Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Occupy Edmonton - Why We Should Care

I attended most of The Parkland Institute's Fall Conference over the weekend. The topic dealt with the economy and the growing divide in society between classes, as well as attacks upon workers and unions. Much of what was discussed was in the context of the Occupy movement.

There could not be a more timely topic, as Occupy Edmonton has been holding strong for over a month now in the park owned by Melcor at 102 Street and Jasper Avenue. Despite a heavy snowfall and dramatically cold weather, a small group of campers have maintained at the site, having winterized (including putting up a military tent complete with a disco ball for entertainment shows).

Yet another deadline for eviction (I think this is the third) by Melcor has come and gone, with the Occupiers refusing to leave, offering up instead a list of demands.

This situation has brought about mixed reactions, even within the activist community itself. I met up with several long-time activists at the conference who felt that Occupy was a diversion from other, more pressing matters, like the dismantling of the Wheat Board. They also stated that Occupy doesn't seem to stand for anything, that its demands are not clear.

I respectfully disagree. First of all, it is just wonderful in general to see younger people standing up for something. At the various Occupy rallies and at the camp itself, I have met numerous people I have never seen before - and I have been kicking around the activist community for a good number of years now.

Secondly. if Occupy is accomplishing anything, it is raising awareness of the fact that the current economic system is not working as it should, in that corporations are getting breaks and exemptions that the common workers never gets. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. That's the message I am getting.

I've also been hearing the arguments from a number of sides and political stripes that it is getting too cold to camp (so this is becoming a safety issue) and the fact that the group is on privately-owned land, and they should, in fact, occupy public land instead. These two issues (safety and private vs. public) are likely becoming the real diversions because Occupy is actually about more than just a camp itself.

Yes, safety is an issue, but these people are very passionate about spreading their message. And for those who say there is no message, I think the list of demands is pretty clear - lofty goals, yes, but clear nonetheless. As for the decision to be on privately owned land, I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Occupy Edmonton is making a statement that a corporation is not a person, as opposed to how said entities are treated legally and economically. However, if Occupy Edmonton does get evicted or chooses to leave that specific site, I know there is a Plan B (and C, and likely D).

Occupy is a global movement that will continue in one form or another. Maybe it will not change the world overnight, but there will be effects. We are witnessing one of the most important social movements of our time.

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