The Occupy McMaster movement started in November 2011, when a group of McMaster students sought to stand in solidarity with the Occupy movements around the world. More than a year later Occupy McMaster continues to grow, evolving in number and activity.
What makes Occupy McMaster different from Occupy Wall Street and other Occupy movements is that it has taken the original principles of Occupy Wall Street and given them a uniquely McMaster twist and identity. The sense of community and connectedness amongst students and staff members, the sharing of food and skills and the frequent "teach-ins" is something that Occupy McMaster has in common with the other Occupy movements. It is Occupy McMaster's focus on student issues and concerns, such as the high cost of education, reclaiming student space and revitalizing the student community and involvement that sets it apart.
Occupy McMaster provides students like myself a safe and generative space in which to share our passions. Occupy McMaster is centrally located at the student centre: a hub for events, pedagogy and activism. It is a stimulating environment that empowers the average student to take interest in local and global issues, and to truly become well-rounded individuals through engagement and discussion. Occupiers interested in activism hold meetings, share ideas and plan various awareness campaigns.
One such event was held on February 1, known as the "National Day of Action against Rising Tuition". On this day Occupiers organized a successful "Drop Fees Rally" in support of the National Day of Action to protest against high cost of tuition. To raise awareness about the disparity of the cost of education between provinces, occupiers held frequent in-class talks to gain support and engage students, contacted media outlets to promote coverage and distributed flyers and buttons supplied by the Canadian Federation of Students, the organization responsible for the National Day of Action. On the National Day of Action, occupiers actively reached out to other students through speeches and one-on-one conversations held outside the student centre, which was later followed by a march around campus. The student rally received coverage from students and local media.
The space also acts as a critical centre for student-based pedagogy. For some, Occupy is a place for critical feminist, anti-racist, environmentalist and anti-oppressive discourse, contributing ideas to McMaster centred progressive politics. For others, Occupy is a place where abstract thought, art and music can be appreciated. Occupiers hold frequent teach-ins, ranging in topics from "Art and Activism" to "The Causes, Consequences and Courses of the Russian Revolution." According to Rick Gunderman, a facilitator of "The Causes, Consequences and courses of the Russian Revolution" the goals of his teach-ins were "to challenge misconceptions about communism, present alternative views of the history of socialist countries and get students to think critically, objectively and rationally about how social change is made."
The Occupy environment also contributes to the personal growth of every individual who is part of the Occupy community. Over time the members of Occupy McMaster have formed close relations with one another. This sense of connectedness is what makes each of us want to contribute to the community. I became a regular at Occupy because I loved the enriched environment, so I began to contribute to the space because I wanted it to succeed. Like myself, I find other occupiers voluntarily wanting to contribute in various ways: signing up to spend the night -- Occupy McMaster was put together by five McMaster students who spent months sleeping in the cozy corner of the student centre before Occupy began to grow and members were able to begin a rotation of shifts to spend the night - cleaning the space and donating supplies. Through these contributions, Occupy McMaster has been able to create a welcoming environment located in the student centre, where a cup of coffee and friendly discourse greet you.
Occupy McMaster gives individuals the opportunity to interact with students and faculty members we would otherwise have limited contact with in the everyday university setting. Occupy Wall Street started as an initiative because many people had been left out of the conversation and at Occupy McMaster we encourage this inclusive public discourse. In my time spent at Occupy, I have had conversations ranging from topics in physics to art to Buddhism to politics. Occupy's acceptance of students and faculty members of diverse background is what has kept us growing as a community and as the Occupy movement, making us one of the few student Occupy movements still going strong.
Lastly, what I find to be the strongest quality of Occupy McMaster is this enormous diversity. Occupy McMaster encompasses individuals from a wide range of faculties and religious and ideological views: generating richer conversations and wider arrays of resources. However, it is this diversity that has been met with the greatest criticism. Many times I have been confronted about Occupy McMaster's supposed "lack of definitive objective". Those who criticize the space often assume that the diverse nature in political and personal ideologies will ultimately limit the Occupy McMaster's ability to come to any concrete consensus for direct change.
However, the ability to produce a "concrete consensus" has never really been the mandate of Occupy and more about creating an area to engage and encourage discourse beyond bi-partisan politics. We occupy to take back the student centre and create a safe space for students and faculty members to express themselves and interact with each other. Occupy McMaster adheres to those values, and outsiders are still, by and large, missing the point.
I argue that it is our diversity that gives Occupy McMaster strength.
It's our diverse nature that brings us out of our comfort zone, giving each of us a chance to grow, and learn from one another. We are a student movement, and as such our primary goal is to grow as individuals and then go out into the world to make a difference. The diverse nature of occupiers doesn't constrict us, rather it's what makes us a great team. It broadens our resources through the various talents each occupier offers. These talents have in the past allowed occupiers to pull off successful events like The National Day of Action and it is with this success that Occupy McMaster continues on.
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