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October 14, 2011 / amanda stratton

Sorry! This One’s Occupied!

I’m sure by now all of the nine of you who read this blog know about the Occupy Movement. About this particular issue, I’m not uneducated, and in my opinion, I’m not stupid. I’ve been following it since about a week after the occupation of Wall Street began on September 17, and I researched it in earnest during the past couple of weeks.

The rest of this post, I’m referring almost entirely to the Occupy Toronto portion of that movement, which begins officially on October 15. That’s because I don’t really know anything about American government or corporations or finances. I know marginally less nothing about their Canadian counterparts.

A question remains in my mind despite all my research (which I argue has probably been far more extensive than that of many of the people supporting the movement):

What are the occupants asking for?

(Also, isn’t occupant a much nicer word than protester? I’m going to use that word from now on.)

I get being angry, and being fed up. I’ve been angry and fed up about injustice and inequality for a long time. And not because it’s ever affected me because, honestly, it hasn’t. I pretty much haven’t suffered a day in my life. When things haven’t gone so well, the social safety net has caught me rather well.

But I’m one of those people who says things like, “I don’t understand why anybody doesn’t have food when some people have all that money” and “Why can’t we just give all the homeless people a place to stay when it’s cold?” and other things that I’m assured by others “simply wouldn’t work” even though I’m still pretty sure they would.

I also don’t like certain things about our government. I think the lack of transparency is appalling, and I would pitch a tent in support of more open government for as long as it takes. I think that’s one of the issues people are upset about, right? I know they relate it more strongly to corporate influence on government, but it’s a problem across the board. I intend, as a matter of fact, to devote myself, if allowed, to attempting to improve communication between representatives and their constituents. I get that.

So what I’m saying is that I don’t NOT get what people are upset about.
What I do NOT get is what they’re asking for.

Because if you’re not asking for something in particular that will remove you from occupation, then how do the people who are in a position of power know what to do to appease you, and what incentive do they have to do it?

The Adbusters campaign that began the Occupy Movement pointed out the importance of a single, specific ultimatum, and correctly identified the presence of such a demand as the reason why the Arab Spring protests were so successful.  Adbusters called for Obama to set up a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence of money on representatives in government.

So the implied contract of the Occupy Wall Street movement was “We’re staying here until you set up the commission, and when you do, we will go home.” That contract is probably no longer applicable because it’s become a grassroots movement (can something become grassroots? I’m not sure.). So what incentive does Obama have now to do it?

I know that people are angry about a lot of different things. I know that there isn’t a single solution to all of it. And I’m not saying we have to choose our battles and disregard other things, but you fight your battles one at a time. It’s the one thing the Germans taught us well. Okay, that and to love David Hasselhoff.

My Only Real Philosophical Problem with the Movement
To me, the principle behind the movement should be, and perhaps originally sought to be, equality and inclusion. I think that philosophically, it probably still is. People don’t want to be left behind anymore. But inclusion goes both ways. And a lot of the postings by Occupy activists propagate a very “Us versus Them” attitude toward government. I would love to see a concerted and conscious shift toward a different rhetoric.

Because the government isn’t an Other. They aren’t above us or against us. They are of us. That’s what we should be asking for everyone, especially our representatives and leaders, to remember is the guiding principle behind democratic representative government. And ultimately, that is what everyone is asking for, right? Nobody’s trying to actually overthrow the government, are they? I wish the way people are asking for more inclusion better reflected the spirit of co-operation they hope to instill.

And Maybe There Are Some Things We Shouldn’t Be Angry About Here in the GWN (Great White North… it’s a good acronym–let’s start using it.)
Canadians don’t have quite the same cause for anger as Americans do on the financial front. Yes, the economy is shit right now and a lot of people are unemployed. Also, our income gap (which actually doesn’t fit the 99 and 1 yet) is widening at apparently an alarming rate, and there’s a problem there. However, our government didn’t completely screw us over by poorly regulating our financial sector. In fact, ours did a pretty damn good job of regulating our financial sector and had the foresight to prevent what’s been happening in the US for the past decade from happening to us.

Canada also has nowhere near the poverty problem that the US does because we’ve been somewhat socialist for a long time. That safety net I mentioned earlier is about a bazillion times better than the US safety net. And we actually have a tax system whereby the wealthy do pay more to help support the unwealthy. There are limits of course, and it perhaps can’t continue this way because the fundamental structure of our economy has changed and we need to update our systems to reflect that. And I happen to think that there’s no such thing as too socialist. But that’s another post for another day. What I’m saying is that, so far, I’m not entirely sure what people are so angry about because it surely isn’t the same thing Americans are angry about, right?

So, to sum up
I want to support the Occupy Movement. I’m still tossing around the idea of getting a babysitter and becoming an occupant for the weekend myself. But I want someone to please just tell me what I’d be sitting in support of demanding. Please.

As a further side note,
If you know me, you might assume that some of this post was sarcastic. It’s not. I am genuinely asking if anyone knows WHAT the Occupy Toronto folks are asking for. Because I genuinely want to know. And nobody so far has been able to tell me. The only responses I’ve received have been variations on “People are angry.” Also, as always, I welcome your comments, even if just to tell me I’m a moron. I posted this because I want to understand, not because I’m against it. I’m pretty much the furthest thing from against it. But my brain’s critical machine doesn’t have an off switch.



Leave a Comment
  1. Oathbreaker / Oct 14 2011 11:31 pm

    People want to be part of something, especially those with nothing else going on. This sort of thing is dangerous IMO. At the least it could pull attention away from movements with a purpose and make them all seem aimless.
    Something no one seems to mention in regards to these things is they are very much the vocal minority. Let’s hope what they demand really is democratic.

    • amanda stratton / Oct 14 2011 11:40 pm

      You summed up my fear about what’s really going on very well. I worry that it’s just blowing off steam and never going to get anywhere, when those energies could have been directed at affecting change through the already-in-place democratic channels. People keep saying this is the real democracy, but it’s not.

      But protests are sexier (and more entertaining, and easier) than getting involved in actual governance. Real democracy is shockingly boring, and admittedly slow.


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