I have seen the best and worst of humanity. I’ve seen countries that no longer exist. I have seen war, ethnic cleansing, and real revolution. I have seen the death and destruction that it brings. I have seen children left behind to live and deal with the costs of our transgressions. I see where this path before us leads. I want see change before any of that happens here. My daughter deserves better.
– Don Bryce, veteran, First Special Service Forces, eight years in combat
Lest we forget our veterans, I spent Remembrance Day interviewing Canadian soldiers at Occupy Toronto’s base camp on the grounds of St. James Church. Veterans are beginning to speak out internationally in support of the Occupy movement; on Nov. 2nd, at Occupy Oakland, troops formed a line of solidarity as part of a general strike to protest the police projectile that fractured the skull of 24-year-old Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen. In NYC, on Occupy Wall Street, the passionate speech of another Iraq veteran, Sergeant Shamar Thomas, asking why the police would shoot unarmed protesters, has been seen almost three million times on YouTube. Closer to home, I wanted to mark the anniversary of my rabble.ca article ‘In Remembrance of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms‘ by reporting on the state of democracy, and our right to peaceful assembly, since the Conservative majority.
At the gazebo in the centre of St. James Park, true to Occupy Movement’s core values of participatory democracy, I asked Toronto occupier and veteran Don Bryce to write what he felt was most important to say. This was the first time in decades that he has not been in seclusion on Remembrance Day — he has post traumatic stress disorder — but emboldened by the support of his colleagues, and his time in the demonstration encampment, he ventured out of his tent to speak with me. Attached to the First Special Service Forces, Don Bryce visited 21 countries in his tour of duty; in one day alone, he visited three.
As I interviewed Don beside the gazebo, another veteran, Jim McMillan, arrived to hand out candy bars to the occupiers. Jim comes each night to speak with the occupiers; there are many who are supporting the encampment through food, legal advice, and yurts. Yes, yurts. There are three Mongolian yurts donated by a union, which hold a womens’ safe space, a library, and public meeting space, and for some tongue-in-cheek reason, a donation of 1,000 bars of Degree antiperspirant. Jim’s motto is “What we want for ourselves, we want for everyone” — he wants to support those excluded from the system to make his time in combat worthwhile. I learned about an earlier era in Canadian history from Jim Simpson, why he fought, and continues to fight for civil liberties, when he asked that I read the Regina Manifesto.
Jim was born in 1933, the same year the Regina Manifesto was adopted by the Canada of the Cooperative Commonwealth. Until 1956, as the CCF’s official program the manifesto called for a planned economy and a national banking system that would be “removed from the control of private profit-seeking interests”, proposed social service programs such as publicly funded health care, supported peace, and promoted co-operative enterprises. Each of these issues comprise the end goals of the Occupy movements; each of these social justice policies are under attack by the Conservative majority government, which is planning a shortened time in Parliament this fall session to avoid discussion of C-10, the Canadian European Trade Agreement (CETA), the collusion of corporations with the state, the Occupy movement, and the militarization of our civil society. Robert Reich, author of Supercapitalism, said “the best philanthropy would be the end of government lobbying by corporations”; last year, the ratio of corporate to NGO and environmental lobbyists who were allowed to visit Parliament Hill was 30 to one. The continuing, secretive CETA negotiations will enable a fire sale of resources, and ensure that Canadians will pay even greater penalties to international governments for environmental rights to protect and have access our own resources — even greater than those of NAFTA’s Chapter 11, and as importantly, reduce municipal rights to jobs.
Occupiers hold a General Assembly each day at 7 p.m., beginning with announcements. On Remembrance Day, they asked that more people paint signs for media outreach, to winterize their camp, tents should be turned to face inward, with doors in a circle, for wind stability, warmth, and to keep watch over each other, and organize a vigil at Queen’s Park War Memorial at 11.11.11 to pay respect to veterans. They have a series of hand signals that enable them to agree, add a point, disagree, and move forward in the discussion after someone has spoken for two minutes.
During the assembly, occupiers agreed that it is time to sharpen their messaging so it is no longer as diffuse; the polls say that the majority Canadians are in favour of the Occupy Movement at between 60 per cent and 80 per cent, and the mainstream media uses the complexity of their messaging as an excuse not to convey their demands. Through an exhausting, non-hierarchical collective decision making process, they chose to focus on outreach for the middle class so they could continue to grow their movement. Fatigue comes quickly in the cold weather, and the occupiers know that building their micro-democracy takes time, energy and commitment; they need middle-class reinforcements and solidarity soon. The middle class needs to be forewarned that they will lose ground, and be squeezed out of middle to the bottom, as the one per cent outsources labour, cuts education, and prioritizes the policies of PM Harper for corporate gains. The greater Occupy movement is considering calling off the tent cities during the winter months; this may be a relief.
Through a megaphone, an occupier read that day’s communique from St James Church, asking for three hundred parish members to volunteer to form a circle of compassion to protect the encampment from police eviction, in the spirit of the healing waters of Bethesda in Jerusalem. ‘Bethesda’ means “house of mercy,” and the letter spoke of the moving of the waters by an angel to heal those who are sick and disenfranchised, and the parish’s ‘duty of care’ toward the occupiers to protect their right to freedom of assembly on their church grounds. The occupiers are dependent on the charity and mercy of others; the church feels they are doing the work for others to benefit.
As I updated this article a week later on Tuesday, Nov. 15, an eviction notice was been sent from Mayor Ford’s office to Occupy Toronto, an injunction issued until Friday has been made from the courts until the case can be heard, with the condition that the camp does not grow in numbers, or tents. There has not been an Occupy movement that has not faced, or experienced, the threat of violence from the police during its eviction. In the past two weeks, many of the camps in Canada have been evicted through the removal of their tents and infrastructure by the police — on Nov. 9, at Occupy London, police removed the tents at night when the numbers were lowest. On Nov. 10, in Toronto, a nearby restaurant owner had a meeting with 10 other business owners to set off this eviction campaign — Mayor Ford was a no-show — and was quoted by the media that he was losing upwards of $100,000 per week. On Saturday at 6 p.m. there will be a celebration of the court ruling, or the eviction of the Occupy Toronto by the police, who so far have been onside with the demonstrators due to the cutback of their officers by Ford’s office.
I am worried that we are going toward war under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and that only the 1 per cent who profit from military expansion and weapons production will benefit. When citizens have to contest the control, and access to their own resources, sovereignty is in peril. The investment in $65 billion of fighter jets to survey the Arctic, the changing of the industrious beaver as our historical symbol to that of the polar bear, a more aggressive symbol, but also the erasure of an historical icon to mark a new era pillaging Canada’s Arctic, are harbingers of an increasingly hawkish regime. The nonviolent beaver founded the Hudson Bay Company, and is part of our currency, and the nickel, and the lumbering polar bear has had little historical legacy, except for Coke commercials, sliding down melting ice caps. As PM Harper has changed the name of the Government of Canada to the Harper Government, he has also ensured that the international corporate empire has almost unfettered access to our country’s resources through the final rounds of CETA negotiations. Peace is difficult to attain for the 99 per cent, when civil society is no longer able to profit from our country’s resources, and we are left with the environmental damage of others’ profiteering. I applaud the veterans who have the courage to support the Occupy movement; they have the lived experience to predict our combative future if we do not regain democratic representation to represent the 99 per cent as part of our Charter Rights.
Elizabeth Littlejohn blogs at Railroaded by Metrolinx and is a professor of new media.