Every Picture Tells a Story: Occupy, Part 1

I went to the Occupy Toronto protest/rally/demonstration this past Saturday looking for a story.  One key focal point to help explain to people who ask what this “Occupy” movement is all about, and to answer the resounding question I hear from those who don’t quite “get it”:  “WHAT DO THEY WANT?”

Many are balanced on the edge of their seats waiting for the questions to be answered:  Where is the specific demand from the protestors? When will that single ray of light be shed on what their purpose and point is?  After all, there must be a specific issue.  If not, then what is the point?  What are they protesting?  What is the story??

Camera in hand, I searched for 9 hours for that story. I walked around in the wet, cold park among the protestors and curious passersby, snapping photos, listening in on conversations and introducing myself to random people asking for their stories.  As a result, instead of coming back with one story, I came back with 807; 175 of which are posted to my Flikr account, for your viewing pleasure.

The pleasure was mine on Saturday though. It was nothing short of an incredible day, for many reasons.  The vibe was positive, the energy was high, and the feeling of solidarity was almost palpable.  People were gathered together, united in a common purpose: Democracy. To exercise their right of free assembly and speech. When they spoke it was evident that they were fed up, for many reasons, and they were there to tell the world.

That is the story of the Occupy Movement. There is no story.  There is no demand. There are many.

There are many myths about the Occupy Movement that need to be dispelled as well.  Here are just a few to start.

1) If these people want to participate in REAL democracy, they should get out and vote. Maybe we’d have a better turn out on election day!

I didn’t have the opportunity to speak to every person at the protest, and was too caught up in the moment to remember a lot of the time, but before ending our conversation I tried to make a point of asking every person I spoke to if they vote.  Out of 100 people asked, give or take a few, only 6 told me they do not vote.  The odds here aren’t too bad to suggest that these people are voting. In my experience, it is the voters who are active in social causes and movements such as this, and I have a hard time seeing how someone could believe that to be untrue.

2) Bunch of whining hippies and hipsters.  Why don’t they do good in school and get jobs. They have the same opportunities as everybody else!

Those gathered at St. James Park on Saturday were not just hippies and hipsters, as is evidenced in my photos, and they certainly weren’t whining.  Some of the people I spoke to were quite educated and included doctors, nurses, lawyers and scientists.  Others were artists; musical and visual.  Some worked in computers and information technology, while others were students working towards degrees and certificates.  Some were self-employed and some unemployed;  some by choice, some by layoff and others by unfortunate circumstances, such as disability. But every person there had ambition, positivity and hope, and not one of them was whining.

3) There is no leader, and no evident message.  Therefore, the protest is disorganized and cannot be taken seriously.

It’s true, there is no specified leader in any of the Occupy movements around the world, and there is no single, evident message.  But it is far from disorganized.  Self-organized, leaderless revolution has been very well organized as of late through social media and personal communication devices.  At the demonstrations, a human microphone is the method of communicating to large groups during general assembly meetings (which are usually held at least twice a day) to share observations, objectives, plans and other necessary information. It is organized and, as I heard one person astutely put it, “leaderfull“.

There are two more specific misconceptions that I would like to respond to.  Though not the only one to state it, local media personality and blogger, Nathan Smith, stated the following in his blog “Ballad of a Thinly Defined Occupation” posted October 16, 2011:

“…these protesters are fooling themselves if they think this is a cause anywhere near as righteous as that of the Arab Spring. Thousands lost their lives fighting for basic equality, never mind ‘financial equality.’ Instead of risking arrest, countless numbers of men, women, and children in Middle Eastern countries risked death…”

The Occupy movement does not presume in any way to be as “righteous” as the cause of the Arab Spring.  The only inference to the Arab Spring that I have heard or read from the Occupy protests is the inspiration and momentum it provided.  The protestors respect the fact that so many young men and women lost their lives in the Arab uprisings, and they were inspired by their bravery.  Not only that, they were inspired by their method of organization, and have turned that inspiration into mobilization of their own.  While most, and hopefully all, of the “Occupy” protestors will not face death or harm during their occupation, the real possibility exists that they could come to harm.  We cannot pretend we haven’t seen it happen before.

The second misconception I would like to address in Nathan’s blog is based on this statement:

“Just as the demonstrations on Wall Street lack the depth of the Arab Spring, the “Occupy Bay Street” movement in this country is lacking somewhat in credibility – at least when compared to protests in the United States. Our banks weren’t bailed out.

Yes, our banks were bailed out.  According to this article in Time Magazine, between 2008-2009, $125 billion in mortgages were purchased from Canadian banks. 

“At first glance Ottawa’s C$125 billion pales in comparison to the $1-trillion “bad bank” being contemplated by Obama to jump-start lending in the U.S.; however, accounting for differences in size between the two economies, the figures are nearly identical.” 

It is disguised well and seen as a necessary, relatively low risk move on the part of the Government, but let’s call a spade a spade: it was a bailout. How much will it cost the tax payer in the long run? We are told “probably” nothing.  But personally, I wouldn’t bank on that.

What do they want?  I really can’t answer that for you.  Not in one blog, that’s for sure.  This will take a series of blogs over a period of time, and many days speaking to individuals about what it is they are hoping to see come of this movement, and what it means to them.  One picture, one person, one story at a time, I’ll do my best to give as many protestors/demonstrator/occupier stories as I can.

Every picture tells a story. Every person has a story.  Everybody wants to be heard. I hope you will come back soon and “hear” what they have to say.

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Occupy this. (We’re all in “this” together)

I was going to open this blog post with a quote by Voltaire, brandished across the top:  “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”,  and I suppose in a way I just did.  But the quote as written isn’t completely consistent with the post I am about to write.

If the quote read, “I may or may not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend (…can we maybe omit “to the death”? Be a pal?) your right to say it.”, it would be at the top in bold italics virtually yelling, “I agree!”.  Because agree with you or not, I will defend your right to speak, and I will listen. That is the reason any of us speak in the first place: to be heard.

I have been listening to the voices coming out of the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States for the last several weeks. I hear them and frankly, I agree with them. There is a growing disparity between the super rich (the 1%) and everyone else (the 99%), in the US, Canada and all around the world, and “the people” have had enough.

This is the core message I have heard from the protestors, and you may or may not agree (although the facts speak for themselves) and that is your absolute right.  But regardless if you agree or not, you should be defending the rights of the Occupiers to assemble freely, peacefully and to speak.  Like it or not, they are in part doing this for you as wekk. It is their right and this, my friends, is what true Democracy looks like.

A quick Google search of the words “Occupy Wall Street” links you to 25,900,000 results on the subject.  From Facebook pages to independent blogs, to pieces written by journalists from all over the world. People around the globe are talking about the Occupy movement.  I’m just not 100% sure people are listening, so this is where I attempt to step in.

The Occupy movement has spilled over into Canada, and on Saturday I am heading to Toronto to attend the Occupy Toronto (or as others call it, Occupy Bay Street) protest.  I have been asked a lot in the last few days why I’m going, and why I want to be a part of this.  My answer is simple:  the people need someone to listen, to share and to support their message, whatever that message is.  I am going as an independent, citizen journalist to watch and listen to the Occupiers and share their stories. The world is watching, and the stories are asking to be told. All they are asking is for you to listen.

I admire the Occupiers for what they are doing and for what they stand for – speaking up for equality.  They have done more than many do in this lifetime.  They are not sitting back complaining about their condition from an armchair, not bothering to lift a finger to effect change.  They are gathering and mobilizing, and they are seeking a better life for all.

Life is too short to just idly occupy space in this world.  Occupy your time for the better.  Occupy your life for the betterment.  Occupy the world for the greater good.  Occupy “this”.  Because like it or not, we’re all in “this” together.