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Occupy Toronto Celebrates One Year Anniversary

A small group of protesters returned to St. James Park yesterday to remember Occupy and talk about what they've learned since.

Protesters gather at St. James Park on Monday. Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/photopia/8092688906/in/pool-341900@N21/"}HiMY SYeD{/a}, from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/pool/"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

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.”

Comments

  • Slippery Pete

    Maybe Ms Stoeklin, instead of blaming the media for the woes of Occupy should think about how the movement presented its message(s) and how the structure (or lack thereof) impacted their ability to effectively communicated what they were for and what they were against.

    • Anonymous

      Firstly, because they were up against those who control mainstream media, and were attempting to reach those who get their news from that selfsame mainstream media.

      Whatever attempt was made to express the nuanced issues the #occupy movement was concerned with, it was swamped under a tide of “no message” and a refusal to engage with anything other than simple soundbite goals that could easily be strawmanned and knocked down.

      Secondly, only people with no understanding of how social change actually occurs could conclude that the Occupy movement didn’t effectively communicate – or in fact even draw that conclusion. Not to be too critical, it should be noted that this is not an issue many people even think about except in extraordinary times and in response to extraordinary events. (see 1st point above)

      For example, it took decades of varied activity by abolitionists (from pamphlets to lectures to armed actions and a civil war) to end slavery. It took many years and many protests of many types to end the segregationist system that followed.

      One protest – even as relatively widespread and prolonged as the Occupy movement was last fall – can’t fundamentally change such an entrenched system as US or global capitalism in one go. All it could hope to achieve is to get people talking and thinking about the issues: fundamentally the huge and counter-productive growth in inequality of income and political power – and the mutually reinforcing relationship of the two.

      The fact that we have hit the one year anniversary of the launch of the movement in New York people are still debating, people are still talking about and that provides prima facie evidence that the movement did not fail but rather was one more step in what will be a generational struggle to restore fairness, democracy (and after watching the Republican convention one might say sanity) to the economic and political systems of the US and the rest of the world as well.

      • http://twitter.com/candleflame3 PlantinMoretus

        When Occupy started, I thought “this isn’t the revolution, but it is an overture to revolution”. All revolutions have such overtures, plus detours, wrong turns, plateaus, etc. I think the (corporate, capitalist) mainstream media are quick to say Occupy is over, didn’t matter, etc because *their* interests aren’t served by it.

        But I see revolution brewing all around. Spain, Greece, Portugal – it’s all the same struggle. The economist Richard Wolff says more and more people are interested in his lectures & podcasts & books than ever before. MayDay 2012 brought out a lot more people worldwide than MayDay 2011. None of that is coincidence.

        Canada has fared OK during this latest economic crisis, so many of us have been protected from the hardships that other countries have experienced. But the conditions that protect us will only hold for so long, and we’ve been the proverbial boiling frog for a few decades now anyway. We have pretty much all the same socio-economic issues, just to a lesser degree. It just hasn’t sunk in to most Canadians’ heads yet.

        • Anonymous

          I think that’s why Canadians were much more apathetic to the movement than say Americans. Things just aren’t extraordinary enough here economically speaking (yet) that we’re in a position to demand the same changes.

          Doing nothing or doing something can often have the same consequences, so we’ll see how we fare.

      • Logan

        I often wonder… why is it that whenever someone blows a hole in the Occupy movement and how their message fell on deaf ears, not because of what the message said but how it was delivered, Occupy supporters blame the media.

        Here’s what happened, Occupy started a year ago, and it had some damn good media coverage, there were practically daily reports, but then, the media kept coming back to the park, and seeing the same thing over and over again meeting after meeting, a group of people in a park drinking Starbucks coffee and saying they wanted to help the poor but walking past a grocery store where they could buy food for the poor and hitting up Wendy’s for food for themselves.

        The media just go bored… and the local residents got tired of the bullshit, they then went to the government to do something about it, which they did… and Occupy fought it… what’s even more funny is that they claimed they were going to hide under the umbrella of the church land and thought that the church was the best thing since sliced bread, until the church said that it would abide by the law… then Occupy was never more anti-church at any point before that… it just shows how people can ruin a perfectly good message by acting like spoiled children and complaining instead of actually DOING.

        Furthermore, people aren’t still debating or talking about it… if you poke your head up from the Occupy facebook group once in awhile you’ll realize that outside of the standard professional protesters, nobody gives a witches tit about Occupy.

        In fact, most of the original Occupy folks clearly didn’t care enough about Occupy to even make the trek to the park… and that says more about the bullshit you’ve just said than anything.

        • Anonymous

          “…a group of people in a park drinking Starbucks coffee and saying they wanted to help the poor but walking past a grocery store where they could buy food for the poor and hitting up Wendy’s for food for themselves”

          Are you under the impression that Occupy is food drive? Because it isn’t. It’s about raising awareness and fighting to change the systems and practices that create poverty (among other things) to begin with.

          Your post does nothing but intentionally muddy the waters.

          • Slippery Pete

            Occupy did concern itself with homeless outreach, so….

          • Anonymous

            “their ability to effectively communicated what they were for and what they were against.”

            “Occupy did concern itself with homeless outreach, so….”

            So, which one is it?

          • Anonymous

            Occupy concerns itself with a lot of things, and members within it are free to pursue any of them to whatever extent they deem appropriate, but feeding the poor is not the movement’s reason for existing.

          • Logan

            So, basically what you’re saying is that Occupy wasn’t about helping out those less fortunate?

            Great starting point then.

            How about them possibly being against big corporations that don’t pay their employees enough… from the sheer amount of Starbuck’s coffee cups, and ipods and iphones, and laptops that I saw, that’s bullshit too.

            Occupy didn’t know it’s ass from it’s elbow with regards to what the people wanted, in fact, when the people in the area wanted them to move elsewhere due to the drumming all night and the smell, they got into a shouting match with them.

            It’s no big surprise that even the members of Occupy themselves didn’t bother showing up to this bullshit ceremony seeing as how there was what? a couple dozen people now, but hundreds last year?

            I paid close attention from the beginning, but the moment the ‘holding a meeting to see about possibly holding a meeting with regards to the potential of holding a meeting to see who’s turn it was to take a crap’ bullshit started, that’s when I knew it wasn’t the message but the people delivering it that was the major problem.

            But I really only needed to pay attention to your response to realize that the Occupy folks didn’t pay attention to reality.

          • Anonymous

            You’re operating under the assumption that Occupy’s short- and long-term goals are feeding or clothing homeless people. That isn’t the case. They want to prevent people from becoming “less fortunate” to begin with, not run a food bank or shelter.

            Occupy has a lot of problems with organization and fragmentation, agreed, I’m not defending them on those grounds.

          • Anonymous

            “Occupy wasn’t about helping out those less fortunate?”

            You’re micro-sizing a macro-sized issue. The Occupy movement is about income equality and disparity. Middle class, working class AND homeless people sort of fit the bill there, don’t ya think?

          • Logan

            I agree, however, when you ignore one in favor of the other, it kinda misses the entire point of what they SAY they were for, in preference to what they’re actually doing.

            When what they say and what they do are two entirely different things, there’s issues and makes them no better than the people they’re supposedly complaining about.

          • Anonymous

            “when you ignore one in favor of the other, it kinda misses the entire point of what they SAY they were for”

            You’re the only one doing that. The point I made and the point Occupy made encompasses that. You’re the one excluding the “bigger picture” here.

        • Anonymous

          The occupy movement has framed the entire discussion for the 2012 U.S. Presidential election. If you poked your head outside of the internet and the newspeak media, you might have realized that.

          I won’t engage you any further as you’re obviously a knuckle-dragging cretin.

        • Anonymous

          You haven’t blown any holes into anything. All you’ve done is gloss over the meat and potatoes of my answer to focus on 1/3 of my post. Ironically the point of making soundbites into easily knocked down strawmen.

      • Slippery Pete

        “a refusal to engage with anything other than simple soundbite goals that could easily be strawmanned and knocked down.”

        Yes, that’s how the media works, and illustrates my point that Occupy should examine how it communicated rather than blame the media, which gave it much more attention than it deserved. A few hundred people camped for a month.

        Had they had a hierarchical leadership structure, had there been intelligent people with the job of speaking to the media, reporters wouldn’t have had to approach 10 surly, non communicative people before finding one moron willing to talk to them and make the movement look bad.

        Had there been leaders who looked like regular middle-class people and spoke properly about inequality, it’s causes and the societal illnesses it causes, then the middle class would have got behind it more. Instead, most ignored it or thought it was just a bunch of hippy kids, which is what it looked like. That’s how the media portrayed the movement, but it’s the movements own fault.