There’s been a lot said about #OccupyCalgary, not much of it in support. I’m going to start by giving Paul Hughes his due though. There were 2 different Occupy Calgary camps, one on St Patrick’s Island and the one in Olympic Plaza. A certain amount of noise was made within Occupy Calgary about there being 2 different camps, primarily along the lines of diluted effort and solidarity.
However, the group from the island that Paul Hughes was with made very simple demands, first and foremost being assistance for the homeless. Their demands were straightforward, easy to understand, and most importantly in this instance, something that the City of Calgary could address and the average citizen could support. The City of Calgary stepped up. Full point to Paul Hughes, and the City.
The second Occupy Calgary group in Olympic Plaza has become virtually impossible for me to defend at this point. Their behaviour is inconsistent with activism or protest. They started off well enough, all things considered. There are plenty of issues these days the average citizen and Calgarian could get behind.
There’s more of course, but I think these 3 should be enough to kick off a list as long as my arm from you gentle readers
Occupy Calgary had a simple model for direct and participatory democracy.
I attended a few of the General Assemblies, and was struck by how orderly they were. It was even more striking in the level of polite discourse. It would have been an education for anyone to attend one of the General Assemblies and then contrast that with the behaviour of our elected politicians. There were a few occasions when there was someone present signing the discussion! That’s some heavy duty inclusion for a group this small.
I recognized from day 1 that the Occupy movement in Canada would have to distinguish itself from the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US. Americans have a great deal to be angry about. The financial abuses by corporations, the massive taxpayer funded bail outs, and near out of control unemployment. The fact a man could be sent to prison for 10 years for stealing food, and a CEO responsible for massive fraud be given a slap on the wrist.
We haven’t had that in Canada. Certainly we’ve been stung by the financial crises around the world, but for the most part we’re weathering it well. Canadians just aren’t angry. Frustrated perhaps, but not angry. Not enraged. You can’t start a revolution of any kind based on frustration. The depth of feeling just isn’t there. Canadians aren’t hurting enough to protest yet. We are willing, at this point, to endure a few more abuses by our government and companies.
Also from day 1, the Occupy Calgary protesters ran into a fundamental problem. While they were able to generate some small and quick support, they weren’t able to leverage that into anything more. They failed to recognize and address the issue of ‘getting the message out’. They are protesting in a world of media sound bites, and all they were managing to get into the newspapers and tv was near meaningless chaff. Each protester had their own reasons for participating, which is fine and to be expected. But as a group, they failed to identify some clear and unifying issues to rally around. And in absence of unifying issues, they failed to unify both themselves and Calgarians. They remained a small group of discontented with no meaningful message and no proposed plan of action on how to address the problems they were protesting.
There’s a collection of signs laid out on the edge of the sidewalk at Olympic Plaza, and more than a few Calgarians took the time to stop and read them.
Unfortunately, even this messaging was pretty ineffective. It was more like everyone brought down their pet peeve protest item and laid it out on the ground. Pretty high in rhetoric, and barely a supporting fact in evidence. The group, even within their own ‘media’ on the sidewalk was disorganized with no unifying message. They had an opportunity to win over people who had actually come down to see what the fuss was about, and all they provided were slogans empty of meaning and context laid out on the ground. No pamphlets. Not even the presence of the person who laid the sign down to explain what they were talking about.
Initially the Occupy Calgary demonstrators had at least the grudging patience of Calgarians. City Hall was giving them surprising leeway, especially when contrasted by Toronto. Even more in contrast to the treatment of protesters in the US who have been experiencing out of control police brutality, learning something the black community has known all to well down there. We have our own problems in Canada as evidenced by law enforcement during the G20 – but the number of violent thugs working as police officers in the US is an epidemic of state sanctioned violence.
The City of Calgary however showed patience. While more than a few high profile bloggers and media editorialists have taken Mayor Nenshi to task for the City of Calgary’s handling of Occupy Calgary, I would have to disagree with them. Mayor Nenshi and council have taken exactly the right approach, and are essentially letting the demonstrators hang themselves. The protesters inability to unify behind a common message after this long has resulted in a groundswell of irritation against them. The few demands they’ve made are petty, and disappointingly ridiculous and self-entitled.
The latest quote in the Calgary Herald
Anthony Hall, a University of Lethbridge professor who recently joined the movement, said they have the right to use electrical devices, such as laptops.
The right to use electrical devices like laptops? Seriously? I’d be the first to admit I’d be lost without my iPad/smartphone/laptop, but I have never considered them a right. I think it’s safe to assume even in this day and age that there are more people without a laptop than with.
Just 5 days ago, the City of Calgary upped the ante under growing pressure from citizens to do something about Occupy Calgary.
A swarm of bylaw enforcement officers and supporting police officers issued 24 hour warnings to remove tents or risk having them impounded.
In gratifyingly Canadian tradition, that’s as far as it went. No police batons, no pepper spray or rubber bullets.
At the end of the day, this was the Occupy Calgary message:
With public sentiment against them, nary a kind or supporting word in the media, and a city council losing patience… what has Occupy Calgary done with the last 5 days? Not much. No unifying message for Calgarians to support, still, after more than 4 weeks and daily meetings. Their few demands are for the City to provide them with infrastructure so they can stay there, like electricity.
The Occupy Calgary message is so unclear in fact, that you still see blog posts like this one.
Perhaps they should relocate to a poor African country to learn what being a have not really is. Or maybe Iran to see what government corruption is really all about.
I’d be the first to admit Canada is one of the best places in the world right now, particularly with the global economic crisis going on. But to suggest that someone move to another country to see how bad it could be is about as ridiculous as the few demands the protesters have made. Cries of ‘oh, it’s so much worse elsewhere’ are meaningless and at best forgive the abuses in our own systems. Sure it’s worse elsewhere, but statements like the one above suggest we shouldn’t do anything to move ourselves forward. We should just rest on our laurels and say this is as good as it gets, don’t bother trying to improve what we have. Don’t worry about the homeless freezing to death in our streets each winter, it’s worse elsewhere. Don’t bother yourselves over children abandoned to social services. Long wait times at hospitals? Quit your complaining, you could be starving in an African desert.
Sadly, I can barely work up the energy to even defend Occupy Calgary conceptually these days. As a group, they just don’t have it together to make it work. It’s devolved from an Occupy Wall Street splinter to a self entitled group of people who want to camp out in Olympic Plaza. Preferably with power and running water and other niceties the average Calgarian would spurn on a camping trip.