#Occupy: Not down, not out


One might think, based on the much-diminished news presence and the absence of physical encampments, that the movement known as Occupy has ended, or at least lost some steam. After all, they’re not really ‘occupying Wall Street’ anymore, and the police have chased away all of the physical presence of the protests here in Canada. We haven’t even heard a decent “mic check” make the news recently.

Of course, we must remember that most of the media attention has been focussed on the ongoing Republican presidential circus, and it takes a decidedly uncharacteristic (un-Occupy-like) debacle to warrant any media attention:

Officials surveyed damage Sunday from a volatile Occupy protest that resulted in hundreds of arrests the day before and left the historic City Hall vandalized after demonstrators broke into the building, smashed display cases, cut electrical wires and burned an American flag.

Police placed the number of arrests at about 400 from Saturday’s daylong protest — the most contentious since authorities dismantled the Occupy Oakland encampment late last year.

For the record, Occupy Oakland is telling a very different story than the police are. Of course they would, but there’s no reason to believe that they are any less biased than the cops, especially given the shockingly bad behaviour that the Oakland Police Department has displayed in the recent past.

It is tempting to think that the force behind the protest movement has dissipated. However, it is crucial to recognize that Occupy is fueled not by a single issue or policy, but by a deep dissatisfaction with a system that is increasingly leaving people behind. For all its protestations about “the American Dream” of pulling one’s self out of poverty through liberal application of elbow grease, many aspects of our current system are skewed toward concentrating wealth and power in the hands of a small number of people. Not people who are ‘job creators’, mind you, but the people who have learned how to manipulate the law for their own benefit.

The forces that drive Occupy have not disappeared in the past handful of months. The poverty and economic stagnation were not fixed when the tents were torn down. The marginalization of minority groups and the corruption of the democratic system were not fixed by pepper spray and rubber-coated bullets. The 99% did not shrink when peaceful protest was met with authoritarian violence. And despite the demonization of the Occupiers by those in power, the corporate welfare state is still going strong:

Corporate welfare statistics are based on a 13 year assessment of business subsidies. Between 1994 and 2007, the federal government gave away 66.6 billion, the provinces – 110.3 billion, and municipalities – 25.8 billion, for a total of 203 billion, or 15.6 billion dollars a year.

That’s almost half of Canada’s 500 billion national debt

Social welfare was calculated by the amount dispensed, the same way that corporate welfare was calculated. Based on the 2008-09 year, non-disabled recipients are being provided with a total of 8 billion dollars a year.

Now I am not one to bash the idea of corporate subsidy. After all, we subsidize lots of things with taxpayer dollars – schools, hospitals, municipalities, the list goes on. However, as we’ve seen before, there can be real dividends reaped when we invest in our people to the same extent as we invest in businesses. After all, not only do people who move out of poverty end up costing less in terms of social services, but they generate revenue in the same way that businesses do. When corporate subsidization (which gets far less press) outweighs citizen subsidization (which is constantly demeaned as “handouts” for the “lazy”) by this much, we can safely say that we’re doing something wrong as a society.

In the weeks and months since the encampments came down, something has happened. Something that escapes the notice of the 24-hour news cycle and the hullaballoo of the latest election cycle/celebrity marriage scandal. Occupy has entered the public consciousness in a way that perhaps nobody (and certainly not me) would have predicted:

And yet, this year, the veteran founder and Chairman of the Davos World Economic Forum, Professor Klaus Schwab, declares that “Capitalism, in its current form, no longer fits the world around us.”

(snip)

“We have failed to learn the lessons from the financial crisis of 2009,” he goes on. “A global transformation is urgently needed and it must start with reinstating a global sense of social responsibility.”

(snip)

“Conventional modes of decision-making have become outdated,” he announces, arguing that we must now consider the young, the poor, the unemployed. He insists on “the need to integrate new non-state actors who want to have their say … we need new models where governance processes on all levels integrate these newcomers in the most collaborative way.”

Now I don’t know if you went to the rallies (and if you didn’t, you should have – don’t worry you’ll get another chance starting in the spring), but that exact speech was being made by the “greasy hippies” on the people’s mic. It was being made by the “radicals” and “anarchists” and “lazy people who just need to get a job”. These words speak to the heart of one of Occupy’s main issues – that we need to develop a new system. The fact that the speaker of those words is one of the most prominent beneficiaries and trustees of the status quo speaks volumes about how far the Occupy message has permeated.

Part of the popular narrative has been that Canada didn’t respond to Occupy with the same sympathy that our southern neighbours did because our political/economic system is much more fair and transparent than the American one. Canadians, tight-fisted tories that we are, don’t have time for this kind of whinging nonsense. Cut your hair! Get a job!

Turns out that’s only half true:

Over half of Canadians sympathized with the Occupy movement, according to the results tallied from 23 countries and released Friday by global research company Ipsos.

Canadians sat right on the fence, with 52 per cent of respondents who were given a brief description of the movement reporting that they sympathized. That’s just a hair under the global average of 53 per cent but well above the U.S., where 45 per cent of respondents reported they were sympathetic.

The rumours of the death of Occupy have been greatly exaggerated. Occupy is not done – the issues it addresses are still problems, its impact has reverberated into the halls of power, and it has substantial buy-in from the Canadian public. I am looking forward to the spring.

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Comments

  1. extian says

    There’s really only one reason why the Occupy movement hasn’t been as visible lately: the weather.

    People are still plenty pissed off. Just wait until it gets warm again and you’ll see the streets fill up – especially as it gets closer to the US elections.

  2. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    I wrote a longish comment on Mano Singham’s blog about Occupy.

    And if the Occupy movement has accomplished nothing else, it’s provided a vehicle for many people to consider whether anyone actually bothered to obtain their consent before eliminating the basic safeguards of democracy. While the media and political professionals fixated on the movement’s lack of demands, they missed the real story. It wasn’t about demands; it was about diagnosis.

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