Despite misinformation and media, youth are at the centre of the Occupy movement
//Lindsay Flynn

“Is America ripe for a Tahrir Square moment?” According to Lauren Bercovitch, producer and production manager for Adbusters, this is the question that was being posed at her office last summer when the world’s attention turned to civil resistance abroad. There was much discussion about the uprisings in Spain, known as the Indignant’s Movement, or the 15-M Movement, as well as the Arab Spring, uprisings and revo lution across the Middle East and North Africa, particularly in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. The idea of a North American
movement has been brewing for months, as Adbusters senior editor Micah White explained in interview with the Vancouver Courier: “We basically floated the idea in mid-July into our [email list] and it was spontaneously taken up by all the people of the world. It just kind of snowballed from there.”

One month later, the movement has picked up momentum from its initial actualization on Sept.17, 2011 in Zuccotti Park, Manha
ttan, and has now entered the global consciousness. Activists from Michael Moore to Naomi Klein, and stars like Mark Ruffalo and Lupe Fiasco have since come forward to endorse and participate in this peaceful protest in order to expose the widening gap between the rich and the poor, corporate influence on government decisions, and the absence of legal reperc
ussions for the recent global economic crisis. Bercovitch says that the Adbusters team had no expectations about who would get involved or what would happen. The outcome “has been beyond any of our hopes and expectations. The feeling is totally exciting and rejuvenating. Adbusters has been working to bring about change,
a paradigm shift, for it’s whole existence.”

The surge of inquiries into the activities of Canadian-born Adbusters has been greeted with luke warm feelings at their
Vancouver office. Adbusters continues to deny televised interviews and is selective about who they are giving print interviews to. “[The] Canadian media feel a little snubbed by us,” says Bercovitch. “Canadian [media’s] angle is [that] this started in Canada … We want the focus to be local and on the people who are doing it. The mainstream media don’t understand why we don’t want to be on TV … they don’t understand a leaderless, decentralized movement.”

Bercovitch says that there is room for local, national, and global demands at the Occupy movement: “Vancouver’s needs will be so
different from Halifax’s, than Madrid’s, than Cairo’s.”

Thus far Occupy has been widely successful for sparking interest in reform, debate, and making the world a more just and fair place. This is grassroots democracy, where as far as Bercovitch is concerned, “the process is just as important as what comes out of it.”


Oct. 15 marked the official beginning of the Occupy movement in numerous cities across Canada. According to the CBC, the largest showing of attendees in any Canadian city, nearing 3,000 people, rallied at the initial protest on that sunny day outside the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG). The movement’s website, occupyvancouver. com, reported over 5,000 attendees.

There were people of varying ages, nationalities, genders, and sexual orientations at the event, as well as families and individuals with visible disabilities, all coming from a seemingly wide range of economic situations. Signs were being held high by hundreds of individuals, one reading, “A Beautiful Day for a Revolution.” Others read “Debt + B.A. + Min. Wage = Indentured Servitude”, another “Nobody Does Corporate Greed/ Abuse Quite Like Big Tobacco”, “Hands Off BC Hydro”, along with the simple “My Wellbeing is Linked With Yours.”

The crowd collected on the steps of the VAG on the Georgia Street side, between Howe and Hornby. A colourful tent city was set up, similar to the one in Manhattan. People seemed happy to be coming together, yet nervous and anxious about the severity of the changes they feel need to occur in Canada. The People’s mic was open to an
y courageous participants in the crowd wishing to express themselves. Some sounded articulate and well informed, others merely angry. Local politicians, union supporters, students, beat poets, and musicians alike all felt the need to be heard. The diversity was echoed by the individuals in the crowd; one thing is certain, there is a clearly growing desire for change. Here is what some of the people present had to say:

Zorin (age 38), a Vancouverite since 1995, said, “I’m sick and tired of this whole thing. It would be foolish to think we are living in an OK world, because we’re not. Everything is falling apart … I’m here cause I really don’t like where we’re going and where we are.” An immigrant from Serbia, he conceded the difficulties of rallying Canadians: “The better life you have, the less interested you are in problems. I really believe that everyone from here needs to go to Darfur, or Afghanistan, or Bosnia for a few months to see what the real world is … [Problems are] created in the nice society where everybody has everything, which means somebody will not have anything.”

Susan (age 50) passed through the demonstration early into the evening and stood timidly on the far edge, alone, listening to the speeches. “I’ve been following it on the news, and it’s kind of interesting. There’s no one particular message, there’s a lot of different groups, but I think it’s just a real sign that people feel they need change and need to have a feeling of empowerment.” She personally would like to see proportional representation in the electoral system, and more to the point, Harper gone, but was not ready to join the protest and take the cause up to the streets.

Beyond the crowd, messages acknowledging the greater systemic changes that are being demanded were common, and local issues were also at play. The crowd showed strong and keen responses to a man discussing the impending Keystone Pipeline that would run from northeast Alberta to Oklahoma, Illinois and further down the American Gulf Coast. A host of loud booing erupted at the notion of oil tankers navigating the Burrard Inlet for the benefit of our American neighbours.

Issues beyond the widely acknowledged anger with the current banking system and the environmental crisis were on hand as well. Tony, a member of the Vancouver 9/11 Truth Movement, felt his group’s focus was part and parcel of the problems facing America. Vancouver anarchist Frank Lopez, aka the Stimulator, blogged on Vancouver Media Co-op that the idea of occupying Vancouver now is redundant – this is First Nations land. His advice has been followed; “We humbly acknowledge that Occupy Vancouver is taking place on unceded Coast Salish territories” is now clear on the movement’s website.

But here is where people begin to divide. The inclusion of those with contentious or more socially extreme views leaves those with perhaps more moderate points of view feeling isolated. In Canada, in-fighting on the left at both a political and social level is a luxury that perhaps citizens are not aware of.

Deborah (age 27) reflected, “For me this [protest] has an added meaning being from the United States. We’re very lucky here in Vancouver, Canada that our quality of life hasn’t slid as far, but in the USA a lot of people are really, really hurting.”


In the wake of NDP leader Jack Layton’s death, both the official opposition and the much-reduced Liberal party are left with interim leaders after the May’s federal election. Without the charisma of Jack Layton, the NDP are in danger of losing their momentum, and some worry that the Occupy movement will be co-opted by politicians both here and abroad. MLA Adrain Dix for Vancouver-Kingsway, and recent leader of the provincial NDP, released a statement Oct. 14T, saying, “The ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement rep
resents the belief of many citizens that we live in a world in which the deck is stacked in favour of the few at the expense of the many.” Dix’s office has not responded to Capilano Courier interview requests as of press time. All the major centrist and left wing parties, as well as smaller groups, were represented on Oct. 15 at the VAG.

Capilano University professor Reg Johanson has been agitating for involvement with the Occupy movement via social media, and says, “Recuperation by mainstream political parties depends on a) if it remains non-violent, and b) whether it takes a hard anti-capitalist line or a softer reformist line. Right now it’s open enough for any politician to claim. Though politicians seem to be cautious about getting too close to it at the moment … Politicians use social movements to bolster their own support and get themselves elected. Once they are elected, they bargain away the demands of the movement they rode in on, according to whatever principles are most advantageous to themselves and their cronies. They can’t be trusted. The best thing about the Occupy movement is that people are learning to take power into their own hands.”
Canadian activist Naomi Klein said in the Village Voice, “Don’t worry about [politician’s involvement]. What will make this movement vulnerable is if it doesn’t develop its own democratic mechanisms to speak for itself. Then it’s vulnerable to people using your energy to fight for limited small changes. It’s in your power to not let this happen.” Klein says structure within the movement itself is key to making the presence known and effecting change.

From the initial grassroots movement, more organized and structured ideas are being brought forth. In anticipation of the Canadian Occupy movement, Democracy Watch Canada, an organization that advocates for democratic reform, government accountability, and corporate responsibility issues, published on their website 15 key bank and corporate responsibility changes endorsed by 140 citizen groups across Canada. “Canada’s bank accountability and corporate responsibility laws and enforcement systems are full of loopholes and are weakly enforced, and so allow for irresponsible actions by the biggest businesses across the country,” said Duff Conacher, Founding Director of Democracy Watch. “Anyone interested in actually increasing bank accountability and corporate responsibility should support the 15 key changes … to increase whistleblower protection and penalties for irresponsible actions, and to require all big businesses to facilitate the creation of citizen watchdog groups, to take into account stakeholder interests, and to disclose details about all their activities and submit to regular independent audits and inspections.”

It is the hope of the organization that the Occupy Movement here in Canada can embrace these ideas as a way of articulating the specifics of their demands. Here the ideas are clearly outlined calling for major reform to the banking system with transparency and accountability at the forefront of these changes. However, these issues focus on Corporate and Financial Responsibilities with the effect on local communities and the environment only as an aspect.


Eric Hamilton-Smith, one of the organizers of Occupy Vancouver, is not anticipating a constructive response from the current government. “The Conservative government that’s in power has come out and said ‘Occupy Wall Street, we get that, because America has problems’ … Harper has said that he doesn’t believe this will catch on in Canada because we have the strongest banking system in the world … and we didn’t bail out our banks. This made me a little bit angry, because I don’t appreciate the spreading of misinformation … They did bail out the banks, that’s a fact … [and] it’s a little insulting to my intelligence. It should be pretty insulting to other Canadians. It’s something you can prove false by Googling ‘Canadian Bank Bailout’. ”

The issue of whether the banks were in fact bailed out is a topic of debate in Canada, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty standing firm that no such bailout occurred. The official government Economic Action Plan website states, “Through the Insured Mortgage Purchase Program, the federal government purchased $69.35 billion of insured mortgage pools from financial institutions. The program was allowed to sunset on March 31, 2010, as market conditions had improved markedly since its introduction in October 2008.” Hamilton-Smith feels that dressing up a bailout in fancy language is still a bailout.

Down at Occupy Vancouver the focus is not on the banks, however, but on replacing the current broken system as whole. General Assemblies are being held daily, where issues are discussed and voted upon via consensus. “The General Assembly has been making incredible progress just in the last several days … At first it was a lot about process … you really need to be respectful of people, you need to listen … so many better things come when you are part of a community. Where there’s mutual respect for each other.” Hamilton-Smith described a system in which each issue was being presented with time for addressing the concerns of any individual. No issue was moved forward until there was a clear consensus within the group. He strongly urged others to come down and take the opportunity to experience a real forum for their ideas on the steps of the VAG.

Hamilton-Smith is just shy of completing his Masters degree in public policy at Simon Fraser University. With government freezes on hiring, he figured “what’s the point?” Before Occupy Vancouver, he had been working as a carpenter, where he experienced similar labour market problems, such as being laid off from three jobs within three months. “When I saw Occupy Wall Street happen – I became aware of it from Twitter on the third day of their occupation – I was appalled that there wasn’t media attention, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I saw the [protesters] pepper-sprayed in the face … At that point I realized it wasn’t a matter whether to Occupy Vancouver, it was a matter of whether I would be involved … It seemed to me that it was going to turn into a global movement.” He is confident that Occupy Vancouver will continue indefinitely.


Repeatedly people responded to the presence of so many young people at Occupy Vancouver. Lauren Bercovitch of Adbusters, a young woman herself, feels that “it’s our future we’re fighting for. … People aren’t going to fight for us, we have to take a stand.”

Activist-empowering and resource website posted a video in which David Suzuki implores young people to see the importance of what is going on in their country. “What I am excited about is all the young people. Because this is about the future for these young people that is being sacrificed, for the sake of the corporate agenda … It’s their everything and I think they ought to be demanding of their parents and their grandparents and say ‘look, look at where you’ve brought us to …”
Suzuki is clear in his belief that “we are now being ruled by the corporate demand. The corporations come above the public, and this is simply intolerable, it can’t go on. What are corporations for? They exist for one reason and one reason only, they may be doing things we need that are really useful, but their only reason for existence is to make money. And the faster they make the money, the better it is. And that’s just not an acceptable way to run the world.”

Suzuki goes on to bemoan the fact that universities now play into the corporate model where students can get an education solely to become another cog in the great wheel of progress, to feed the economy and push forward the corporate agenda. He recalls a time not too long ago when “universities were places where people could explore ideas at the cutting edge of human thought. Very radical places, very scary for society, but that’s where all the excitement was.”

At Capilano University, Teeana Munroe has responded to the Occupy movement and is organizing Occupy Capilano. On Tuesday, Oct. 25 from 8:30 am onwards, Munroe will join with other students and staff to occupy the lower cafeteria on campus. Munroe was motivated by a desire to “generate as much interest and dialogue by the student body [as possible] … to ask questions, to voice concerns, to start a dialogue … Our future is in the hands of very few people. We need a voice for students.” Occupy Capilano will feature talks and workshops on GMO’s, protest techniques, First Nations struggles for decolonization as well as a media cafe, band, open mic readings, and film screenings.

Like many of the Occupy College movements happening across the States and Canada, it will be an open forum for discussing ideas. Teachers Roger Farr, Reg Johanson, and active participants of Occupy Vancouver will speak. Johanson believes “freedom, autonomy, and self-determination are issues that are relevant to everybody. This is what Occupy, at its best, is about: taking control of our own lives … The Occupy movement is a huge global phenomenon. Occupy Capilano will be a chance to learn what it’s all about.”

// Lindsay Flynn, Writer
// Photos by Lindsay Flynn
// Illustrations by Miles Chic

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