This old revolutionary’s got to admit that he’s a little bewildered about the direction, nay, seeming directionlessness of Occupy Toronto. In fact, the whole North American Occupy movement seems at a bit of a standstill right now, surprised by the authorities’ orchestrated attacks on their outposts. What were they thinking would happen? A warm embrace and big sloppy wet kiss? Where’s the backup plan? The next step?
Admittedly, I come from the rock throwing, epithet hurling school of protest, so am unfamiliar with the new way of doing things. Back in my day, you seized onto a single issue, took to the street and let fly, fully expecting pushback, thuggery and inevitable retreat to lick your wounds and regroup. You won some, lost many but you made sure to let those in charge know that there were lines they could not cross without expecting some sort of fight.
Granted, that was some time ago.
Now it’s all about dialogue. A sort of passive aggressive stance. Taking up a position in a grey area of legality – should they be there? can they be there? – and wanting to discuss their list of grievances. That list, itself something of a murky document, more of a litany of causes than series of demands. The only commonality among them a simple yet maddeningly complicated overarching ultimatum: We want change. We want to change it all. We’ve tried doing things your way for a little while now and it hasn’t worked out for most of us. So if you don’t mind, how be we just press the restart button.
Perhaps it’s a bit unreasonable on our part to be expecting clarity and cohesiveness this early on in the process. How do engage a group that rejects your way of conducting business? It’s not all Close Encounters of the Third Kind and a five note sequence to understanding. That was, after all, just a movie. [Last couple sentences are mine. The author is almost movie illiterate. – ed.]
But one thing that has not changed, the reason there are still people protesting in the streets, is the intransigent nature of those in power and their fearfully atavistic reflex to lash out at anything they don’t agree with or understand. That is the one thing to be counted on, that reactionary overreaction. An irrational response to dissent. You can’t say that. You can’t stay there. Can’t, can’t, can’t. Cant, cant, cant.
Today in Toronto there is great sturm and drang over the occupancy of St. James park, a small parcel of green a stone’s throw from the heart of the city’s financial district. It is surrounded by a church, commercial interests and residences. Hardly innocuous, but neither is it particularly intrusive. Unsightly? Yes, probably. Nobody said a revolution had to be pretty. [Except maybe Revlon – ed.] Inconvenient? Very likely to those who use it as their main public space. How would you like it if #OccupyTO camped out on your front yard? Well, when they move their tents to the balconies of the nearby condo buildings, we can have that conversation.
My question is, where was all this high dudgeon when the indigent alone called the park home? The drug-addled, the ne’re-do-wells and other various down-on-their-luckers who now mix uneasily with the social justicers living in their midst. As long as they weren’t too bothersome or threatening, we accepted their presence in the public realm as just part of living in the city but when others show up, pitch a tent and point out such unpleasantries, that’s unacceptable and untenable.
To be sure, many of the same loud protestations emanating from the corridors of power raining down derision and warnings upon Occupy Toronto are occasionally burped out at any and all kinds of street living, both voluntary and not. Always presented as a choice, taking up residence on a grate for warmth during the winter, they demand a clean sweep. Surely all these people have somewhere else to go. Why do they insist on diminishing our enjoyment of all the things the city has to offer those who can afford it?
But the anti-social urge passes. Everyone nods knowingly at the fact it’s become an intractable problem we’re unwilling to set our minds to solving. In the society we’ve set up, there will be winners (a few) and there will be losers (more than a few). Most people will scrap by largely out of sight and out of mind. Unfortunately, some will fall so far down through the cracks that they will land smack dab in our sightlines. Best to avert our eyes and carry on. All we can ask is not to have to step over too many of the bodies.
And yet, we’re surprised when those demanding change finally say, enough is enough, this is unacceptable. Things do not have to be this way. We’ve come to accept the intermittent signs of protest, marches, sit-ins, the odd violent clash with police. But when the tactics change and the presence of those who question our values and our clearly rigged system becomes less provisional and more permanent, all rag tag, discordant and amorphous, it’s all too much to bear. Go back to your street marching. Boycott something. Just stay out of our parks. That’s where we keep our less fortunates.
Our acceptance, embrace even, of such inequality and disparity of prosperity has led us to this place in time and history. That is the message. The constant, nagging presence of the occupy movement is simply the result and is only the beginning, by my reckoning. Like any virus threatening a host, the symptoms start small, an annoying itch here, a minor rash there. But this is a super bug, immune to the usual antibiotic treatment. The defences are not prepared for the oncoming onslaught.
— prophetically submitted by Acaphlegmic
[Acaphlegmic is not a TV watcher and, unfortunately, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke aren’t at all internet savvy so we could only find you the Tumblr version of a bit comedian Louis CK did that summed up much more succinctly what our colleague’s trying to say here. – ed.]
I think Occupy Wall Street got all loud and fired up at first thinking they were running the show. Then the police showed up with the nightsticks, the pepper spray and the handcuffs and sort of knocked them down a notch. They’ve been struggling to regain footing since.
Yet 2 months in; there are thousands of people marching and sitting in the streets of NYC…this is just the beginning.
“My question is, where was all this high dudgeon when the indigent alone called the park home? The drug-addled, the ne’re-do-wells and other various down-on-their-luckers who now mix uneasily with the social justicers living in their midst. As long as they weren’t too bothersome or threatening, we accepted their presence in the public realm as just part of living in the city but when others show up, pitch a tent and point out such unpleasantries, that’s unacceptable and untenable.”
If anything, I would argue the reverse is true – it has long been unacceptable and untenable for the homeless to camp in our parks and no one outside of OCAP has ever seriously argued that the solution to chronic homelessness was pitching a tent in Queen’s Park and letting squatters move in. Perhaps we would see more support for Streets to Homes, managed-risk treatment centres for intractable addicts and affordable housing if Toronto’s homeless occupied Yorkville instead of winter camps in the Don Valley.
But when a largely white, largely affluent, largely articulate, employed and politically savvy (as Occupy Toronto insists – contra the “get a job hippies” cant – that they are) group moves in with tents, squatting in a public park becomes, as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association argues, a vital form of expression that ought to be Constitutionally protected.
Furthermore, note that despite their rhetoric, Occupy Toronto’s actual response to the homeless who customarily frequent St. James Park has been to police them lest they “harm the movement.” They are as guilty as every other citizen in marginalizing and averting their eyes when it comes to the problem of chronic homelessness and the addiction that so often is both cause and symptom of homelessness. If Occupy Toronto speaks for the city’s desperately underprivileged it seems they would rather do so from a safe distance.
Occupy Toronto may rail against the inequalities of our society but they speak with all the benefits, protections and privileges of their class. There is a hypocrisy to the continued encampment (and a certain blowhard gutlessness to their location discretely away from the institutions they wish to overthrow – close enough to be visible but not so close as they might be daily asked to put their occupation rhetoric to the test) and their demand that their right to their chosen form of political expression be upheld above all others. In my mind, a vital test of the legitimacy of Occupy Toronto’s continued presence in St. James Park is whether or not the same toleration would be extended to another group. I can only speculate that an Aryan Bikers for a Whiter, Christian Canada camp-out in High Park would not be welcome. Nor is anyone offering reparations to the Tamils for violating their Charter rights of Expression, Free Assembly and Political Association when they were gently but firmly removed from the Gardiner Expressway.
It is possible to call for a better and more just world, to reject inequality, and to demand that the wealth of our society be shared more equitably and find Occupation Toronto tiresome, the Josh Matlow of political actions – focused on optics, obsessed with “concensus” and generally unproductive.
Where you see the beginning of a movement, I see a flash in the pan – at least in Toronto. Christ didn’t give the Sermon on the Mount, hand out some bread and fish, and call it a revolution. Taken as a historical document, the testimony of the Gospels is an account of a social movement that succeeded in changing the world, one based on tending the poor, the sick, and the outcasts of society, including the insane and the demented – the people Occupy Toronto would rather not trouble their new Utopia on King Street. You cannot create a more equal world if you are not willing to make a place for those less fortunate among you.
So just as the Hippies turned into Yuppies, and then from Yuppies to Republicans, so too will Occupation Toronto senesce into more and more debased forms until all that will remain are the demonstration tourists and the professional activists. As I said yesterday, the world is changed by those that do not those that talk about how we can all agree that it should be done. In the end, someone always has to clean the toilets.
Even among Occupy Toronto, they’re having a hard time finding more than a single volunteer.
“the Josh Matlow of political actions – focused on optics, obsessed with “concensus” and generally unproductive.”
Excellent! More, please. I enjoyed reviewing your opinions. No mush, nothing flowery, and straight to the chase. We’re in desperate need of do-ers around here. There’s only degrees of bullshit.