Occupy Vancouver latest action in global movement for the "99%"
// Mike Conway

As the Occupy Wall Street movement continues to capture the world’s imagination, a more local group, Occupy Vancouver, hit the street for the first time with an event at the art gallery on Oct. 15 (which is after the Courier press deadline). The event is planned to go on indefinitely, and will also march to “capitalist hot spots in the surrounding area.”

The official statement of Occupy Vancouver, which was approved at a general assembly of more than a hundred people, states, “We, the 99%, come together with our diverse experiences to transform the unequal, unfair, and growing disparity in the distribution of power and wealth in our city and around the globe. We challenge corporate greed, corruption, and the collusion between corporate power and government.”

It continues, “We oppose systemic inequality, militarization, environmental destruction, and the erosion of civil liberties and human rights. We seek economic security, genuine equality, and the protection of the environment for all.”

The original movement, Occupy Wall Street, began with a centrefold in Vancouver-based, anti- corporate group Adbusters, which read, “What is our one demand? Occupy Wall Street on Sept. 17. Bring tent.” It started as a protest against the breakdown of the economic system in the United States, but has since grown into a movement to address a number of social grievances, with the only real unifying theme being the commonly cited slogan, “We are the 99%.”

Capilano University student James Fraser was in attendance at the planning assemblies, and at the rally. He says, “Since primary school, I’ve been told that anyone of us can make a difference in this world. I guess I saw an opportunity to try and fulfill that. I personally hope that the Occupy protests will be a catalyst for discussions on the issues that Canada (and Vancouver) faces; problems such as homelessness, the violation of lands by corporations such as Enbridge, and the need for increased consideration of our nation’s ecological future on this planet.”

“The protests can’t be boiled down to a simple sound bite,” wrote Edward Murray in an article for the Huffington Post. This is because the Occupy movement is not aimed at one social problem in particular but, as Murray puts it, “ambitiously seeking a complex, fundamental, philosophical change in the social, political, and economic infrastructure of our country. The strength of Occupy … lies in the ambiguity of its mission. There is no laundry list of specific, unreasonable, and untenable demands. There is only the demand or change.”

“No one individual, including organizers, is able to speak for the whole as we all represent facets of a larger whole,” says Rob Fib Woodruff, a member of Occupy Vancouver’s Legal Planning Committee. This type of response is common throughout the Occupy movement, both here in Canada and the United States. For better or for worse, there is no leader, no one true goal.

For Fraser, this was an attractive point that encouraged him to get involved. “No leader or organizing party means less likelihood of a hidden agenda, no one to buy off, no one to ‘dispose’ of,” he says, “and it means all voices are more likely to be valued by the merit of their words.”

Globally, the fervour of protest has gripped many countries this past year. Protest movements have taken shape all over the world, from the Arab Spring, to the anti-austerity protests in England, Greece, Spain, Belgium, and Ireland, and finally in the United States and Canada through the Occupy movements. The protests have been about people, according to New York Times writer Chris Hedges, “who feel they have no other option but to physically obstruct the forces of control.”

Occupy Wall Street, then, fits into this context of people who as individuals have little power, but in coming together there is a realization that they are more powerful than they ever could have imagined. “The real people who are scared are the power elite. Of course, they’re trying to make you scared and us scared,” Hedges writes. “But I can tell you … that on the inside they’re very, very frightened. They do not want movements like this to grow, and they understand on some level – whether it’s subconscious or, in other cases, even overt – that the criminal class … has seized power.”

Fraser is also inspired by the global context in which the Occupy movements have sprung up. “There's [sic] 146 occupy protests from Madrid to Jerusalem. There are protestors in Dublin, there are protests about to hit London, and the movement is spreading. Even if the Wall Street protests fizzle out and die, there has been a fuse lit,” says Fraser. “An idea has been put in the minds of many people across the world that we can work together to sort out our collective problems; that maybe the idea of a Global Village is not such a faraway ideal.”

The movement has even hit campus. A facebook group recently emerging called “Occupy Capilano University.” It doesn’t have a specific action posted yet, but the page says to “stay posted.”

The Occupy Vancouver statement encapsulated the sentiment that has inspired so many locally: “Let them gawk, let them ask questions, let them wake up.”

// Mike Conway, Writer
// Photo by Natahsha Prakash

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