Where do we go from here? Occupy, Part 5

As mentioned in my previous post, our London Occupiers were removed from Victoria Park on Tuesday night.

Now, despite your thoughts on the movement or the occupation, give the Occupiers credit. They gave the first leg of Occupy London a very good kick at the ball, and for all intents and purposes it was a success. They may celebrate themselves. I have never seen Londoners speak so much of one issue since I moved to this city. I am proud of their efforts and your dialogue. I know many other members of the community are as proud as well.

I admit, it was disappointing news to wake up to. This is one situation where I do believe the Charter should trump a bylaw, and concessions could have been made. The Occupation really wasn’t doing any harm. I was holding out hope that council would be convinced to say, “Okay. You have our permission at least until X date. Let’s do it.”

We talk about being leaders, but then we miss a chance like this to show it. To have just a little more time for them to organize and engage the public, and not be the first Canadian city to evict an occupy movement, would have been leader-like. But the time has past and it’s time to move on and think forward.

And to be honest, short of setting up yurts like in Toronto, I didn’t know how the Occupiers would survive the London winter in tents anyway. That would be concerning.  Soon it will be too cold to protest or hold General Assemblies outside, and the cold might limit or deter those who would like to be involved in the discussions. Interest will wane and the movement will fizzle.

So now we need to ask, where does the movement go from here? What space can be “occupied”, even if only a few times a week for the continuation of General Assemblies? A neutral location where all attendees can feel safe, warm, welcome and free to speak.  Where issues can be discussed with some sort of consensus on issues the aim.

Consider this: If all the movements across Canada were to do the same, perhaps in the not so distant future a request could be put forth to present the concerns of the people to our governments at all levels. In each movement we could pinpoint issues  unique by municipality and province, address them accordingly, and use our common findings to draft a universal response at the federal level.

I can’t say it enough, this is going to take a while, and we all need to be patient or join in. This is not something that can be done in a day, or a week, or a month. We have to hold democratic discussions, bend a little, give a little, and take a little on each side. And maybe, just maybe, if we can do this and succeed, we will find our cure for apathy.

Nobody said I wasn’t a dreamer, right?

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Trust Issues: Occupy, Part 4

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.

London calling? Occupy, Part 3

London, Ontario, you’ve had quite a bit to say over the last couple of weeks. I’m glad because personally, I think many of you have been quiet for far too long.

If you are curious, discussing, criticizing or congratulating the occupation of Victoria Park, then it’s working. Welcome aboard the Occupy bandwagon.  As I’ve warned, it’s sure to be a long ride so you may not want to sit for the whole time and watch. Again, I encourage you to get up, get out and get talking. Talk to your friends, neighbours, relatives and strangers and find out if you are alone in your thoughts, for or against the movement, and why.  We can only benefit from this dialogue.  All of us.

Reading comments on Twitter, Facebook and local news websites since the London occupation began on October 22nd has been interesting, to say the least.  There have been many comments of support from people in London who say they “get” what the occupy movement is about. Some see why there is a need for the physical occupation while others do not, but overall they support the message(s) the occupiers are trying to convey and will patiently wait for future messages and action.

Sadly, it seems there are just as many negative comments regarding the occupation, if not more.  Many people still don’t understand, and others proclaim they do understand but disagree with the movement as they just don’t relate. Understandable. No movement can expect 100% support.  If it were possible at this point in time, there would be no reason to protest, the world would be full of Pollyanna’s, and peace, love and harmony would prevail. (I will continue to hold out hope that one day this will happen.)

It is also understandable that some of you are becoming annoyed with the protesters, have concerns, and would like them to leave the park.  Reasonable comments say they wish no harm on the protesters and only want to see an end, or a demand, or a resolution, or something!

Others, however, are really up in arms and have gone so far as to make physical threats against the occupiers.  Folks, if any of you reading this are getting red in the face when you think about the movement and the occupiers, or are wishing physical harm upon them, then you need to cool your fuse, Dynamite.  If a peaceful occupation makes you that angry, the problem is likely – no, definitely – not the fault of the movement, or the protesters. I’m just saying.

The most common, and rational, comments and concerns I have come across are as follows:

  • Many fear the park will be ‘wrecked’ by the occupation and the taxpayers will foot the bill;
  • Some are upset that the bylaws are being disregarded, and in favouring a few, it is unfair to all;
  • Some feel they are not able to enjoy the park in the same manner they could before the occupation, and worry it will disrupt the upcoming festival of lights;
  • Others worry that time and energy is being wasted by city politicians who’s time could be better spent working on “bigger, more pressing issues”;
  • The city parks department has concerns about getting sprinkler systems drained so pipes around the park don’t burst with the freezing temperatures that are soon upon us.

These concerns should be acknowledged and accepted, because they are valid.  Who will repair the grass in the spring if it is damaged, and at what cost? Is it fair that the protesters can camp out in Victoria Park for as long as they like and anyone else, doing it ‘just because’, would be fined?  What will happen during the festival of lights if the tents are still there?  Is the city wasting time on listening to and dealing with to the Occupiers? And will they move the tents to accommodate the city to prepare for winter?

Reasonably, the occupiers should fix any damage that may be caused to the park, and I’m confident that they would.  These people are concerned with changing the world, not destroying it.  They have also gained support of several large unions, so finding the money for repairs should not be an issue.

Why should they be able to stay?  Because, in my humble opinion, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms – the document that gives us the right to protest and peacefully assemble – trumps any bylaw, any day.  I know many of you will disagree, but my position will not waver so it isn’t worth your effort.  My grandfathers fought in two wars for you and I to enjoy those rights, and I take them seriously.  ‘We’ cannot camp at the park “just because”, because “just because” is not a valid enough reason.  I like to hope that eventually we will agree that wanting to change the world one heart, one mind, one day at a time, is.

The festival of lights will go on, concessions will be made and perhaps the tents occupying that small corner of Victoria Park will be decorated. Maybe by then a more defined, cohesive message will have emerged from the movement and they will be able to share it with visitors to the park.  Christmas is, after all, the season of peace, goodwill and sharing.

I do not believe city officials are wasting time that could be spent on more “pressing” issues. The issues of each person occupying the park, and those at home supporting the movement, are pressing issues. Every single one of them. Their concerns about the future of our city, province, country or world are just as valid as yours. We can only decide what is pressing to us, personally, not everyone else. And it is the job of our elected officials to listen and engage with us, even though a Councillor or two may tell you that your voice is heard only on election day. “Democracy should not be a scheduled event that happens every four years.”

Will the occupiers move the tents for the city parks people to do their job? Personally, I would think them unreasonable if they didn’t.  To refuse could be perceived as combative and obstructive, and this is not a combative or obstructive movement.

With all of the above said in support of the Occupy London, Ontario movement, I must also offer up some honest criticism.  I know many supporters and occupiers will agree with me when I say:  It is time to do something.  I mean really do something.

There has been very little action from the camp, and little to no protest. I know of only one march that has taken place, aside from the first day.  There are signs erected around the camp, which is set up quite comfortably and neatly, but there has been no active protest or marching in or out of the park.  By many accounts, the General Assemblies are not well attended and have focused mainly on logistics. Next to nothing is being addressed, and consensus has been hard to reach.  That needs to improve for this movement to be a success, immediately.

It’s time to sink your teeth in to this movement, London Occupiers.  March, demonstrate, make a noise!  It is the only way your support is going to grow, and that is something you really need to work on, now.  You are coming to a crucial breaking point between the public taking your occupation seriously and wanting to listen, or getting fed up, walking away and tuning out.  Get your message(s) together, start talking and keep the public talking.  Good or bad, dialogue is what you want to create, but you need to generate it and keep it going before your chance is stripped away.

I and many others are rooting for you.  We are hopeful that you and the worldwide occupy movements will continue unabated and undisturbed.  We are trying our best to defend your right to occupy and protest.  But London Occupiers, we need something from you.  We need to see and hear you, every single day until everybody is listening. The people of London are waiting, Occupiers. It’s your call now.

 

 

 

Every Picture Tells a Story: Occupy, Part 2

Whenever I write, I write from my heart. That can prove to be quite challenging at times because (if you haven’t guessed)  I’m a bit of a bleeding heart, and as a result what should be a rational post can become overshadowed by emotion.  I’ve held off blogging about the Occupy movement for the last two weeks for this very reason. I knew my emotion could easily get the best of me. And as I begin writing now, I still can’t guarantee you it won’t.

The Occupy movement has captured my attention from the day it launched. I’ve been asked a lot lately why the movement has my attention, and why I support it.  Quite simply it is this:  I am inspired to see citizens of North America and the world uniting to air their grievances, whatever they may be, and engaging in dialogue with one another. What is there not to support about that?

Engagement in the political process is what I am ‘all about’.  When I first took an interest in politics as a teen, I made it a personal mission to inform my friends, family and anyone I met of their rights, responsibilities and duties as an occupant of this great country of ours.  The number one priority on my list:  VOTE! That mission has not changed in the last 20 years and I still hound encourage anyone who will listen to vote with every election.

It seems many people I speak to feel that this is the best and most relevant exercise of our democratic rights and freedoms: “Occupy the ballot box!”  I can’t help but disagree with that sentiment, no matter how much of a “vote” hound I am.  Democracy should not be a scheduled event that happens every four years. It should happen every day of your life.

This, to me, is a picture of what Democracy should look like:

I think I am finally starting to understand why the Occupy movement has no defined leader or message, and as I do it makes me happy that they have neither.  Without a clear message to condemn or a leader to attack, this movement has nothing for corporate media to sink it’s deadly teeth into. The movement isn’t easily sold to the average Joe Public who would rather keep up with the Kardashians than know what their neighbours are up to.  If you ask me, that’s a sad state of affairs, but I believe the movement is better off without CNN, Fox and the like “reporting” on it.  Keep it honest, keep it real, and keep it growing.

There is only one thing I am unsure of surrounding the entire Occupy movement, and is not the multiple messages, the lack of leadership, or how much staying power it will have through the coming winter months.  What I am most unsure of, personally, is why this movement is so troubling to some folks.  Those who go out of their way to mock, disparage or criticize the movement.  I’m getting tired of hearing the occupiers referred to as “dirty, stinky hippies”, “whiners” or “lazy unemployed bums”.

  1. None of them that I have met are dirty, stinky, whining, lazy or bums.
  2. Some of them are hippies, and yes some of them are unemployed. But you also have moms, dads, nurses, teachers, students, real estate agents, “IT nerds”, auto workers, artists, self-employed persons, etc, etc, etc.

The brush has been too broad and very unfair when painting the picture of the occupiers, and this is what I find the most troubling. Why is there such animosity for the people of the movement? Who are the occupiers hurting with their occupation? Is your life horribly and irreparably disrupted by these people?  If you believe it has been, I hope you will leave a comment explaining why you feel the occupation has caused you, personally, undue hardship. I would be interested to know.

The most important message for me in this movement, and the one that I would like to share, is cited in the picture below:

The demands are many and can’t be condensed into a neat little package at the moment. It is going to take a lot of dialogue and a lot more occupying of Wall Street, St. James Park, Victoria Park and every other street, city and park around the world before there is a unified message and eventual resolution. Some who otherwise support the movement are now asking, “But why occupy parks, especially with winter coming? Why not just go home and keep the movement going at town hall meetings and through social media?”

Because they want you to join them. They know that if they put up posters and invite you to discussions in your neighbourhood, most of you won’t show up. Admit it! I’ve gone to my fair share of “town hall” discussion meetings that have had abysmal attendance (just like the polling stations at every election).  For whatever reason, it doesn’t work and people tend to stay home.

So imagine this for one minute:  a gigantic town hall meeting that stretches across the world with thousands upon thousands of people in attendance.  Where every person has an equal voice and an opportunity to speak and be heard.  Where no issue is more relevant or important than another, and where participants diligently work together towards consensus and a potential resolution to those issues. Where every person in the world is welcome to join at any point in the discussion to add their two cents.

This is the Occupy movement.

It is no longer just Wall Street, Toronto, London,  Melbourne, Chicago or Oakland.  It is everywhere and friends, that is one huge meeting. With only a human microphone, many voices to repeat the message and the internet to accurately report it, this could take a while.  Instead of waiting and watching, and complaining about how they are doing things, join the discussion. Use your voice and share your opinions while you wait for your next chance to democratically mark a ballot. If you sit idle between elections, you are allowing others to make all the decisions for you. That is not democracy, and you are entitled to your say.

On November 5th, I would encourage you to get out and talk to your local Occupiers.  Meet them, find out more about them and ask them personally, “What change do YOU want to see?” Whether you agree or disagree, keep an open mind and hear what they have to say. We can work this shit out, people.  But we have to do it together.