and this morning I witnessed the gusto and commitment our generation has to offer.
The communication strategy used in initiating the march was highly effective. There is no leader and no microphones or megaphones allowed, however this doesn’t stop mass messages from spreading. One person screams, and everyone in the vicinity scream the message back to those in the distance. Word echo waves sweep across thousandsâ€”a speech becomes more experiential when we have no technology to facilitate. The glowing aftermath of rippling words is truly felt in Zuccoti Park; I felt chills of a revolution as a young lady in a hijab and torn jeans shouts with a confident smile “we will march!” There was a cultural cauldron of people. Old hippies in leather jackets; young, scruffy hipsters; adolescent boys with oily hair wearing grungy sweatshirts; even some of my friends from liberal arts college were there- sporadically placed, suit and tie or t-shirt clad excitement.
I joined the march and made it to the front of the line where a girl yelled, “can we have someone who isn’t a white male up here?” She looks at me and says, “lock arms! Join us! Come on!” A young lady with a buzz cut and a backpack larger than her torso was walking in front of us, encouraging the front line to walk slowly so the thousand or so behind us could keep up. Her entitlement to command the group was impressive, she reminded me of a police officer. I asked if she was responsible for organizing this march or is she just a natural leader. In a quick and aggressive tone she replied, “there are no leaders here.” I said, “I mean you, are a leader, a leader at heart.” She did not smile, nor acknowledge my existence.
A sixty-something year old lady in a baggy t-shirt and cargo pants stood on a bench holding a hand written sign towards the passing protesters: WE ALL KNOW WHERE THE REAL DIRT IS. People seemed to be cheering her on, so I asked Kamee, who was snapping away with two cameras, what dirt she was referring to. “Go ask her”, she said, so I did. She responded eagerly in a southern accent, “those corporate heads say we are dirty but we cleaned the street with natural green cleaner. I’ve never seen sidewalks so shiny in my life!” The protesters managed to boot Bloomberg’s attempt to evict them due to complaints of dirty behavior in Zucotti Park.
The general public perception is that these people don’t even know what they are protesting, but it cannot be denied that some kind of change is needed. Clearly something isn’t working. Society looks nothing like the one I read out of Plato in my freshman year philosophy class.
We cannot toss aside the ability of all these people to gather and camp out on the streets (jobless or not), to march in the wee hours of the morning, to lock arms and scream with a collective heart, ” Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!” Like the mission statement of an imagined business plan, clarity and specificity will become more clear to those who are not ready or not willing to recognize it just yet (just google it!).
The slow pace of Friday morning’s march personifies the development of a simmering, multifaceted revolution of our generation. Just as it takes time for laws to be passed in any political environment, the process of change will materialize with more of these protests and conscious gatherings. The â€˜people’ will fuse imagination with their skill sets and resources to optimize the manifestation of positive change. The occupation is already spreading throughout the world, including Montreal. If you sense the need for change, then you’re a part of the occupation too. The details will emerge with time.
* photos by Kamee Abrahamian, you can see all the images on Facebook