I don’t know how to process last week’s New Yorker article by Evan Osnos, The Haves and Have-Yachts. In my day, the well-to-do were satisfied sharing nautical space with a handful of their social inferiors on the most basic of three-hour tours. Although, it is true, they were just millionaires, and the wife.
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.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. The situation is fluid. So I keep hearing.”
“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.
“Resist Austerity. Reclaim the Economy. Recreate Democracy.”
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.