Wall Street movement comes to the capital
HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE collected in Confederation Park to show their support for Occupy Ottawa on Oct. 15, as a part of the global Occupy Together movement. About 60 people broke out colourful tents for the first night, and an estimated 70 stayed in the park the second night.
Stemming from the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City, protesters gathered across major Canadian cities, such as Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, and Ottawa to show their support for those occupying in America.
“What this movement is achieving is showing the people that another way of thinking, of acting, and living is possible,” said Ben Powless, the facilitator of the general assemblies held every night by the protesters. “It’s one that doesn’t force us into confined structures.”
Powless explained the movement is not necessarily about demands—right now it’s focused on asking questions.
“A movement like this gains its identity through discussions,” said Powless. “It gains its identity not from someone saying, ‘This is what we stand for,’ but from saying ‘How do we feel about this?’”
In the Occupy Ottawa camp, a general assembly is held every day, where people can voice their thoughts and concerns.
“The real innovative thing about this is it’s making this kind of [discussion] process very public in a very big way,” said Powless. “In a way, that is accessible to a lot of people.”
Protesters are given the chance to join the committees, which focus on the role of art, media, safety, and law, among other things, in furthering the movement. These committees work on designated tasks throughout the day, and are called on to speak at the assembly as a group.
“I’m doing legal observation, making sure the people’s rights are upheld,” said Mitchell Broughton, part of Occupy Ottawa’s legal committee. “Should anything happen, like [an] arrest, we’re just going to document it, and if we have to use it in court, it’s cool too.”
Individuals are also able to voice their concerns in front of the assembly. Many come forward with causes important to them, and this shapes what the movement stands for.
“There haven’t been any exact demands outlined. I think that’s a part of the success of the entire campaign,” said Robert Stirling, a fourth-year criminology student at the U of O who attended Occupy Ottawa. “There’s no one thing that needs to be addressed. It’s really an entire issue of the [continuation of those in] power to continue to make profit at the expense of anyone who’s lesser than middle class.”
Many protesters are fighting for causes they believe are important, whether on a local or worldwide scale.
“We need total reform across the world, not just Canada and the United States, but everywhere,” said Kurby Bucciero, a third-year University of Ottawa student at the event. “It’s people over profit.”
Some protesters plan to stay in the camp for an indefinite period of time, while others are coming and going. Increased participation in the movement allows more organization as time passes.
“I think as the days go on, it’s getting more and more organized,” said Sarah Cochrane, a third-year Carleton University student. “Once [the organizers] figure out why people are here and what they’re looking to get out of it, things will get more organized.”
Participants of Occupy Ottawa have plenty of resources at their disposal. A food tent full of donations was set up. There is also a media tent, where people can get in touch with protesters from other cities, send out press releases, and catch up on the news.
So far there has only been one arrest, and it was drug, not protest, related.
Despite authorities often present at the site, the atmosphere of the Occupy camp is festive. Through frequent chants, the sounds of bongos and ukuleles are heard. Protesters say they are happy to be participating in the movement.
“I think it’s great—I think it’s amazing—what’s going on right now,” said Broughton.
Not everyone is supportive. Fourth-year political science student Ryan Mallough voiced his concerns with Occupy Canada in a phone interview with the Fulcrum.
“I can get behind [the movement] on the American end, because while the protest is wildly incoherent, they’re basing it around the actions of the banks and the income gap between the wealthiest and poorest and the degrading middle class,” said Mallough.
“In Canada, that’s just simply not the case,” he added. “Canada has weathered the global recession remarkably well. The class gap, as it were, in Canada, is nowhere near as large as in the [United} States. There’s really nothing there to be protesting.”
Participants remain determined to fight for their cause, despite skepticism.
“There must be another way we can conduct society, [and] we can conduct ourselves,” said Powell. “It’s sometimes a messy process, but it needs to be.”
“We’re looking for solutions. We’re looking to talk about the issues, whatever they are,” Broughton added.
Why are you occupying?
Protesters explain their causes
“We’re out here today to show our protest against the corporate greed in Canada. Our CEOs all got an increase in salaries since we took cutbacks. We’ve had enough, we want to have a salary we can live off.”
—Anonymous Air Canada worker
“I’m here to show support for the movement in the [United States]. I’m also in opposition of police brutality that we witnessed [at Occupy Wall Street]. I’m just hoping we can push for reform and get our governments to listen to our concerns.”
—Stephen Kirby, third-year
Carleton University student
“I’m just here to support the whole movement. I think it’s the most worthy cause to support. I don’t think there’s a uniting cause, but it is the fact that we’re being united at the bottom, we’re being oppressed by the government, that I support. We’re not going to take it.”
—Jessica Leto, student at Carleton University
“I’m here because I think the banks don’t deserve any of our money to survive. They should be left to flail.”
—Andrew Riddles, Ottawa resident
“I’m here because I’m just generally discontent with the way the global capitalist system has treated the average person in Canada. I’m willing to contribute as much as I can.”
graduate student at Brock University
“I’m hoping that today will help to get a conversation going, get a discussion going about some of the questions we all have and make governments and corporations realize that they can’t take their power for granted.”
—Nairra Tariq, University of Ottawa student
“We’re advocating fairer taxes. The rich have got the benefit of tax cuts and it ends up costing the majority of people in terms of cutbacks and social programs. I think it’s about time people said enough is enough.”
—Dennis Howlett, member of Canadians for Tax Fairness
“It’s kind of new, that’s the interesting thing. There’s not one message. Partly what we’re getting out there is the idea of maybe we have to ask questions first. Maybe we need to ask questions before we have answers. That’s what this is all about.”
—Ben Powless, Occupy
Ottawa general assembly facilitator