Oct. 15 saw thousands of people across Canada — from Halifax to Victoria — take to the streets in solidarity with our American comrades occupying Wall Street. In Winnipeg, somewhere in the vicinity of 400 folks made it out to the march and subsequent rally and “occupation” at the legislature.
While many journalists are quick to point out that the occupiers lack a cohesive set of “demands,” I believe this is entirely deliberate. The list of grievances that working class — and even middle class at this point in the game — folks have against system, whereby money and power are organized and disseminated amongst “the elite,” has become so long it would be impossible to concisely define those grievances in a one to three word moniker that fits nicely inside a headline.
And hence we have the “occupiers,” rallying against corporate greed, destruction of the environment, racism, sexism, war, etc.. While this may seem like something that has sprung from the ground recently — a “mish-mashed” and “ill-defined” North American response to the Arab Spring — I believe this is just the latest incarnation of grievances that have been piling up, ad nauseum, since globalization and neo-liberal trade policies became de rigueur in the First World. Does anyone remember “the Battle in Seattle,” when thousands took to the streets of sleepy Seattle to rail against the World Trade Organization, corporate greed, destruction of the environment, racism, etc.?
I certainly do. I was in high school, and those events left a sharp impression on me. It pumped me up to become an activist, to make a difference in the world. But shortly thereafter George W. Bush was inaugurated as president of the United States, and shortly after that horrible event some crazy terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center. Dissent became unpatriotic and, in many cases, illegal in the United States and Canada. Many people, myself included, eventually became disillusioned with protesting all the time and let the velvet glove of the War on Terror slowly smother our resistance into an uneasy sleep.
But now people are riled up once again, awake from a terrifying dream. In America, the working poor have watched as their jobs, savings, pensions and houses have been stolen from them while unscrupulous investment brokers have been rewarded — by the very government many of them believed would hold these corporate thieves accountable — with massive windfalls of cash and an increased stranglehold over the economy. And so, like good, patriotic Americans, they are taking to the streets and demanding their voices be heard.
In Canada, we’ve been more fortunate in weathering the economic storm of 2008’s recession. But still we share many grievances with our brothers and sisters to the south; we see the same world, our shared future, being sold to the same group of swine at the top of life’s crap-heap.
Right wing pundits on both sides of the border have played quick and easy with denigrating the varied “demands” of the occupiers. Major news distributors — like the new Canadian Sun News Network, Fox News and even CBC — certainly aren’t lining up to offer in-depth analysis of the issues at hand.
Contrary to this tripe masquerading as “journalism,” the occupiers are not “left wing nut-bars” but every day people. Big name academics and journalists like David Suzuki and Chris Hedges are on the streets, as are working mothers, out of work labourers, war veterans and students. While I would agree that these “99 per centers” occupying the streets do not necessarily represent 99 per cent of the population, I believe they do represent a majority of citizens in North America who are too overworked, underpaid and uninformed to pay attention to the way our countries are run.
And I thank them for hitting the streets. I myself am a university graduate working three jobs, and earning less cash at the end of the day than I did as an uneducated line cook six years ago. I have no health insurance, no savings, only debt and one expensive piece of paper. I visited the Occupy Winnipeg protest, but only briefly. I had two work deadlines to meet, laundry to do and dinner for two to cook. Poor excuse for not sticking it out, sure, but likely very representative of 99 per cent of the population . . .
But what I did see was encouraging, inspiring even. Even today, days after the protest, many are camped out against the cold, fighting the good fight for all of us. It’s about time that something happened. The boot cannot stomp us down forever. Where it will go from here, though . . . now that’s up to the rest of us to decide.
Sheldon Birnie is a former Comment Editor of the Manitoban, a graduate of the University of Manitoba and a supporter of the occupiers.