I’d asked him the question at least 5 minutes earlier with still no answer.
His beard had become excessively long, past Tolstoy length, approaching Gandalfian. Curiously, he had shaped his moustache into a handlebar transformation, both ends of which he was twirling currently as he sat, gazing out the window. “It’s a Movember thing,” he’d told me when I’d asked.
Which hadn’t been my question he was now ignoring. So I repeated it.
“So what now?”
Our resident protest expert, Acaphlegmic had initially been excited about the Occupy movement but had steadily become not disenchanted, just bewildered. Now that they were being moved from their spot in St. James park, the inevitable question was being asked. Repeatedly.
“Did you hear me?”
Acaphlegmic stopped fiddling with the ends of his moustache and clasped his hands together as if in prayer, turning from the window in my direction but without looking at me. He leaned in, still not saying anything. I followed suit, leaning toward him across my desk, hoping that this might help kick start the conversation. It did. Eventually.
“Who knows?” came the answer. Hardly worth the wait. I sat back in my chair in a huff, sighing exasperatedly. It was an all too common response for my liking.
“The thing is, Damien,” Acaphlegmic continued, as usual getting my name wrong, “back in my day, it was easy to answer that question. The demands were concrete. Equal rights. Stop the war. Disco sucks! Now… now… How do you encapsulate into slogan form, ‘We’ve Gone Down The Wrong Path For The Last 30 Years?’ Wegodo..th..”
“How about this,” I interrupted, Acaphlegmic’s attempt at acronymizing always led down long, winding roads that could take hours to cover. “Resist Austerity. Reclaim the Economy. Recreate Democracy. It’s catchy and points us in a direction.”
It was also, apparently, completely new to my colleague who took some time letting it sink in before nodding his head and leaning back in his chair.
“That’s good,” he said. “You come up with that yourself?”
Hardly. It had been making the rounds for a couple weeks now down in the States but had struck me as something much more universal than Occupy Wall Street or Occupy the Banks. Not as easily and smugly shrugged off as those two had been here with the somewhat specious claim that Canadian banks had been good as gold during the black fall of 2008. Austerity measures were looming under the pretence that somehow government spending had gotten us into this mess in the first place rather than the result of backstopping a global recessionary economy brought on by a criminally reckless private financial sector.
“The McGuinty government has made its intentions known with the Throne Speech yesterday,” I told Acaphlegmic who now had his head tilted back into his hands and staring up at the ceiling. “Aside from health and education, it’s going to be belt tightening all round. Infrastructure needs? Up yours. Transit systems? Ha, ha. Ha, fucking ha. Growth is anaemic, job losses are mounting and this government’s response is to crawl into a hole and hope it doesn’t get too ugly? So yeah. Resist Austerity. Reclaim the Economy. Recreate Democracy.”
Acaphlegmic remained silently staring up at the ceiling. It was quite possible he’d fallen asleep. I leaned forward across the desk and tugged at the end of his beard. Nothing. Already on my feet, I circled around behind him and looked down into his face. His eyes were open. We stared at each other.
“Our already obscenely low corporate tax rates are still on target to go even lower,” I pointed out to him. “And what’s their response? The Chrysler CEO wants wage concessions from their Canadian workers. So government revenues drop doubly. How the fuck is that supposed to bring us out of recession?”
We continue to stare at one another. I’m not sure why exactly. Although a handle bar moustachioed, long bearded face at a 180-degree angle is very, very intriguing.
I went back to my chair, wondering what to do next. Me and almost everyone else, I guess. What we shouldn’t be doing is making a stand now in a park that had little bearing on the real battle at hand. I’d listened this morning (17’26” mark) to an occupier chained up in the camp’s library stress how important it was to defend it. Hopefully he’d also attended Toronto Public Library board meetings where deputant after deputant stepped forward to speak out in defence of the other free libraries in town under threat of closure and hours reduction.
That’s not to diminish what Occupy Toronto set out to do. Establishing dialogue is good, injecting the standard narrative with dissenting views is necessary. But now it’s time to bring the fight inside to where decisions are pending that will adversely affect those whose cause you’ve taken up. Dwight Duncan, the provincial finance minister, is talking about 33% reductions to some ministries. Occupy Dwight Duncan’s office. Next week the city’s budget committee and then full council meet to begin debate on what is being proposed as a slash and burn budget. A falsely hyped and manufactured funding short fall deliberately made worse by ill-thought out revenue cuts in order to gut of services that were promised to be untouched. Occupy the budget committee on Monday. Occupy City Council on Tuesday and Wednesday. Occupy councillors’ offices.
“Resist Austerity. Reclaim the Economy. Recreate Democracy.”
“Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz,” Acaphlegmic responded.
It seemed that maybe the fight had gone out of this old, one time rabble-rouser. The torch had been passed. I got up to see if I could make his nap a little more comfortable. Looking down into his face, I noticed his eyes remained open and he was smiling. I waved him off but he didn’t flinch. Putting my hand closer to his face, I waved more vigorously.
Sleeping with his eyes open and a smile on his face, I took this as a good sign. Maybe we were on the right track.
— as it happenedly submitted by Cityslikr
Now that the courts have upheld the city’s right to evict the Toronto occupiers from St. James Park, maintaining common sense and rational civic discourse in the process, I think we owe a big tip of the hat to those bravely fighting for such principles in their vigilant opposition to the squatting, dope smoking union dupes: the Toronto Sun and, especially Sue-Ann Levy.
When we look back at the history of this movement here in Toronto, no doubt the turning point in phase one that tilted the first skirmish in favour of the reactionaries and status quo enablers will be Ms. Levy’s intrepid undercover work, Serpico-like, effortlessly donning the appearance of some wild-eyed crackpot complete with her own pair of tiny, sort of dogs that were all the rage with the protest set, and setting up shop in a park closer to home.
A mere stunt, you say? How long did she stay in her mock makeshift camp site, 5 minutes? Wrong. Guess again. Half an hour? Not even close. An hour? Try two hours, bucko. From 3pm to 5pm without so much as a pee break before the dark and cold sent her packing. And in all that time, her wishy-washy, fence-sitting newbie councillor, Josh Matlow, did not have the courtesy to come down (up?) and talk to Ms. Levy about her list of grievances.
What grievances would those be?
Ms. Levy is tired of paying taxes to maintain a park that others can use is ways she doesn’t approve. She is also aggrieved that despite paying taxes she still has to get a permit to host an event in a park, shovel her own sidewalk, take out her own garbage and cannot cut down any tree that so much as looks at her the wrong way. What exactly is she paying taxes for anyway? That’s the travesty stoned, hippie protestors should be protesting. The likes of Sue-Anny Levy having to shovel their own sidewalks.
In exactly 120 minutes and the two or three extra it obviously took Ms. Levy to hack out her column, she got right to the heart of the problem of the occupy movement here in Toronto. It’s failure to adequately represent the concerns and self-interest of the put upon 1%. Who speaks for them, Sue-Ann Levy seems to be asking. What about their demands?
There she was, sinisterly waving about some pretend flammable liquid, prepping a picnic table to sleep under but was anybody other than her camera operator paying any attention? She “…nearly got chased out of Oriole park by a ferocious area resident…”, causing me to wonder if, since it was getting dark out, Ms. Levy may’ve got spooked by a dog rather than an actual person mistaking her as “… part of the Occupy T.O. movement.” Aside from that encounter, it seems to have been a lonely vigil.
If the St. James Park protestors aren’t going to listen to the likes of Sue-Ann Levy and all the other voiceless Sun media practitioners, then clearly their priorities are hopelessly out of step with the rest of the vulnerable 1% and must be dealt with accordingly. With hysterics. Baseless innuendo. Wilful disregard of any thoughtful exchange of ideas. Hey, protestors! What about our freedom to walk our dogs in the park of our choosing and our dogs’ freedom to pee on the sleeping homeless person of their choosing?
Hopefully, Sue-Ann will take some time after this morning’s court victory to recover from her punishing ordeal that brings to mind the 1981 Maze prison hunger strike or Nelson Mandela’s time on Robben Island. This battle is far from over. If the past, 2500, 3000 years have shown us anything it’s that wealth and privilege can never be taken for granted. Existing far outside the circle of power and influence, the wealthy and privileged can be set upon at a moment’s notice, for no reason outside of greed and envy of those who think it’s perfectly reasonably to camp out shabbily in our public spaces in order to try and get their way. We must remain open-eyed to creeping union subsidized socialism and close-minded to any points of view that differ from ours.
Rest up, Sue-Ann. Your job has just begun.
— pep talkingly submitted by Cityslikr
(It’s both funny and sad how an ostensibly progressive movement like OccupyTO can create such divisions among progressive minded people. Even here in the offices of All Fired Up in the Big Smoke there isn’t what you’d call solidarity on the subject. But our disagreements are mild compared to those some of our readers have with us. Some are so eloquent and persuasive in their disagreement, however, that it would be wrong to keep them relegated to our comments section. After all, we are not so convinced of the rightness of our views that we can’t listen to differing opinions.)
[from our Nov. 16th post.] “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.
— submitted by LifeonQueen
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 am over-subscribed.
My life is jam packed with magazines. They litter most surfaces of the office and accumulate by my bedside. Magazines cover up the piles of books I also haven’t yet read. The interwebs is not alone in creating an informational overlord overload.
There are some advantages to this. Months and months behind on issues, you become a very selective reader. Articles have to grab my attention PDQ if they want to be read. No time to be mildly entertaining or informative. Do you know how many magazines are vying for my attention?
More interestingly is the retrospective angle one is afforded when playing catch up. Was this writer bang on or completely full of shit? Has the issue at hand lingered in public discourse or has it faded from view? That’s right. I’m asking you, nameless Us scribe who predicted a long, happy and fruitful Kim Kardashian marriage.
So it was over the weekend as I was reading the October 2010 issue of Harper’s. Bookmarked (more or less) by an essay in the Readings section by Roger Hodge, author of The Mendactiy of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism, and a book review by Terry Eagleton of Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land, it was as if I was trying to discover the genesis of the Occupy movement. Again, this was over a year before the tents were pitched and camps founded in cities around North America. In these two articles, plenty of reasons were stated why a grass roots disaffection was brewing.
From Roger D. Hodge: “Corruption, in its institutional sense, denotes the degeneration of republican forms of government into despotism, and typically comes about when the private ends of a narrow faction of citizens succeed in capturing the engines of government… a corrupt citizenry is one that has allowed its private and narrow personal interests to trump those of the general public.”
Terry Eagleton on Tony Judt: “What matters is not how affluent a nation may be but how unequal it is.” ‘Public squalor’ versus ‘private affluence’. “Once the state hands over its functions of care…to private agencies, nothing remains to bind the citizen to the state but the fear of authority. The result…is an ‘eviscerated society’, one stripped of the thick mesh of mutual obligations and social responsibilities to be found in social-democratic setups.” “Men and women have been politically demobilized and so are politically disaffected.”
Of course, I hear the critics immediately jump up and exclaim that that’s all about the United States not here in Canada. Here in Canada, well, everything’s just fine. No need to be protesting in our streets and cities. We look after one another. Our elections are fair and above board. Just ignore the growing income disparity. Disregard those frightening October job numbers. Pay no attention to extended time needed for the feds to balance the book. Never mind the woefully pathetic turnout for our elections. Nothing to see here. Time to pack up your tent and go home.
The nerve of some people to question the state of our democracy.
Because, wandering through the Occupy Toronto encampment at St. James Park over the weekend, I could not for the life of me figure out what other reasons there were for the increasingly shrill cry for the ousting of these people. Aside from the less than pleasing aesthetics of mismatched tents and tarps throughout the park, some mounds of refuse here and there, there was nothing unpleasant, intrusive or obstructionist about the gathering. It was easy to cross the park on the paths or you were free to meander randomly through the tent sites. No one accosted you. There was no unwanted proselytizing. Try as I might, I couldn’t ferret out any surreptitious feet sniffing.
I stood on the north side of the park, looking across Adelaide Street at the restaurants. How exactly their customer numbers could be adversely affected by the goings on in the park was tough to say. Going about your business on the periphery of St. James, you could pass the gathering within it with little more than scant notice.
As for the noise complaints registered by local residents? Walking through the park on Saturday night, it was impossible to distinguish the din rising within it from the downtown traffic swirling around all 4 sides of it. In fact, the incessant drumming we’ve heard about was drowned out before I even left the park by the pounding of the bass out of a passing SUV full of Leafs’ fans leaving the game.
This is in no way meant to diminish or discredit the complaints. I’m sure it must be a minor annoyance and inconvenience to have had the park filled with people for the last month. I hate the streetlight that forces me to close the curtain in my bedroom every night. It just sort of comes with the territory. Urban living comes with unpredictability, both pleasant and unpleasant.
But those, to paraphrase Roger D. Hodge, are ‘private and personal interests’, they should not ‘trump those of the general public’. That is what this whole occupy movement is about, in the U.S., in Canada, internationally. Thirty years or so of private interests trumping the public good. If you’re looking for the message, you could do worse than that. Public space being occupied symbolically as a stand against the growing encroachment of private interests into every facet of our lives. Health care. Education. Dissemination of information. That fucking spot above the wall over an ever increasing number of urinals in public bathrooms. All to the detriment of most for the benefit of a very few.
Of course, I’m a little sceptical of the call for a clear and straightforward message. If you really don’t understand why there’s an occupy movement in the first place (here or anywhere else) and the tactics they’re employing, chances are you’re not going to be won over to the cause because somebody can sum it up in a pithy phrase. You’re comfortable in body and/or mind about the way things have been going and think everybody would be much better off if they just cut their hair, covered their tattoos and went out and got themselves a job. Pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. Put their nose to the grindstone.
It’s an affront to these people, nothing more. A threat only by way of a question. Are we as a society on the right track, economically, equitably, sustainably? It seems like a reasonable thing to ask, given our current state of affairs even here in Canada the good. Denying people a little patch of grass to ask is an indication of moral and intellectual disinterest and failure. Essentially, a stultifying acceptance of the status quo.
— chidingly submitted by Cityslikr
A week into Toronto’s ‘failed copycat protest’ (aka #OccupyTO) and the vultures are circling. Everyone needs to quite loafing around, dye their hair back a normal colour and go get a job. It was all so unnecessary, you see. There are no problems in Canada that need fixing. The banks here have all been model citizens, never once asking for any help from the government. I mean, what’s a little liquidity injection between friends?
Besides, the national editor of Macleans magazine, Andrew Coyne, has informed us that ‘Occupy Wall Street Has It All Wrong’. All wrong. None of it right, apparently. What were we thinking?! Maybe, just maybe, agitators in the U.S. have something to complain out, what with their higher level of unemployment and diabolical financial institutions. Coyne grants them his sage nod of approval. But here, north of stateside? Everything’s as it should be. Go back to your pods, protest people. Nothing to see or complain about here.
The mind reels at just how blinkered those framing our national narrative are. As if there’s no connection between this and that. Our banks are fine, proper regulation and oversight is in place and, technically, no bailout was necessary. It’s all good.
But the occupy movement isn’t just about bank bailouts and regulations. It’s about the whole corporate agenda that has subsumed our national interests. The placement of capital above citizens. Tax cuts and infrastructure deficits. Business before democracy.
Banks are not the only targets to be ‘occupied’. Toronto is home to the country’s non-renewable resource industries that continue to hamper any serious climate change discussion in this country. Mining companies that besmirch our country’s already tattered reputation at an international level. What’s good for Bay Street has become less and less good for Main Street.
So it’s never just been about the financial sector and bailouts. To think so seems like a deliberate attempt to compartmentalize and wish our problems away. Deriding and writing off the occupy movement smacks of shutting down an uncomfortable discussion you don’t want to have. Never mind those crazy, feet smelling, bongo playing deadbeats hanging around in the park. They don’t realize just how good they’ve got it.
— steadfastly submitted by Acaphlegmic