- Apr 12, 2008
- Reaction score
- real world
A few Canadian perspectives.....and a weather report from Edmonton
The Occupy movement’s 15 minutes appears to be all but up, as they face eviction from parks across North America. Did they accomplish anything? Supporters maintain the “occupations” have brought their issues to public attention and sparked a dialogue. Have they?
Matt Gurney in occupied Toronto: The Occupiers can claim a victory, if they set their bar low enough. I think I’ve been very fair to them, and for a simple reason — I find them really interesting, enjoyed spending time down at Occupy Toronto and wasn’t inclined to burn any bridges. But I have never hesitated to tell them exactly what I’ve written here: They’ve spent way, way too much time focusing on organizational committees and creating safe spaces and having meetings, and not nearly enough trying to shake up the financial system and change how our capitalist society works. As a protest group, they’d make a great bureaucrat-staffed review panel.
But, we are talking about them. Not necessarily the plethora of issues they claim as their own, but if only by osmosis, our coverage of and commentary will have served to get some people thinking about income inequality and financial corruption and democracy. If that’s their measure of victory, they can pull down their tents and go home (if they have any) happy.
I’m not sure that that’s how they would like to have measured victory, of course. No doubt some of the more starry-eyed protesters actually had delusions of taking part in an Arab Spring-like movement that would transform our society, which was always nuts — whatever capitalism’s flaws, I bet that most of the 99% are comfortable enough in their lives, or optimistic enough about their chances of even becoming one of the 1%, that they’re not inclined to rock the boat. That’s the problem with Occupy. Not the power of the banks, but the power of optimism and complacency. They failed to put a dent in that, and it’s no surprise. So I’d give them an F on changing society, but a C for effort.
Barbara Kay near tried-to-occupy-McGill University-but-police-actually-did-their-job in Montreal: The Occupy Movement should learn the old adage, “Fish and guests stink after three days.” Time is the kiss of death to any protest activity that does not have a precise and coherent goal, such as support for a political hunger strike, or the fight to repeal a specific tax and so forth.
Yes, we are still talking about them, but mostly not in a good way. We keep talking about them only because it is the only ongoing local news story that can be counted on for some quirky human interest angle to feed the ravenous maw of the media. What we’re really talking about, most of us, are the idiots like the guy who defecated on a car, or the tragedies, like the girl who overdosed, At the beginning people really tried hard to find out what their message was. But that there was no clear message was their message. A negative McLuhanesque idea: the non-medium is the non-message. I think the use of those megaphones to replace artificial communication enhancement says it all; the absurd chanting, reminiscent of a marriage vow (“I, shaggy-haired protester…I, shaggy-haired protester…take thee, ripe-smelling coed…take thee…etc”) quickly became fodder for satirists, and the only people who pretended to take them seriously were union leaders and liberal politicians doing their politically correct duty or reassuring their political base that their sentiments are in the right quarter. Don’t tell me that President Obama actually has any respect whatsoever for these groups. As a community organizer, he knows how to mobilize groups successfully, and if he were in charge, Occupy would have had a shape.
The Occupy Movement was supposed to be the liberal equivalent of the Tea Party. Instead the disparity became a case study in how to get — or not get — what you want through protest. The Tea Party was respectful of property, very focused on its message and goals, soon got organized and appointed responsible leadership; grew organically; quickly turned a cold shoulder to those who reflected negatively on their goals, like racists; communicated effectively; in short, had a mission and a plan. As a result it became an influential national movement without trampling on other people’s freedoms and without overstaying their welcome in any one place. If this is the best the liberals can offer as a protest against greed, it sucks.
Lorne Gunter in Edmonton: I drove past the Occupy Edmonton site Thursday evening and didn’t see a soul. That’s not because the owners of the private park they have tented in finally asked police to move them along. It’s because it was -15C and we’d had 15 cm of snow in 18 hours. Nothing bursts your ideological balloon faster than a blast of Arctic air. It’s probably a lot easier to belong to Occupy Barcelona or Occupy Cancun or Maui.
More to the point of this forum, though, the Occupiers achieved little or nothing. Has anyone called from the EU for the protesters’ recommendations on how to handle the continent’s debt crisis? From the White House or Congress regarding the debt ceiling? From Jim Flaherty’s office wondering how to balance Ottawa’s budget?
That’s because the protesters are what I would call big-government anarchists. I know, that seems like an oxymoron. Anarchists who believe in big government, that’s impossible you say. But it’s not impossible if you come from Cloud Cuckoo Land. The protesters claimed to want more freedom and democracy, but in the next breath they wanted governments to redistribute vast sums of wealth. The largest contingent proclaimed itself anarchist, then demanded a government about twice the size of the one most developed countries already have and insisted governments recognize every citizen’s “right” to health care, education and nutrition (and massage therapy). You can’t have both: freedom and bigger government.
To those who paid attention, the Occupiers message was self-contradictory. So it was easy to ignore.
Kelly McParland: Can I intrude as devil’s advocate for a moment? I’m as skeptical as any of you, but if the occupiers had a message at all, it seemed to focus on greed, and on the glaring lack of any sort of price having been paid by the people who brought on the economic crisis. You can blame whoever you want for that, but it seems pretty clear that those paying the heaviest price are not the ones who created the problem. Maybe in their weird, incoherent way that was the message they were trying to get across, and, if so, it seems valid. Do they at least deserve credit for trying?
Barbara Kay: No, they do not deserve credit. They did not really try to do anything. They just showed up. After that, they were fed and cleaned up after by the very few people who understood process and responsibility.
Protesting “greed”? You cannot protest a human trait. It’s like protesting sexual desire because you are fed up with sex scandals. If greed is the culprit, why not protest under the big HOLLYWOOD sign in L.A.? Who in our society is making more wealth disproportionate to their contribution than Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler? Or why not protest outside the Bell Centre? Sure, hockey games are great entertainment, and there is no denying athletic talent on that scale is rare, but the money top athletes get is obscene, and certainly comparable in theory to the disparities between CEOs and their underlings. A few million beside the billions large companies stand to gain or lose is a mere bagatelle.
My own cynical conclusion is that protest “movements” today are so inextricably tied up with social media that unless a situation is desperate, as in the Arab Spring, the large crowds that turn out for these happenings are mostly people with only the vaguest idea of what they are supposed to be protesting, and for the most part attracted by the novelty and fun of being a little bit famous with no effort.
If the Occupy movement really had a vision of what they wanted to replace “greed”, then a plan, and a leader and an articulate statement would have emerged. Moreover, as a sign of their sincerity and focus, it would have cost them something to join the protest, or they would have joined at some risk to their person or career or something. This was a social-media fuelled piece of performance theatre that unfortunately failed to realize that in good theatre, there are three acts and then the curtain comes down and people go home.
Lorne Gunter: There is no doubt that the original protests in NYC were, in part, about trying to make some sense of the banking crisis. Why had those whose actions caused so much unemployment, foreclosure and general economy damage been rewarded with bailouts and then bonuses? It was unfair and the original protesters deserve credit for raising it (although the amount of credit they deserve is minimal because they could see the corporate role in all of this but never the role of governments. Where were the Occupy Pennsylvania Avenue demonstrations?)
But the bewildered middle-class Occupiers were swiftly replaced by angry, lefty demonstrators whose main goal was rage against the man/machine/media/middle-class. By the time the demonstrations got to Canada, most of the value had been rung our of them. They could just as easily have been against the Harper government’s use of prorogation or the TransPacific free trade talks and they would have attracted the same crowd with the same message.
The Toronto Star thought the Occupiers in Canada at least deserved credit for stimulating debate. Perhaps they did stimulate debate in the Star’s editorial suites (as they did ours). But out where real people live and work, among Canadians who are struggling to keep a roof over their families’ heads and hoping not to lose their jobs, the Occupiers were just a bunch of indulged brats being angry over nothing and at someone else’s expense.
Matt Gurney: As I said earlier, we can say the Occupiers deserve credit if we set the bar low enough. The question to me isn’t whether they stimulated debate and discussion. They absolutely did, and the four of us prove it.
The question is how much debate did they stir up relative to the number of protesters, the time they invested and the initially friendly coverage they received. If they hadn’t spent so much time building organizing committees they could have done much more with the resources they had. The effort of the Occupiers hasn’t lived up to the importance they placed on their cause.