What Now?

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.

**sigh**

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.

“Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.”

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

The Sun Shines A Little Brighter Today

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

You Can’t Just Wish It Away

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.

Some snippets.

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