I had an epiphany today with respect to the entire “Occupy” movement. It’s like the saying goes, “Just when I thought I knew all the answers, they went and changed the questions on me.”
Until yesterday, I thought I knew, fundamentally, what this Occupy movement was all about: A movement uniting people across the globe to stand together and fight against injustice, whatever we personally perceive that injustice to be. It did not matter what your socioeconomic status, gender or skin colour was, or what you did for a ‘day job’. It only mattered that people were standing in solidarity for the common good, whether occupying the park or protesting at home.
For nearly three weeks I believed that the people of this movement all truly felt this way, and that it did not matter who I was, what I did or ‘what’ I aspired to be. I was a sister in arms, fighting for the cause. Until yesterday.
It was judgement day in London, Ontario, in more ways than one.
Eviction of the Occupy movement in Victoria Park was scheduled for 6pm, by order of the City of London. When I heard the news, I quickly went down to visit the park to ask what their plans were and if there was any way I could help. When I arrived, I found several people taking their tents down and packing up, not ready or willing to fight police or bylaw officers who were given the go ahead to clear out the park when the deadline hit.
Earlier in the day, the CAW (who had supported the Occupiers the week before with cash, a generator and a portable toilet) had rescinded their offer of solidarity and protection should the authorities come to evict. “The law is the law…” was the response when the eviction notice was presented, and this disturbed several of the protesters enough to pack it in.
Other Occupiers were “brainstorming” inside a nearby cafe, so I joined them. I asked if the church that had been offered as sanctuary was an option they would consider and was told flatly, “No.” Trust issues and personal feelings with respect to the church discounted this option for several of them, and they would rather be arrested than accept the church’s offer. Not long after, coincidentally, the church Dean, Reverend Kevin Dixon, who had offered the sanctuary to the protesters, was forced to rescind his offer. The church could not afford the liability or insurance to house the protesters on their grounds, and they would no longer be able to set their tents up there. I have not met Reverend Dixon, but I am told this was heartbreaking for him, and he hated delivering the news to the Occupy camp.
The conversation after that went everywhere but where it should have: What’s next? Some left the table, others joined and the conversation became more chit chat than planning. I decided to leave the cafe and walk back to the park where I spoke to several other protesters and visitors about their feelings on the camp and the impending eviction. I was about to make my exit for home when I was approached by a couple of the occupiers who knew I had a van and asked me if I could assist them by giving them a ride with one of their tents. “Anything to help!” I thought, and gladly directed them to my vehicle.
It was an enlightening ride.
We talked about a former Federal Liberal candidate and educator at the UWO law school who had come down to the camp to offer free legal assistance (to for those who qualified based on their income) to anyone who might be arrested that night. The Occupiers he met with shook his hand and thanked him. It seemed genuine, yet as we rode, my passengers expressed to me that they did not trust him. Why? They didn’t trust any politicians. A little offended, I piped up and informed my passengers that I myself had political aspirations that involved a possible run for city council in 2014. One of them replied, “Then I automatically have a distrust for you, as well.” I looked at him, unsure if he was being tongue in cheek and playful, or honest. And then it hit me, as I thought back to our short conversation earlier in the day: he truly meant it.
As Jo-Anne, unemployed mother of two who supports the movement with all her heart, he trusts me. As Jo-Anne, unemployed mother of two, who supports the movement with all her heart, and who wants to run for city council and use her head and heart for the good of the city, he doesn’t. Why? Because of politics and preconceived notions of politicians.
I realized at that moment that mistrust is at the very heart of the Occupy movement. We mistrust the banks and financial institutions; politicians (past, present and future); the church and it’s clergymen/women; the police; the governments of the world; the media; and saddest of all, we mistrust each other.
Last night, I encouraged my friend Glen Pearson and any other person who would listen, to come to the park and stand in solidarity with the protesters. I felt it was important to show the city of London, and the world, that whether or not we agreed with the physical occupation of Victoria Park, we supported the protesters and their right to demonstrate. Glen seemed hesitant, Tweeting that we needed to look beyond “today” and the physical occupation and instead to the future of the movement and how it was best for us to help. I agreed, but also respectfully disagreed and urged him and anyone else who could make it to attend. He did. (*Added note: After speaking to Glen, he has informed me that he wasn’t hesitant at all to go down to the park last night, and had already planned on going. I misunderstood.)
I was unaware until I met Glen for coffee this morning that he and Reverend Kevin Dixon, the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, had stayed for the entire night with the Occupiers, right up until the moment the police arrived to evict them all. Glen recounted to me that he and Reverend Dixon were walking across the park after midnight to move Glen’s car so it would not be towed or ticketed while they waited for the police to arrive. On their way, they stopped dead in their tracks as they saw the police approach. Instead of leaving, as they were encouraged to do by the officers they spoke to, the two of them ran as quickly as they could back to the Occupiers to maintain their pledge of staying with them to the bitter end.
Glen pulled out his camera to record the events that were about to transpire. Reverend Dixon sat on the ground and linked arms with the Occupiers, ready and willing to be arrested with them should it come to that. Both had a lot to lose, yet they realized the protesters had just as much to lose, and their support did not waiver.
Glen, as the director of the Food Bank and a former MP holds a high status in our city. He is well respected by many, yet he told me of how some questioned his presence at the protest and his support for it and the occupation. He feared he had possibly lost friends due to his support of the movement, as well as support for his operations at the Food Bank. But it did not faze him.
Reverend Dixon also has much to lose by his support. The support of his congregation or worse, his employers in the church. But it did not faze him either. He sat and risked arrest because he believed in the people he was sitting with. He and Glen remained despite it all because in their hearts, they knew it was the right thing to do.
A former politician and the Dean of a church were two citizens who were not occupying the park, yet stood by the people who chose civil disobedience last night. Not out of curiosity or to seek status, but in solidarity and support. Information I have says that at least two police officers on scene last night asked not to be involved in the clearing of the movement, out of respect for the rights of the protesters.
These are people that some of the occupiers feel they cannot trust. Not based on who they are, but what they do as a profession, have done as a profession, or choose to do in the future. These are the paths they chose to serve the public and what they feel is the greater good. They too are the so-called “99%”. And they may not trust me, one of their biggest supporters and allies, because of what I aspire to do. Political aspirations or not, I too am the “99%”.
Disheartened is the only word I can find to describe how I feel at this moment. I have given a lot of myself to this movement at the sacrifice of my friends and family. Time, emotion, food and support. And I do believe many in the movement respect me for it. Yet, should I follow my heart and desire for real change in 2014, I suddenly will not be trusted, or could be trusted less. Not because of who I am or what I have done or will do, but simply because of a path I choose to take. A path that calls to my heart, not my self interest.
Trust, or the lack of it, is at the core of this movement, and this was my epiphany.
The list of the people Occupiers don’t trust is quite long, and the reasons are varied. Citizens of the cities being occupied are mistrusting that their publicly owned property won’t be damaged by the Occupiers, and that the protests will not remain civil. And, it seems, many people within the movement cannot trust each other.
Last night, the protesters could be heard chanting “The people, united, will never be defeated!” It is a chant I called with them as we marched through downtown Toronto to St. James Park, where the movement continues today. But I now question the sincerity of those words. Which people united? The ones who have professions you can agree with? If so, then we – the people – are not united and unfortunately I fear this movement will face defeat.
I have not stood in judgement of you and your life choices. I have defended you. I have spoken tirelessly of this movement and defended it against every broad, bold, untrue and unfair statement that has been lobbed at the protesters. I have asked for fairness and for people not to judge on preconceived notions that are often way off base. I have asked people to have faith in the protesters, and to trust that their motives are good and noble. I ask for you to return that courtesy.
To the Occupy movement, here is my message: Let us begin to trust each other. If you want continued support with this movement, and the support of the community at large, you must learn to put aside your unfair, preconceived notions of those who want to help you. Do not judge them based on their professions and callings. Judge them based on their actions and deeds. If we are truly all in this together and part of the “99%”, we must act like it. If we can’t trust each other, who can we trust? Because the people, divided, will surely be defeated. If this movement is to succeed, then let us look to being the 100% instead.