Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Occupy Edmonton - Reflections on a Movement

Occupy Edmonton by raise my voice
Occupy Edmonton, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

This past Saturday, Edmonton joined the growing number of cities around the world in the Occupy movement.

It all started on Wall Street in New York last month, when a grassroots group of individuals decided that they had enough of corporations getting tax breaks, bailouts, and other economic benefits not available to the average person, laden with taxes, debt, and other financial woes for which there are no subsidies or bailouts. The "occupation" involved camping out in the financial district of the city.

Soon, other groups of activists in other cities began doing something similar, in solidarity with the Wall Street campers, but also because this sort of economic unfairness happens all over. Corporations (and the people who run them) are only 1% of the population, while the other 99% pick up the slack.

October 15 was the Canadian day of action, and Edmonton saw at least 1500 people fill Churchill Square for a rally and march. Afterwards, around 50 or so people set up camp in a park on 102 Street and Jasper Avenue, where they remain as of the time I am writing this blog post.

The Occupy movement has taken a lot of criticism on two fronts: one, that is it is leaderless and two, that there is no clear agenda of what exactly people want. To address the first issue, a movement does not necessarily have to have a leader per se. A grassroots movement is exactly that - a group. Decisions can be made by consensus or in whatever way the group decides. The Edmonton model has been run via consensus.

As for the second, there are lots of things people tossed around as demands. Does a protest necessarily have to have one thing as a resolution? My summation, when asked, is that we need a more just economy that supports everyone, instead of putting corporate interests above all else. How that should come about - now, that is something that can have many different theories. There have been a number of general assemblies where the people involved in the camp discuss their strategies for effecting social change. I have not attended any of these, so I cannot comment further.

The same can be said of the peace movement, of which I am also a part. We all agree that war is wrong - how we achieve peace is where we have different ideas. We dialogue. It's all part of the process.

Occupy Edmonton is one of the largest rallies I have attended in around six years of attending, organizing, and participating in the activist scene. Obviously, a lot of people are concerned about the way our economy runs and it is not something to mock or ignore, whether or not solutions are immediately forthcoming.

In fact, I was recently asked about immediate, concrete results coming from a local protest. My answer is that the purpose of protests like marches and rallies is not to bring about immediate results. It is to raise awareness and to speak out. Again, this is all part of the process. It is a forum for expressing ideas and to educate others. People always ask me after events, even if they did not attend but see my photos and videos online, what the issues are. This brings the chance to educate. And then they tell me their perspective, and I learn from them.

There are always activists who get defensive when questioned about their motives, particularly because we have a tendency to get ridiculed for our actions and beliefs. It is unfortunately when lines of communication get muddied, but these experiences do not change the underlying reasons for the protest in the first place.

Whether or not Occupy Edmonton (or the Occupy movement in general) will have any long-term, lasting effects remains to be seen. However, it is a large-scale, bold example of free speech and democracy in action, and for that reason alone, should be encouraged.

To view my entire photo set from the march and rally, click here. For a video play list of all of the speakers and music, click here.

And a disclaimer: I was involved in some of the organizing of the Occupy Edmonton event on October 15 and sang at the rally.

1 comment:

SherryGreens said...

What an amazing event to be a part of! I am so excited about this movement, and support it fully. I really hope we are able to bring about change!