They may have lost their campsite, but Occupy Winnipeg is still protesting economic inequality and banking policies beyond Memorial Park.
A small group of Occupy Winnipeg protestors gathered in the concourse area of Winnipeg Square at noon on Dec. 30, handing out leaflets outside of the mall’s underground banks. Protestors have been gathering at the mall each week, after conservation officers dismantled their campsite Dec. 21.
Robert Gaumond, an Occupy Winnipeg member who was one of the first campers in Memorial Park, explained that Occupy Winnipeg feels it is important that their actions are as public as possible and that they maintain a presence in Winnipeg.
Winnipeg Square was thought to be an ideal place to stage demonstrations as TD, Royal Bank of Canada, Scotiabank, and Bank of Montreal all have locations in the underground mall, he said.
Gaumond said he found that a good majority of people coming through Winnipeg Square seem to be supportive of what Occupy Winnipeg is doing, but “there are some that do seem put off by us, which is acceptable.”
Outside of the TD bank protestors cheered on a couple there to close their bank accounts.
Syvlie Sabourin Grindle and her husband, Trent, said they decided to close their joint account with TD to show support for Occupy Winnipeg and because they were concerned with TD’s banking policies.
“At a credit union, you can go to meetings every year, you can vote to decide how they should be using your money. At a bank, I don’t know what they’re doing with my money. It doesn’t just sit in a vault,” Trent argued.
Approximately five Winnipeg Police Service officers were in attendance. One officer, who asked to remain anonymous, said police were made aware of the demonstration though Facebook.
He said officers were there to observe and make sure protestors were not disturbing people entering and leaving the banks. He wasn’t aware of any complaints coming forward to the police, but he said he was concerned that some protestors were taking photos and filming people inside the underground TD bank.
“It’s a personal privacy issue. I wouldn’t appreciate it if I was in bank and people were filming me,” he said.
Gaumond said he wasn’t disturbed by the police presence.
Protestors also met on Dec. 31 at Memorial Park to commemorate the date campers had slated to leave the Occupy Winnipeg campsite. Approximately 12 people started a bonfire in the park at 6:15 p.m. before police and firefighters were called and extinguished the blaze.
D-Anne Kuby, an Occupy Winnipeg protestor in attendance, said they had not planned on staying the night but wanted to stage an act of civil disobedience.
“We had the moment we wanted to have,” she said.
Radhika Desai, a political studies professor at the University of Manitoba, said that though most Occupy campsites in North America have now been shut down, that doesn’t necessarily signify the death of the movement.
“I think that was one phase. The question now becomes what happens now going forward?” she said.
“It’s important to raise the profile of these issues [surrounding equality], and it is also important to have specific demands, but that may come in time.”
Desai speculated that some Occupy protestors might become part of broader social movements now, if Occupy is not rooted in the campsites.
“It can now be more broadly based because not many people have time and freedom to go and camp out somewhere,” she said.
“In order to be truly effective it has to draw in working class people who’s lives are being affected by these issues that these movements are quite rightly raising.”
Occupy Winnipeg protestors said they are planning on setting up a new campsite on Mar. 15 and are currently looking for an alternative location.
photo by sarah petz