Thoughts From Another Armchair Quarterback of Occupy Calgary
It's time the City of Calgary kicked the bums out!
This knee-jerk reaction to Occupy Calgary and others like it are common. It's a popular viewpoint, and with good reason. It's easy to want a protest of squatting in Olympic Plaza removed as hastily as possible when you read stories of public defecation, drug use, tent burning accidents and above all else when individuals from the movement make statements reeking of entitlement such as demanding the city supply power and heating. If that's all to the story (and despite seemingly more media on hand reporting the story than people actually sleeping in tents, that's all the story ever seems to be) I'd get behind the knee-jerk reactions. But it isn't all to the story, not by a long shot.
Occupy Calgary stems from Occupy Wall Street, a movement started in September to camp out in the financial heart of the United States and make a very strong statement: the middle class is pissed off. They have every right to be with high rates of unemployment (especially amongst youth), hundreds of billions of dollars from tax payers given back to the corporations that failed them and fueled a housing crisis, record budget deficits, extensions to tax-cuts for America's most wealthy. With the middle class taking an obvious backseat to a wealthy elite (it has gotten so absurd that Republicans propose taxing the poor instead of the rich), unprecedented amounts of middle-class working Americans supported the Occupy Wall Street protest. "We are the 99%" had real percievable meaning and I imagine it knocked a lot of people off their seat. Despite being leaderless with few cohesive demands, the movement has showed that many Americans are no longer willing to sit quiet about the economic reality fostered by government that caters to the wealthy minority. In an era of apathy, that is a powerful statement, demands or not.
Canadians seemed to be in strong support of Occupy Wall Street, at least before it came to our home. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty initially expressed sympathy for Occupy Wall Street, but that's unlikely to be the case now. After all, why would Canadians be upset with the current economic situation when we have the soundest financial institutions in the world? It's not like we have record deficits, high unemployment, a government looking to further deregulate our economy (that weathered the storm better than anywhere due to an era of stronger regulation) or a large and getting larger gap between the rich and the poor. Okay, I lied, we do have all those things, but admittedly despite the negative trends we are better off than our neighbours to the south, so we should probably all just shut out traps. I am glad that not all of us are however, as every day there's a story that justifies the Occupy movement. A great example is the recent deal reached by the City of Edmonton to build a new arena for the Oilers. Edmontonians will be paying a billionaire millions of dollars to build a new arena, while the billionaire will pay back the city back in 30 years. The public absorbs the risk, and the billionaire takes the profits - but the Occupy movement has nothing to be upset about, right?
Unfortunately, the only debate now coming out of the Occupy Calgary movement is whether the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms trumps Calgary bylaws against camping in parks or vice versa. While an interesting exercise, it's not the debate that needs to be had. With this in mind, I've called for a peaceful and voluntary end of the Occupy Calgary movement. These are the issues of a generation, and they will not be settled by a park camp out. Raising awareness is a large victory in itself and with that many whom were eager to participate in the movement or just be in support it have left or stood down respectively, not because the issues are any less important but because they are no longer the focus in the minds of Calgarians. The remains of Occupy Calgary in Olympic Plaza appear to be full-time activists and those in poor mental health, likely with nowhere else to be. The average middle class Calgarian has gone home, and with it mainstream support. The opponents of the Occupy movement are now free to move in and show it as not representative of the middle class but rather as a fringe, extremist movement. I understand why there are opponents: many have it good and think there's no reason others can't have it good too. They see Occupiers and their ilk as lazy, and unwilling to make something of themselves. Perhaps many are (I certainly have little sympathy for full-time activists taking up each and every cause as if there isn't a single issue they wouldn't clash with authority on), but it is here where I wish to make what I hope is my strongest point: I understand why some want to exercise a supposed superiority over others by boasting of their hard work, education etc. but simply saying 'get a job' does no one any favours. We do not live in a world where every one has the same access to higher education, the same networking opportunities, or getting more basic: the same healthy meals, the same safe homes to be raised in and the same mental health. As repulsed as I am by a fringe few demanding the city provide them heaters at Olympic Plaza, I'm just as repulsed by those going to Olympic Plaza to film these disadvantaged few. Yes, if you provoke a debate you came prepared for with someone suffering from a drug addiction, or a mental disorder, you're likely to win. Congratulations. Squatting in Olympic Plaza is a problem, but telling the disadvantaged to get jobs brings us no closer to ending the camp out, nor does it diminish the real issues at hand by the Occupy movement.
While I have wanted Occupy Calgary to end in its current form, I don't support the knee-jerk reaction so many are standing behind. Mayor Nenshi, the City of Calgary and our by-law and police enforcement have all done an exemplary job of not 'kicking the bums out' but maintaining the balancing act of freedom of expression and public safety. No matter where you stand on Occupy Calgary and the Occupy movement, tact and balance, not knee-jerk reactions and violence, are the answer to a peaceful outcome - and that is truly what the 99% want.