A small group of protesters returned to St. James Park yesterday to remember Occupy and talk about what they've learned since.
Roughly two dozen protesters—and an almost equal number of reporters—gathered in St. James Park on Monday to mark Occupy Toronto‘s one year anniversary. The gathering, which featured all the flags, dogs, signs, and acoustic guitars that people have come to expect from the Occupy movement, felt like part protest and part class reunion.
“The goal for me is to just see old friends,” said Occupier Christopher Lambe. “I think this is a day where people are going to come to this park for years to come, for the rest of my life—to reconnect with all these old people and think about those 40 days. Because a lot happens when you’re living in such a small space with 200 other people, and it hasn’t really been done, and it was pretty interesting.”
Lambe said that no one organized the anniversary celebration, but that it developed in typical Occupy fashion out of a consensus in their online community. “We threw it out there and said ‘What do you want to do?’” he said. “’Do you want to come here and have an artful display? Make music, do paintings, have an art installation, and chat and reminisce?’ And everyone wiggled their fingers and said ‘Yeah!’ So we put it up on Facebook and did what we did.”
He added that the anniversary celebration was much more artistically minded than the original protest, with plays, music, and collaborative visual-art pieces. “Last year, roaming around with a bunch of signs and yelling our faces off didn’t really get the message across in the way we wanted it to, so this is probably a better way,” he said. “There’s going to be a play in the gazebo, and the script is all verbatim things that were said in the park over the 40 days. A journalist gathered all the quotes and put them together. So it’s our story, put together in a much better way than we could do it.”
While Lambe was upbeat about the gathering, other Occupiers were less sunny. Heidi Stoecklin was one of the members of Aurorans for World Peace who came down to commemorate Occupy Toronto. She blamed, among other things, the corporately-owned media for the poor turnout.
“The media didn’t give us any sort of lead-up or any sort of credit. If they’d talked about it, there would be way more people here,” she said, adding that some former Occupiers probably had their spirits broken in the past twelve months.
“The media is not there for the people, and the police are not there for the people. We saw a lot of the will of the people diminished in that time. The world saw that the corporations and the coppers and our fascist police state will win.”
Fellow protester Sonny Yeung seemed to disagree. He pointed out that many of the movement’s concerns have gained traction with governments over the last year.
“I think some of our issues have been addressed,” he said. “In Ontario, the NDP was able to pressure the Liberals so that those making more than $500,000 will be paying a 2 per cent surtax; in Quebec, the PQ government is interested in taxing the wealthy; and in the States, if Obama is reelected, he’ll let the Bush tax cuts expire.”
Lambe said that, 12 months after the fact, his major takeaway from Occupy Toronto has been this: Change doesn’t come from political systems. It comes from people.
“The solution to our problems isn’t about demanding change, or demanding something from those in politics. It’s about demanding something from ourselves; a more open heart, a more charitable heart, a more benevolent heart. It’s about changing within ourselves and who we are as a society.”