Monday, November 14, 2011
The Occupy Movement and the Coal Mine Canaries
By the time I made it down to the Occupy Toronto campsite this weekend it was getting dark. There seemed to be more tents than ever, but although they were celebrating their one-month anniversary, the mood was definitely subdued.
Maybe it's because they can see the writing on the wall.
Maybe it's because many of the 500 or so occupiers are poorer and more desperate than the ones at the beginning.
You can see it in the hungry faces of the people getting something to eat at the food tent...
The night I was there the heroic volunteers were handing out hot chili, soup, and apples.
And the people they are feeding now include quite a few homeless kids. The director of a nearby mission said ten percent of his young clients, some with substance abuse problems, had moved into the campsite.
And not all of them share the gentle, patient ideals of the Occupy movement...
As I found out myself, the hard way, when one of the ragged young band approached me and said:
"Jesus Christ dude I'm LOADED. You don't have a cigarette do you?"
And when I gave him my last one he said:
"You're not a member of the 99 per cent are you ?"
And when I said "Why do you ask that?" he replied:
"Because the 99 per cent is BULLSHIT !!!!! We are all INDIVIDUALS !!!!!!"
And then loudly, so everybody could hear: " I wouldn't be in this fucking place if I had ANYWHERE else to go !!!! "
Later, my friend Callum who was with me, said I should have smacked the little sod for biting the hand that feeds him. And for mooching our last smoke.
But how could I be angry with that poor kid? When he's one of the reasons we need an Occupy movement.
You know, I'm glad the occupiers have welcomed the street kids and other marginalized people into their campsites. How could they not?
But trying to figure out how to make a better world, while dealing with the social problems of this one, in a crowded campsite, is taking its toll...
At the Gazebo on the night I visited, they were trying to come up with a list of 10 demands. But it wasn't easy when there were so many different and desperate voices clamouring to be heard. And I couldn't help feeling that weariness is replacing optimism.
The good news is that even if this campsite is demolished as I'm sure they all will be, Canada is a barren ground for anything young to grow, it will NOT be the beginning of the end. Only the end of the beginning.
The savage capitalist beast has been gored. As economic conditions deteriorate the wound in its side will only grow bigger, until the beast is bleeding from every orifice. Even as it sets the world on fire.
And this movement really is a harbinger of a very different future. The canary in the coal mine..
There were those of us who actually bought into the whole hippie thing. We thought we could change the world and make it a kinder, gentler place where people would treat each other with dignity and respect. We thought that was what the world was going to look like as we moved into the future.
Instead, we’ve created a truly evil place where brother will fight brother and father will fight son – all in the name of greed. While we’re playing with our toys, the Establishment is destroying the environment, destroying the economy, destroying the planet.
And that’s what the Occupy movement is all about. Its members are people who can see the future and who want to change it. Just like the hippies, who were like the canary in the coal mine. When they died – and die they did – we should have seen the so-called writing on the wall. We should have known there was poison in the air. But we didn’t get it. And the results are all around us. If you don’t believe me, take a look.
It really is too big to fail. And there is a whole world to occupy.
When I left the campsite a young woman was delivering her message accompanied by a group of others with guitars and drums...
While next to the stage a member of the ragged young band quietly played a flute, that he carries like a weapon on his back.
Look at them now while they are still there, and remember this: you can mock them, you can tear down their campsites, you can arrest them, you can hurt them.
But you can't arrest an idea, or kill a movement, whose time has finally come...