As the Occupy Canada protests took root in tent encampments across the country over the weekend, the big question being debated was: What next?
From Toronto, where a group was camped in St. James Park, to Vancouver, where tents were pitched outside the Art Gallery, participants were engaged in dialogue circles while a movement without any leaders tried to find its direction.
“It’s totally chaotic,” said Suresh Fernando in Vancouver, as groups tried to come to a consensus on what process to use to achieve consensus, before debating what actions to take in the week ahead. “The central thing is we have land now. . . and if we are here at day seven you can expect more and more people to start coming down.”
That seemed to be the mood across Canada as protesters in 15 cities tried to figure out how to keep the momentum going after weekend events saw thousands of people marching in the streets – then breaking into debating circles to discuss the next move.
“This is really frustrating,” said Michael Goodbaum, 23, in Toronto. “I don’t even know why we are trying to reach consensus on the structure of the protest, when we should actually be out protesting.”
In Vancouver, Julie MacArthur, said the process was slow and frustrating, but she felt a movement was being born.
“It is messy, but it is working,” she said, summing up her protest strategy this way: “Take a deep breath - and keep it going for the long haul.”
Many of those who came out on the weekend were joining civil protests for the first time. Others were old hands. Together they were striving to form a new community striving for change.
Jason Crowtz, 37
Graphic designer, originally from Nova Scotia, living in Toronto
Mr. Crowtz has been working at his latest job for 3 1/2 years. It’s the longest he’s been at one job in his life.
He said he offers the information not in the interests of self-pity, but to argue that a widespread increase in itinerant, part-time labour is the surest sign that Canada’s standard of living is in decline.
Not in freefall, mind you. “We haven’t fallen off a cliff,” he said. “We are sliding down a muddy hill, but there’s a big pile of junk at the bottom.”
He mentions a family history in Nova Scotia, where his father was a long-time employee of a power company at a time when his grandmother’s house was first being hooked up to the electrical grid. Those were days of progress and stability, he said.
“Most of human history is about the huge chasms that exist between parts of society,” Mr. Crowtz said. “But in the 20th century, at least in the West, things were pretty good. People were living better lives. I think things are getting worse, little by little.”
He sees complacency as a danger. “The fact that things were better in the 60s should humble us, but we shouldn’t accept it. A rising standard of living is not guaranteed if we are defeatist about income disparity.”
He’d like to see a new, major stimulus package passed in the United States, because their economy has such a global impact, but he doesn’t buy into the criticism that the unfocused occupy movement suffers from being short on specific demands of this sort.
“I’m in graphic design. I’m always telling people to ‘focus the message.’ But for this, I say, throw those rules out. This may be amorphous, but people are here because they feel something is wrong, and they are right. I’m not big on spectacle or protests, but I like this one.”
– Ian Merringer
Laurel O’Gorman, 28
Master’s student at Laurentian University and president of Local CUPE 5011 representing graduate teaching assistants at the university, living in Sudbury
A single mom of two children, Ms. O’Gorman is concerned about paying the bills each month. Unable to find a job with just a BA in sociology, she is $59,000 in debt and says she had little option but to go back to school. She now is doing her MA at Laurentian University on a $15,000 scholarship.
“I’m here because I don’t know what kind of job I could possibly find that would allow me to pay rent, take care of these two children and pay back $600 each month in loans,” she said of the amount she estimates it will take her to pay back her loans in 10 years, as she sat in the tent camp at Toronto’s St. James Park with her son on Sunday.
Her 4-year-old son stayed with his uncle in Toronto overnight, but joined her during Sunday's events. Meanwhile, her 9-year-old daughter wanted to join her at the camp, but Laurel made her stay in Sudbury over fears about the camp security.
“As long as they get the message. ... I'm trying to teach them equity and critical thinking from a young age. It's not just radical hippies or capitalism as the only option. There are so many different views out there and I want them to be exposed to that.”
Although she returned for Sudbury late Sunday afternoon, Laurel said she is considering come back with her kids to Occupy Toronto during her upcoming reading week.
– Tamara Baluja
Elisabeth Ecker, 72
Retired financial planner living in downtown Toronto
Ms. Ecker travelled to Canada from Austria in the 1950s, intending to stay just long enough to learn English. Because she couldn’t speak the language, she got the lowest-paying job in her company. Her boss was making 15 times more money than she was, but she says today’s discrepancies make that spread seem like a worker’s paradise.
“The wages need to be raised,” she said during protests in Toronto on Saturday. But the retired financial planner is no revolutionary. She sees our apparently fragile economy as being at risk of having the bottom pulled out from under it.
“Capitalism can’t survive without consumers. Look at the healthy countries in Europe that are bailing out the other countries. It’s the ones with high wages, and high taxes.”
Standing at the corner of King and Bay streets, she tries to take in a wide view of the country. “Bay Street is supposed to facilitate Main Street, but Bay Street has gotten too big. If the wealth imbalance gets to a certain point then the rich don’t spend the money, they just put it into paper and trade it back and forth. There’s no economy there. When the wealth imbalance gets too great, the economy collapses. Look at Spain and Holland. It has happened all through history.”
– Ian Merringer