Over and over again, I hear that the Occupy movement in Canada is having a hard time getting over the fact that a long-term encampment may just not be possible right now — due to 2011’s legal crackdown on Occupy encampments taking up public and private space — and how to still utilize the spirit behind Occupy as we move into summer 2012.
Occupy is more than just holding physical space; its tactic and purpose is to facilitate the 99 per cent in shining a light on the actions of the one per cent.
The movement and tactic just needs to be reimagined in new and relevant ways.
Perhaps shorter-term occupations as a tool to bring attention to the actions of one per cent corporations?
Perhaps community hubs for Occupy Free School classes and the Occupy People’s Library?
Perhaps more OccupyTalks workshops on relevant social justice issues?
Perhaps all three and more?
Occupy Toronto and Occupy Vancouver both, for example, get lots of requests to do joint actions with other social justice groups. This is neither a good nor bad thing that Occupy provides the logistical framework for other groups to model.
We saw this in Toronto with the first Quebec student solidarity protest which was co-hosted by Occupy Toronto using a General Assembly decision-making model.
After all, there is a strong activist lineage at play here. The Arab and African spring gave way to the Occupy movement which now is helping fuel the #Maplespread movement in Canada.
Occupy Toronto has also been asked to participate in marches and help No One Is Illegal occupy and shut down MPP offices to protest Bill C-31.
Also, Occupy Toronto had a successful 24 occupation as part of Toronto’s larger May Day celebrations this year and held Simcoe Park to protest Barrick Gold. This success can work as a model for further short-term, targeted occupation spaces.
All this said, there are still Occupy purists out there who kick and scream that Occupy cannot/should not even exist if it cannot hold down a long-term encampment
And we as a movement have been frankly bogged down in that debate for too long instead of focusing on our new capacity to work with other groups and take on the one per cent without being utterly consumed with the amount of energy and work it took to run a camp.
In the fall of 2011, Occupy couldn’t really do any political projects or networking because our encampments were under constant police threat and the sheer logistics of running the camps took all our efforts/energy.
I know the movement caught a lot of flak for this and there were many people in the camp who did want to do major actions into the financial district and work with other social movements but holding down the fort became the first and only priority.
I feel part of this problem was caused by our own success. Many people were skeptical of Occupy’s ability to hold down a camp for even one night, so when the nights continued, organizers were caught off guard by the sheer amount of work it would take to maintain and uphold that success.
Because, let’s face it, while the camp was awesome, it took a whole lot of effort just to hold down a long-term encampment with the constant fear of police eviction, worrying about having enough food to feed everyone at the camp, escalations between different individuals and negotiating between different political tendencies.
From all that I have seen this spring, having Occupy move beyond the pure long-term encampment as a tactic has to be done for its own sake and because community groups and other social justice movements are asking this of Occupy.
This is starting to happen, slowly.
With this further integration of Occupy into the mainstream, Occupy Toronto has teamed up with the Maple Spring and student strikers, regarding how — if passed — Bill C-309 will make wearing masks illegal at demonstrations. The same is true of how Occupy Vancouver has teamed up with anti-tanker activists in B.C. and those opposed to the tar sands.
Exposing one per cent targets for how they are destroying the banking system and the environment, keeping watch on Harper and the election fraud scandal, is going to be a big job.
Occupy and the narrative of the 99 per cent is already embedded in these issues through more than just Occupy endorsing or jointly planning actions around these concerns.
In fact, the narrative of the 99 per cent is intrinsic to these very issues themselves now that Occupy has radically changed the political landscape in North America.
The movement is bigger than just Occupy-as-camp since Occupy itself is bigger than just a desire to camp. They’ve already occupied space in the fall, now they’re looking to Occupy political dialogue and target those who seek to destroy the lives of the 99 per cent.
The question remains how Occupy will move forward. Discussions are underway every Monday at their 7:00 p.m. General Assemblies at Cloud Gardens (on Richmond Street between Yonge Street and Bay Street) and during Occupy Free Skule Sundays in the park.
If you have an idea how Occupy Toronto can move forward, please attend the GAs and get involved.
I promise you it’s going to be OK if Occupy evolves, you can’t stay a caterpillar forever!