Yesterday on my walk I went down Memorial Boulevard and saw all these tents set up in the park. I started taking some pictures and realized when I zoomed in for this shot and saw the sign, that the encampment was part of the “Occupy” movement spreading across the world inspired by the Wall Street demonstrations that started on September 17th.
According to an article in the Winnipeg Sun, Trevor Semotok, a spokesperson for the group says they are protesting the growing disparity between the rich and poor in Canada and promoting the idea that “people should come before profits.” The sign here says “Canada owes $800 billion to private banks.” Chad Lozinkski another spokesperson for the Winnipeg group gave a less specific motivation for the protest when he was interviewed by the Metro News. He says “our strength is that we have no specific message. We are providing a venue to speak up about any issue. ” This kind of all-encompassing agenda is true of the group who is staging a similar protest in Toronto. A Globe and Mail reporter spotted a variety of signs in the Toronto camp including pleas to protect the environment, provide better services for the disabled, a warning about exploiting aboriginal people and a call to end poverty in Canada.
The Manitoba protest started on October 15th with 400 people participating in a march that originated at the Manitoba Legislature. According to Metro News there are only about 20 protesters left at the site. I think that is a bit of an under-estimation. I saw more than 20 people there yesterday. The National Post says that the mayors of most Canadian cities are hoping for a peaceful resolution of the protests. They think the cold Canadian winter will eventually drive the protesters inside, although the Winnipeg group has installed a fire pit and an insulated kitchen in hopes they can carry on the protest at least till Christmas.
A 13-year-old girl at the site with her mother told the Winnipeg Sun she is protesting the fact that the wealthy who comprise 1% of the population, control 99% of the country’s wealth. The middle class is rapidly disappearing as the gap between the rich and poor widens. The teenager’s mother said it is a shame that there are people in our country still living in third world conditions.
While I was taking photos of the “Occupy Winnipeg” site these workers who were installing windows in a building across the street from the protest said to me, “Why don’t you take a picture of us? We have jobs. We are working to make our country better. We aren’t slackers like those guys over there.”
The gentlemen made their opinion of the protest perfectly clear. It got me thinking about my own opinions about the occupy movement. Certainly, as a child of the sixties, I know how effective protest can be in changing things. I was a teen in the era of Martin Luther King and the anti-Vietnam War protests. One thing that is different is that those protesters put a lot on the line to defend their issues. People like Gandhi and King went to prison for their anti-establishment ideas. According to the National Post, Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson speaks for most civic leaders, when he says physical force and legal action will not be taken against Canadian protestors. I guess I also have to wonder if this kind of protest is as effective in changing things as taking some kind of concrete action to address the needs of the disenfranchised might be.
However one cannot dispute the fact that the Occupy movements are drawing attention and inciting lots of discussion. Last night, Diane Sawyer did a piece on ABC News about the growing gap between the rich and poor in the United States . She talked about the wealthy 1% of the population whose income has grown by 240% in the last few years.
The protests are having the desired effect. People and the media are talking about the economic inequities in North America, and here I am writing a blog post about it. What next? Maybe I need to go down to the Occupy Winnipeg site and engage the protesters in a conversation about what they are trying to accomplish. Maybe I need to think about what concrete things I can do to try to ease the disparity between the “haves” and “have-nots” in my community.