-Graeme Gordon, staff
Saturday, Oct. 22 saw the beginning of the second week of the Occupy Toronto protests and there still is no clear leadership or message from the movement. Although activists have setup what appears to be a permanent base camp at St. James Park, there is still no one leading the grassroots movement that began in New York City on Sept 17. There is a consensus that the main concern for this group is corporate greed, corruption and the growing disparity of wealth between the rich and poor. Protestors around the world have been chanting “we are the 99 per cent”, showing the comradeship the masses feel towards the rich elite or one percent. Yet, as the movement grows and spreads across the globe there still lacks a cohesive action plan.
Sue Ferguson, a journalism and contemporary studies professor at Laurier Brantford, has been following the Toronto Chapter of the Occupy Movement. “I was there last Saturday, Wednesday and today. It has grown a lot from a week ago,” says Fergusson. “At the beginning there were 17-18 tents at the park, now there are roughly 70-80.”
This rapid growth and support for the movement has become a global phenomenon. Social media, primarily Facebook and Twitter, has been crucial in the organization of rallies in cities across the globe.
The problem now lies in how to harness this emotional energy towards invoking real change. “What’s interesting about this movement is its amorphous nature,” says Fergusson. “Many groups from the left, such as unions, are joining together in one collective voice.” With many voices and no one designated as the leader the message can become a bit blurred.
The motley crew that marched on Saturday was streamed live on the Occupy Toronto Market Exchange Facebook page. They chanted unintelligible lines over and over again to a rhythmic drum beat as they overtook Toronto streets, travelling from St. James Park to Nathan Phillips Square and back. Many carried signs ranging from “stop corporate greed” to “capitalism trumps democracy”. Their sentiment is clear but their demands are not.
Deanna Budgell, a fourth year contemporary studies student, has been enthusiastically participating in the peaceful protests. “It is really beneficial because it is inclusive of all the occupiers and all ideas, and things they wish to employ are put to a vote (at the General Assembly) which needs 90% consensus by occupiers to be passed,” says Budgell. “The mike is open to anyone who signs up on the speakers list … the atmosphere here is very optimistic.”
A major strength of the movement is its inclusiveness as it’s supposed to represent the 99 per cent majority. An example of this merger of rights group within the movement is The Coalition against Israeli Apartheid. Deanna took part with this group on Saturday as they joined the Occupy Toronto protest. The Occupy movement has become an umbrella for minority groups and the disaffected to join. But this strength is also a weakness. With the 99 per cent all voicing their many opinions at once it is hard for the movement to articulate anything at all.
One thing Occupy Toronto has done successfully so far is build a base of operations. St. James Park has become a campground for the activists. As the protestors returned from their march some could be heard saying they had returned “home”. With tents for shelter, port-a-potties for bathrooms and a food committee for sustenance (with help of donations), the activists have the means to survive sufficiently.
Budgell says the park is its own community. “It is great to see the structural set up of the park, they have sanitation, medical tent, food tent, media tent (with Wi-Fi and power outlets), free library etc … but it is all open to the public as well!”
The protests in Toronto and other cities across Canada have remained peaceful thus far, but in several European cities riots have broken out. In London, Rome and Athens last week demonstrators fought with police, vandalized private property and looted stores. Herd behavior is a definite danger at these rallies, as large crowds can easily become enraged and violent. The Vancouver riot last spring was a clear demonstration of how a few instigators were able to create mayhem during the Stanley Cup Finals.
So far the Occupy Movement seems to be in its infancy. The only real success the movement has had is occupying space as well as expressing discontent with the current capitalist-democracy system. However, Deanna believes that the movement will eventually find a unified voice and can bring about real change, “If it continues and if it grows I don’t see why not! The main thing is to bring awareness to the population. I think the more people become aware of what is going on, the more you will see support for the Occupy movement. I have talked to plenty of people about the movement and once they understand what it is about those I have spoken with have overwhelmingly supported it,” says Budgell.
The first suggestion for change that has been gaining support is the Robin Hood Tax. On the website www.occupytoronto.org there are educational videos explaining the tax as a way of taxing banks 0.05 % on all business transactions. Activists argue that this tax would generate $650 billion in one year. Apparently this money could then be allocated across the globe to bail countries out of debt, provide healthcare for everyone, provide education and combat climate change. Yet this solution is farfetched. How this tax could be implemented and how the funds would be spent is just the beginning of many questions that would have to be addressed by this proposition.
Some of the protestors in Toronto are planning a zombie march this Halloween. Let’s hope that their cause gains some leadership and depth and is not just a mass march of the walking-dead.