Why I’m participating in Occupy Vancouver
Participants are united by a common grievance: that a small group of corporations hold massive amounts of wealth and decision-making power, while the majority of the population suffers from enormous debt, unemployment and unaffordable health care and housing. The movement still lacks concrete demands, but protesters seem to pride themselves more in the process than the outcome. General assemblies, where decisions about the occupation are made through consensus, are held twice a day.
The movement “challenge[s] corporate greed, corruption, and the collusion between corporate power and government… and oppose[s] systemic inequality, militarization, environmental destruction, and the erosion of civil liberties and human rights.”
Over the past few days I’ve been asking my (middle-class, university educated) friends and colleagues whether they were going to participate in Occupy Vancouver. I was surprised that many of those that I assumed would go weren’t planning to, and some of the reasons that I got were interesting: “It makes sense to occupy Wall Street, but Canada is different from the USA, and we have a stable economy… Vancouver is a great place to live, what’s wrong with it?… It seems that movement is led mostly by white men… We’re already on illegally occupied Coast Salish land… I’m not really the protesting type even though I think the movement is important…” Some of the objections were general and based on not having been part of the first general assembly.
I have are four main reasons for participating in Occupy Vancouver.
Reason 1: We get to decide what the movement is about
When I attended the General Assembly Meeting for the Occupy Vancouver movement at the atrium of the Woodwards complex on October 8, I had no idea what to expect. I just came to check it out. Although there were “only” 200 people there, I was moved by the attempt to build the movement from the ground-up through consensus, which, to be used with a large group of people, needed the technology of the human microphone. (And what a cool technology it is! Here’s Joseph Stiglitz using (and being amused by) the human microphone technique at Occupy Wall Street.)
The most contentious issue from the meeting was what the statement of unity for the Occupy Vancouver movement would be. The facilitators of the meeting wanted to postpone the discussion until the day of the protest, and emphasized that the agenda should be built from the ground up starting from the day of the protest. The audience was divided on this. I was also apprehensive. But now, after talking to my friends, I realize that this is probably a sound move, because it opens possibilities for people (or at least the people I have been communicated with) to stake their claim in the process.
Reason 2: There is space within the Occupy movement to link the excesses of capitalism with histories of colonization
During the general assembly, people took pains to acknowledge the fact that we Vancouver is illegally occupied native territory. For instance, trying to offer a statement that everyone could get behind on, Sara Kendall spoke up during the assembly, and made the point that because Vancouver is Coast Salish land that is illegally occupied, it’s problematic to talk about “occupying the occupiers”, so why don’t we talk about kicking out the occupiers instead and rally behind a theme of “Decolonizing Vancouver”?
I brought up the idea with an SFU student who subsequently set up a Facebook group for students and staff at schools, colleges, and universities. He asked me to clarify what the notion of decolonizing Vancouver would have to do with, say, the Occupy Wall Street movement and its ideas around fiscal prudence. I warned him that I wasn’t a political theorist, but this is the way I have come to understand this problem:
Many things exist in Vancouver (or for that matter in Canada and elsewhere in the world) are the result of some force (often through the instruments of war and policy) claiming the right to destroy, take over, and replace existing things, often without the consent of the people who used to be there before. These things could be physical (as in human-made structures) or abstract (ways of doing things, exchanging goods and services, or relating with the environment).
The concept of decolonizing can be applied in many ways, but to me it it boils down to undoing the harm done by the unilateral and often unlawful forces of colonization.
Much of what we have has come to accept as normal or uncontroversial in daily life is linked to the values propagated by the powers-at-large. Capitalism can be seen as instrument of colonization in that it reflects the colonizers’ attitudes towards the attainment of wealth, the value of labor, the accumulation of capital, property, and theft.
Reason 3: Vancouver and Canada are great places to live… but they aren’t perfect
Income disparity in the Vancouver is one of the largest in Canada. The “extreme unaffordability across all housing types” housing in Vancouver compelled the Royal Bank of Canada to place it in “a class by itself” in a August 2011 report on housing in Canada.
But there are even more compelling reasons. Check this Facebook album out on the ten reasons why we should “Occupy” Canada.
Reason 4: We are all connected
This is paramount. What happens in Wall Street affects us all, not only pragmatically—in that the global financial system affects the flow of goods and services and impacts employment trends everywhere—but also on a human, empathetic scale: The well-being of others is something that I care about.
My sense of who I am isn’t embedded in just my own body, but it is instead distributed within the bodies of those in my community. Some people have more bits of me than others, but I think we all have bits of ourselves in other people, whether we like it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not. To borrow a metaphor from contemporary computing: the data that matters to me is not located on a single computer, but it is distributed in the cloud.
Participating in Occupy Vancouver is also my way of telling forming solidarity with other Occupy movements: “I have heard what you are going through, and I am here to tell Vancouver, Canada, and the world that I support your struggles.”
The protest will start at 10 am on October 15th at the Art Gallery. Some groups will branch out quickly from there to camp out in other areas of the city. Vancouver doesn’t really have a financial district, but there are places/buildings that represent economic and political power.
Here’s the Facebook group for the protest. There’s also a Facebook group for students and staff at schools, colleges, and universities.
If you’re on Facebook and you want to come to the event, please confirm your attendance. You can also sign up to help out with any of the committees by visiting their website and looking at their list of committees. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and contact email if you wish to join a committee.
(The general assembly. October 8. Original image from The Province. That’s me and my friend Yasser.)