Planning to Occupy Toronto

Torontoist

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politics

Planning to Occupy Toronto

Inspired by the original sit-in in New York City, local activists met Friday to plan the October 15 Occupy Toronto Market Exchange protest.

Photo by Daniel Viola.

Activists planning on occupying a Toronto location have decided to halt communication with the police and the media one week before their planned protest.

About 250 people met on Friday evening at Berczy Park near the Financial District in Toronto for a “general assembly,” to plan Occupy Toronto Market Exchange. The protest, set to begin October 15, is inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York, which is now in its third week.

The loose-knit group of activists, mostly young men and women, discussed a range of topics including organizational structure, media and ideologies.

Their relationship with the police was a divisive subject, with some wanting to stay in communication, and others preferring to keep their distance. Tom Zaugg, an activist who earlier began a dialogue with the police of 52 Division, was not alone in arguing that the police were not necessarily against the protest. Another activist, Josh Goskey, said the police may be sympathetic to their cause. “[We need to] teach them that this is what they are interested in,” Goskey said of the police, “That if they want to serve and protect, this is their movement too.”

But with videos of New York City police using pepper spray on Occupy Wall Street protesters for no immediately evident reason, and the memories of the G20 still fresh in Torontonians’ minds, the group decided that they would rather temporarily close those lines of communication with police. (After discussions at the meeting yesterday, the group decided to opt for decision-making by consensus rather than through votes or via designated leaders.)

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In addition to concerns about police, some activists are worried that the media will distort their message, and they’ve decided that no official statements will be released until the day of the occupation. While the media blackout has barred anyone in the leaderless movement from speaking on behalf of the group, from the general assembly it is clear that the protesters appear to be focusing on corporate greed and wealth disparity, not just in Canada but around the world.

Their rallying cry: “I am the 99 per cent”—picking up on the concentration of wealth in the top 1 per cent of taxpayers compared to the rest of population. The 99 per cent, according to the protesters, are the ones hurt by the economic recession through taxation, unemployment, and underemployment. Canadians did not suffer from the recession to the same extent as many elsewhere; neither the housing crisis nor unemployment reached the same crisis levels they did in America and other European countries. But speaking with activists, many say that we cannot allow Canada to fall to these levels, and action must be taken today to address the growing burden placed on the middle class, and widening gap between rich and poor.

Rashin Alizadesh, a fourth-year political science student at the University of Toronto, said that the people are finally realizing that the political system is broken. “I do believe that capitalism is not working,” she said. “It’s providing for a very small minority—and that’s the way it was set up.”

Many activists believe that the planned protest for Toronto is part of a global movement which includes the Arab Spring and economic protests in Athens as well as the Occupy Wall Street protests in the United States (which have spread to other cities including Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle, and Washington D.C.). Jim Petersen and David Rapaport, two other activists we spoke with, compared this movement to the worldwide protests of the 1960s, which occurred during their youth. Petersen said that international co-ordination happens at an ideological level, and Rapaport added that the protests are addressing the “serious polarization of wealth.”

A location for the occupation has not been chosen. Some activists were worried that if announced publicly before October 15, police would fence off the area to disrupt their protests. However, it was evident that the activists are planning for a long-term protest and are prepared to camp in the occupied space.

Until official demands are released, it remains unclear—as with protests in other cities—how long they are prepared to stay, and what would constitute a victory for them.

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