Occupy Canada, inspired by the United States’ Occupy Wall Street, grew in solidarity with the American movement, but raises concerns here at home, according to participants and observers.
William Carroll, PhD, a sociology professor at the University of Victoria, said the economic issues facing the United States are more severe, but one can’t ignore the dissatisfaction at home.
“The situation in Canada isn’t that different than the United States in terms of the level of social inequality and the upward trend in income inequality, which has been really increasing here, as well as in the United States, not as sharply though,” he said in an interview on Monday, Oct. 17.
Rafe Mair, political commentator and former Social Credit cabinet minister, speaks at the Occupy Vancouver protest on Sunday, Oct. 16.
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On Saturday, Oct. 15, 4,000 people marched in Vancouver. Other BC protests took place in Victoria, Kelowna, Nelson and Nanaimo.
Kate Gram is one of the occupiers who spent the night outside the Vancouver Art Gallery where tents have been set up.
On Sunday, she said she had a variety of reasons for taking part including poverty and the lack of economic mobility for those who are struggling.
“It’s true that Canada is very fortunate in a lot of ways, but I think it’s very important to recognize that we have to stand in solidarity with our other global inhabitants, and also there is vast room for improvement here,” she said in an interview on Sunday.
Matthew Kemshaw creates seed bombs, nutrient-packed seed balls that can be tossed onto derelict lots to grow plants.
Also present at the Occupy Vancouver site on Sunday was Rafe Mair, political commentator and former Social Credit cabinet minister. He asked those present to take part in the mainstream political process and use their votes to defeat the Liberal Party.
“I know you don’t like the system,” he said. “However, it’s got to start somewhere and where it’s going to start for us is in Victoria.”
The speakers’ platform is ongoing and a variety of views have been expressed.
Another Sunday speaker, Shannon MacKenzie, a member of the Zeitgeist Vancouver movement, challenged the “mainstream regressive media” view that the protestors are “bums” without clear concerns or demands.
“If they want something succinct, I’ll put this as succinctly as I can,” he said. “The current economic model is not working for the planet or most of the people who work on it.”
MacKenzie referred to the “99 per cent” – a designation derived from the often-quoted statistic that one per cent of the United States population holds 40 per cent of the nation’s wealth. He said he wasn’t interested in talking to the media elite, but rather to those who aren’t engaged in the movement.
“Too many people in our 99 per cent seem to want to emulate the 1 per cent,” he said. “They want to look for leadership in the one per cent on how to get out of this mess.”
Glenn Loft performs at the Occupy Vancouver protest on Sunday.
MacKenzie said, in his view (the movement doesn’t have designated spokespeople), the solutions are to change the economic model and to look for one’s value intrinsically rather than through outward materialism.
Carroll said materialism has been an ongoing theme in North American society. While “the American Dream” of prosperity became entrenched following the Second World War, in the past few decades it’s been held up by credit cards and subprime mortgages, while real wages stagnated, he said.
This helped set the stage for the current crisis and the movement.
“There’s been an attempt, or kind of a political sonombulance, in terms of just wanting to live this kind of privatized existence as an affluent consumer, and the reality is that doesn’t really work anymore,” he said. “In a sense, many Americans are going through a political re-awakening.”
While Canada largely escaped the credit crisis, Carroll said this was because banks had only just starting moving towards the American system a few months beforehand, and then pulled back.
“The larger picture, beyond Canada, really globally, is this highly financialized form of capitalism that we now have, and the extent to which the paper economy of derivatives and various kinds of financial instruments that don’t really have any connection to the creation of actual value, really dominates the real economy,” he said. “In a sense, the conditions for financial instability and collapse are conditions that Canada is really embedded in.”
While, the movement has promised it will be occupying its physical space in downtowns across the country until December, Carroll said the more interesting question is what will happen afterwards.
“How does a movement like this actually begin to move its agenda forward beyond the symbolism of occupying public space? That’s a very difficult issue that they are going to have to sort out,” he said.