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Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Reflection on Occupy Ottawa III

A few days ago I decided to leave the Occupy Ottawa movement. This does not mean I am abandoning the cause - I still agree with the need to occupy and with the need to ask for people to change the channel. I just will not set foot in Confederation Park for the time being.

While my reasons for leaving are mine, I will make a note here that I was not alone in leaving when I did. Let me be very straightforward about this: the reason why I parted ways with my comrades was because of the inability and unwillingness of the camp to address matters of fundamental human rights (see Oxfam's list). I really want to refrain from the details as I feel you can look them up pretty easily on the Facebook page or by reading virtually any paper.

What I find astonishing is that the movement, while painted with broad strokes by the media as monolithic, has become heavily decentralised. Each constituent occupy camp has not only come to its own identity, it has exercised complete autonomy from the rest of the hundreds of movements. I say this to emphasise that my reasons for leaving have all to do with my local camp and not with the broader picture.

As at peace as I am with leaving the group, I have also encountered plenty of "literature" on Occupy Together which has been particularly appalling. Firstly, I read an article in Maclean's which read something like this: since Canada doesn't have the same regulatory and policy problems as the United States, there is no need for the Occupy Movement in Canada. While it is typical of a conservative magazine like Maclean's to paint the issue this way, it is entirely ignorant of the broad socioeconomic inequality in our country and the lack of political will to change it.

This feds directly into my second example - this time from my local daily journal, the Ottawa Citizen. On the front cover this week there were two PhD Students who were expressing solidarity with the Occupy Movement on account of the fact that they were unable to find work since finishing school. It is precisely images like these that make people sympathise with the movement - people that are working hard within the confines of the system who aren't going anywhere. It obviously helps when they are white, male, middle class, well-educated, articulate, and otherwise not a "communist" or a "layabout".

This clashes handily with, for example, the recent death at Occupy Vancouver. With each movement coming into its own identity, it is not surprising that  the very acute social and economic climate of Vancouver's Lower East Side has led to the movement being seen in an exceptionally negative light. Instead of being identified with clean young professionals, this movement is associated with drug addiction, violence, mental illness, homelessness, and a variety of other interconnected problems.

Together this is representative of the fall of the Occupy Movement's popularity. Where over the first few weeks approval ratings gradually improved, cresting at nearly 60 per cent according to some polls, the past week has seen the receding tide. And there are obviously some significant reasons for this: the media has left people confused about the purpose of the movement, many of the movements have become havens for negative attention, and plenty of people in the general public are just fed up of being saturated with stories about the same thing.

It is evident that this movement has made an impact, but I am becoming more and more concerned that that this statement has come not from the individuals participating, but from the media and from appendages of the state. I don't know what the future holds for occupiers, but I suspect the battle will be uphill for the long haul. While I may not be participating, I want everyone to know that I am still supporting the messages and that I desperately hope for things to get to a place where I can participate again.

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