Why we #Occupy

I realize I haven’t written about the Occupy movement in several weeks. Unfortunately I have fallen victim to the same syndrome that I criticize in the major media outlets: once the novelty wears off, it becomes more of a struggle to find interesting things to say. Of course, because I get most of my content from those same outlets, their lassitude becomes mine. In my defense, I am a blogger, not a newspaper or a cable network – I do not share the same level of responsibility in reporting what is going on in the world.

Feeble excuses aside, I have certainly not done my job in defending the Canadian incarnation of the Occupation. An Occupation, I hasten to point out, that has not disappeared simply because its camps were razed. The Occupation lives online and in small committees that periodically plan (and execute) acts of protest. While the physical occupation is gone, Occupy Canada is very much alive.

I’ve had more than a couple of discussions with people who claim not to understand why Canada needs an Occupy movement. After all, they say, many of the banking sector reforms demanded by the Wall Street Occupation are already in place here. Money doesn’t infiltrate politics to nearly the extent that it does south of the border. Unemployment is lower, our social safety net is more comprehensive, and our right-wing politicians are about where the American president (a.k.a the vanguard of creeping socialist extremism) is. What exactly do we have to complain about?

Well, maybe this for starters:

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History debunks myths about Occupy

One of the things that has struck me most about the opposition to the Occupy movement is the ease with which people approach repeating the trite truisms about the occupiers. No matter how many professionals stand up in support of the protest, everyone reaches for the “unemployed bums” canard. Regardless of the number of specific problems highlighted by protests at each site, nobody seems to have any problem expressing their bewilderment at the lack of a cohesive message. Despite the amount of energy and time put into making the occupied sites more than just an urban camping trip, people throw around the term “lazy” like rice at a wedding.

The other aspect that particularly fascinates me is the tin ear for the lessons of history that these criticisms showcase. Every revolutionary protest movement looks like this, even the ones that we would otherwise support. It doesn’t take an encyclopedic knowledge of history to see the parallels between the occupation of public space and the non-violent resistance of Indians to British rule. Nor does one have to have a degree in the humanities to see the attempted demonization of Occupy’s “hippies” echoing the same condemnations from a generation ago in the person of the actual hippies of the Vietnam resistance movement.

But even if one isn’t well-attuned to those particular stories, it’s hard for me to look at the Occupiers and not see links to the civil rights movement of African-Americans in the mid-20th century. Now this is not to say that the problems of centuries of racism and the fight for human decency is on equivalent footing to corruption in financial and political institutions (which have become two sides of the same ill-gained coin); however, it is worth noting that many of the common bromides hurled at the Occupy movement are shown to be quite hollow by even a cursory examination of history. [Read more…]

Thoughts on the state of the occupation – update

So I’ll confess I sounded a bit maudlin on Monday when looking at how things were shaping up for the Occupy Vancouver movement. I don’t know that my mood has changed much since then, but I have some new insights.

As some of you know, the city was granted an unjunction to remove all persons and structures present on the lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery so that the city could ‘clean’. I put this in quotes because I sincerely doubt the city’s intention to remove anything other than protesters they don’t like. Antipathy toward the movement has been turned up as the movement has progressed. Some of the blame for this can probably be laid at the feet of the protesters themselves, who failed to articulate the reasons why the occupation itself was necessary. The majority of fingers, however, can be pointed at the ridiculously one-sided media coverage it has received.

There was no shortage of people capable of articulating the ideology of the occupation at the site. There were passionate, coherent, well-informed people running sound equipment, organizing marches, working at the library and info tents, plus volunteer medical staff always within earshot. What the media has done instead is consistently focussed on the more flamboyant members of the group. I am not so cynical as to consider this an intentional campaign of misinformation by a media that wishes to maintain the corporate status quo. At the same time, however, considering that this criticism is leveled at them regularly – to the point where protesters have stopped talking to the media at all - makes me think that they are either just really stubborn in their stupidity, or that there is indeed an element of intentionality: [Read more…]

What do Vancouverites have to complain about?

I don’t have the freedom, courage, or fortitude to actually sleep in a tent in the middle of downtown Vancouver. I don’t want to lose my job, and I’m a pretty big wimp when it comes to organized protest. That’s why I consider myself lucky that there are others out there who are willing to fight on my behalf in ways that I cannot. It behooves me, therefore, to join in the fight the best way I know how – by writing. In addition to the handful of posts on the Occupation I’ve posted here, I’ve been regularly taking to the walls of my Facebook friends and trying to counter the anti-occupation memes that crop up in seemingly-inexhaustable supply.

One such conversation (which appears to be ongoing) came from a former roommate of mine, who is one of the most erudite and knowledgable guys I know. Despite that fact (for reasons I am coming to understand much better), he is quite conservative and, resultingly, openly contemptuous of Occupy. His opening salvo was to tell everyone protesting in North America and Europe to “get over themselves”, which I didn’t quite understand. I asked him if only people from Sudan were allowed to protest, because there was always someone worse off somewhere else.

Nearly immediately he went on a wild tangent about how the tactics used by the protesters were illegal, about how they weren’t proposing concrete solutions, about how they did have concrete solutions but that he didn’t like them… basically everything except the original argument. I have heard many others express his bewilderment in other words, but consistently fail to provide anything but red herrings and straw men by way of explanation. This fact suggests to me that people’s opposition to Occupy has little to do with the actual movement, but a series of myths that have been cultivated about the system being protested.

Which is a shame, because even here in Vancouver there is plenty for them to be upset about: [Read more…]

My thoughts on the state of Occupy Vancouver

On Friday, Occupy Vancouver was handed a pretty significant setback in the form of an injunction granting the city of Vancouver the authority to begin dismantling the encampment at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Immediately following the decision, I headed down to the VAG to see how people were reacting to the news. I expected anger or defiance, but what I found was melancholy.

It is not surprising to me, though it is obviously upsetting, that Vancouver’s Occupy branch has lost some of its steam. With a local press determined to undermine and ridicule the movement and its goals instead of even pretending at impartiality, and a mayor smart enough to know that sending in the police will only bolster the movement, there has been little popular support for Vancouver’s occupiers from the start.

I have had people tell me again and again that people in Canada, particularly Vancouver, have little cause to complain. My answer to them, time and again, has been “that’s true, unless you’re homeless, or Aboriginal, or want to buy a home.” These three issues are constant problems within the city, and OcVan became a method through which they could be addressed with an audience actually watching. [Read more…]

Movie Friday: Benefits, Costs, and Occupy

This was a pretty crazy week for the Occupy Together movement – police beat and sprayed occupiers in New York, Seattle, Denver, and were going to descend on San Francisco as well before being scared off. That’s to say nothing of what happened to the students at Berkeley who were assaulted by police on the very steps where the free speech and anti-war movements of the mid-20th century were born.

I spent part of yesterday evening with Occupy Vancouver, on a march that went from Brookfield’s Vancouver office (the people who own Zuccotti Park and requested that the city tear down the OWS site) to a local branch of the Royal Bank, back to Brookfield, and returning ultimate to the foot of the Art Gallery. I was struck by the positive, upbeat attitude of the crowd and the (nearly) seamless communication of ideas.

What I was more struck by was the clear level of commitment, energy, and skill that had gone into making what was (when last I was there) a ramshackle affair into a cohesive, established site, that was offering a variety of services to the city of Vancouver.

I thought you might enjoy this video:

The Occupy movement, despite the idiotic, reactionary criticism it gets from people informed by a media that is not set up to understand a movement like this, is not a bunch of shiftless layabouts who would rather have a handout than push a broom. They are passionate, dedicated people who are willing to put themselves through quite a lot of suffering to make an important point about how our society is structured. In between making points, however, they’re also providing valuable services.

If I can speak as an economist for a moment, the video highlights something that doesn’t get spoken about much. I got into an absolutely one-sided “debate” with someone on Facebook who called the occupiers “losers”. Her position (rambling as it was) eventually settled on the fact that she didn’t want her hard-earned tax dollars paying for the electricity that Occupy Vancouver is getting from the city. The $0.00001 that she has contributed to the movement aside, that argument only works if you completely ignore the fact that Occupy Vancouver is housing and feeding people, providing medical care, and generating political advertising and awareness. Each of these things, provided without charge, is not only valuable, but takes pressure off of municipal services.

But again, this is the whole point of the Occupy movement: society is not living up to its promises to provide these services. If we want to see improvements, we have to become more proactive. What we should have is a system that places a greater emphasis on equality than quarter-to-quarter growth – the two are not independent entities. We should be using the wealth we generate to care for those who need help, so they can get up on their feet and begin generating wealth of their own. Instead, we reward a small number far beyond what their services are truly worth.

Anyway, if I’m not careful this will turn into a 2,000 word opinion piece on the philosophy of the occupiers. This is movie Friday – it’s supposed to be fun and relaxing. Here’s CROWN doing a Beatles tune:

Happy Friday!

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The lies told about the Occupy movement

This past Thursday, I spent an hour trying to explain the Occupy movement to a friend of mine. Because ze is (depressingly) not particularly well-versed in current events (I say depressingly because this seems to be a common phenomenon), I had to re-cap about 15 years of history and economics – topics I am enthusiastic about but am not an expert in. What followed my careful explanation of the reasons for the protest was a torrent of stereotypes and derrogations of the people present at the protest. When I asked where ze got the information from, all ze could offer was an admission that it had been from “people”.

It is not surprising to me that sources in the larger media are doing a depressingly awful job of reporting about Occupy. It is not a ‘protest’ in the sense that they are used to – loud, focussed, sponsored, targeted. The diffuse and amorphous nature of the problems facing the financial system and the way we think of the economy will not be solved through a single legislative package or a new political candidate; a new avenue of change is needed, and Occupy is trying to be just that. This poses a problem for the media – no leaders, no spokesperson, no head office, no stationery, no logo, no easily-digested sound byte. However, if a part-time blogger like myself can understand and explain the Occupy movement to a naive friend in an hour, then every media talking head that says they “don’t get” the Occupy movement should be fired. They are clearly grossly incompetent and unfit for their job, which is to relate current events and place them in context.

But what bothers me far more than the artificial “confusion” of media outlets is the constant stream of disinformation and propaganda that flows incessantly like rusty tap water from politicians and media outlets. For example: [Read more…]