Where do we go from here? Occupy, Part 5

As mentioned in my previous post, our London Occupiers were removed from Victoria Park on Tuesday night.

Now, despite your thoughts on the movement or the occupation, give the Occupiers credit. They gave the first leg of Occupy London a very good kick at the ball, and for all intents and purposes it was a success. They may celebrate themselves. I have never seen Londoners speak so much of one issue since I moved to this city. I am proud of their efforts and your dialogue. I know many other members of the community are as proud as well.

I admit, it was disappointing news to wake up to. This is one situation where I do believe the Charter should trump a bylaw, and concessions could have been made. The Occupation really wasn’t doing any harm. I was holding out hope that council would be convinced to say, “Okay. You have our permission at least until X date. Let’s do it.”

We talk about being leaders, but then we miss a chance like this to show it. To have just a little more time for them to organize and engage the public, and not be the first Canadian city to evict an occupy movement, would have been leader-like. But the time has past and it’s time to move on and think forward.

And to be honest, short of setting up yurts like in Toronto, I didn’t know how the Occupiers would survive the London winter in tents anyway. That would be concerning.  Soon it will be too cold to protest or hold General Assemblies outside, and the cold might limit or deter those who would like to be involved in the discussions. Interest will wane and the movement will fizzle.

So now we need to ask, where does the movement go from here? What space can be “occupied”, even if only a few times a week for the continuation of General Assemblies? A neutral location where all attendees can feel safe, warm, welcome and free to speak.  Where issues can be discussed with some sort of consensus on issues the aim.

Consider this: If all the movements across Canada were to do the same, perhaps in the not so distant future a request could be put forth to present the concerns of the people to our governments at all levels. In each movement we could pinpoint issues  unique by municipality and province, address them accordingly, and use our common findings to draft a universal response at the federal level.

I can’t say it enough, this is going to take a while, and we all need to be patient or join in. This is not something that can be done in a day, or a week, or a month. We have to hold democratic discussions, bend a little, give a little, and take a little on each side. And maybe, just maybe, if we can do this and succeed, we will find our cure for apathy.

Nobody said I wasn’t a dreamer, right?

Trust Issues: Occupy, Part 4

I had an epiphany today with respect to the entire “Occupy” movement. It’s like the saying goes, “Just when I thought I knew all the answers, they went and changed the questions on me.”

Until yesterday, I thought I knew, fundamentally, what this Occupy movement was all about: A movement uniting people across the globe to stand together and  fight against injustice, whatever we personally perceive that injustice to be. It did not matter what your socioeconomic status, gender or skin colour was, or what you did for a ‘day job’. It only mattered that people were standing  in solidarity for the common good, whether occupying the park or protesting at home.

For nearly three weeks I believed that the people of this movement all truly felt this way, and that it did not matter who I was, what I did or ‘what’ I aspired to be. I was a sister in arms, fighting for the cause. Until yesterday.

It was judgement day in London, Ontario, in more ways than one.

Eviction of the Occupy movement in Victoria Park was scheduled for 6pm, by order of the City of London. When I heard the news, I quickly went down to visit the park to ask what their plans were and if there was any way I could help. When I arrived, I found several people taking their tents down and packing up, not ready or willing to fight police or bylaw officers who were given the go ahead to clear out the park when the deadline hit.

Earlier in the day, the CAW (who had supported the Occupiers the week before with cash, a generator and a portable toilet) had rescinded their offer of solidarity and protection should the authorities come to evict. “The law is the law…” was the response when the eviction notice was presented, and this disturbed several of the protesters enough to pack it in.

Other Occupiers were “brainstorming” inside a nearby cafe, so I joined them. I asked if the church that had been offered as sanctuary was an option they would consider and was told flatly, “No.” Trust issues and personal feelings with respect to the church discounted this option for several of them, and they would rather be arrested than accept the church’s offer. Not long after, coincidentally, the church Dean, Reverend Kevin Dixon, who had offered the sanctuary to the protesters, was forced to rescind his offer. The church could not afford the liability or insurance to house the protesters on their grounds, and they would no longer be able to set their tents up there. I have not met Reverend Dixon, but I am told this was heartbreaking for him, and he hated delivering the news to the Occupy camp.

The conversation after that went everywhere but where it should have: What’s next? Some left the table, others joined and the conversation became more chit chat than planning. I decided to leave the cafe and walk back to the park where I spoke to several other protesters and visitors about their feelings on the camp and the impending eviction. I was about to make my exit for home when I was approached by a couple of the occupiers who knew I had a van and asked me if I could assist them by giving them a ride with one of their tents. “Anything to help!” I thought, and gladly directed them to my vehicle.

It was an enlightening ride.

We talked about a former Federal Liberal candidate and educator at the UWO law school who had come down to the camp to offer free legal assistance (to for those who qualified based on their income) to anyone who might be arrested that night. The Occupiers he met with shook his hand and thanked him. It seemed genuine, yet as we rode, my passengers expressed to me that they did not trust him. Why? They didn’t trust any politicians. A little offended, I piped up and informed my passengers that I myself had political aspirations that involved a possible run for city council in 2014. One of them replied, “Then I automatically have a distrust for you, as well.” I looked at him, unsure if he was being tongue in cheek and playful, or honest. And then it hit me, as I thought back to our short conversation earlier in the day: he truly meant it.

As Jo-Anne, unemployed mother of two who supports the movement with all her heart, he trusts me. As Jo-Anne, unemployed mother of two, who supports the movement with all her heart, and who wants to run for city council and use her head and heart for the good of the city, he doesn’t. Why? Because of politics and preconceived notions of politicians.

I realized at that moment that mistrust is at the very heart of the Occupy movement. We mistrust the banks and financial institutions; politicians (past, present and future); the church and it’s clergymen/women; the police; the governments of the world; the media; and saddest of all, we mistrust each other.

Last night, I encouraged my friend Glen Pearson and any other person who would listen, to come to the park and stand in solidarity with the protesters. I felt it was important to show the city of London, and the world, that whether or not we agreed with the physical occupation of Victoria Park, we supported the protesters and their right to demonstrate. Glen seemed hesitant, Tweeting that we needed to look beyond “today” and the physical occupation and instead to the future of the movement and how it was best for us to help. I agreed, but also respectfully disagreed and urged him and anyone else who could make it to attend. He did. (*Added note: After speaking to Glen, he has informed me that he wasn’t hesitant at all to go down to the park last night, and had already planned on going. I misunderstood.)

I was unaware until I met Glen for coffee this morning that he and Reverend Kevin Dixon, the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, had stayed for the entire night with the Occupiers, right up until the moment the police arrived to evict them all. Glen recounted to me that he and Reverend Dixon were walking across the park after midnight to move Glen’s car so it would not be towed or ticketed while they waited for the police to arrive. On their way, they stopped dead in their tracks as they saw the police approach. Instead of leaving, as they were encouraged to do by the officers they spoke to, the two of them ran as quickly as they could back to the Occupiers to maintain their pledge of staying with them to the bitter end.

Glen pulled out his camera to record the events that were about to transpire. Reverend Dixon sat on the ground and linked arms with the Occupiers, ready and willing to be arrested with them should it come to that. Both had a lot to lose, yet they realized the protesters had just as much to lose, and their support did not waiver.

Glen, as the director of the Food Bank and a former MP holds a high status in our city. He is well respected by many, yet he told me of how some questioned his presence at the protest and his support for it and the occupation. He feared he had possibly lost friends due to his support of the movement, as well as support for his operations at the Food Bank. But it did not faze him.

Reverend Dixon also has much to lose by his support. The support of his congregation or worse, his employers in the church. But it did not faze him either. He sat and risked arrest because he believed in the people he was sitting with. He and Glen remained despite it all because in their hearts, they knew it was the right thing to do.

A former politician and the Dean of a church were two citizens who were not occupying the park, yet stood by the people who chose civil disobedience last night. Not out of curiosity or to seek status, but in solidarity and support. Information I have says that at least two police officers on scene last night asked not to be involved in the clearing of the movement, out of respect for the rights of the protesters.

These are people that some of the occupiers feel they cannot trust. Not based on who they are, but what they do as a profession, have done as a profession, or choose to do in the future. These are the paths they chose to serve the public and what they feel is the greater good. They too are the so-called “99%”. And they may not trust me, one of their biggest supporters and allies, because of what I aspire to do. Political aspirations or not, I too am the “99%”.

Disheartened is the only word I can find to describe how I feel at this moment. I have given a lot of myself to this movement at the sacrifice of my friends and family. Time, emotion, food and support. And I do believe many in the movement respect me for it. Yet, should I follow my heart and desire for real change in 2014, I suddenly will not be trusted, or could be trusted less. Not because of who I am or what I have done or will do, but simply because of a path I choose to take. A path that calls to my heart, not my self interest.

Trust, or the lack of it, is at the core of this movement, and this was my epiphany.

The list of the people Occupiers don’t trust is quite long, and the reasons are varied. Citizens of the cities being occupied are mistrusting that their publicly owned property won’t be damaged by the Occupiers, and that the protests will not remain civil. And, it seems, many people within the movement cannot trust each other.

Last night, the protesters could be heard chanting “The people, united, will never be defeated!” It is a chant I called with them as we marched through downtown Toronto to St. James Park, where the movement continues today. But I now question the sincerity of those words. Which people united? The ones who have professions you can agree with? If so, then we – the people – are not united and unfortunately I fear this movement will face defeat.

I have not stood in judgement of you and your life choices. I have defended you. I have spoken tirelessly of this movement and defended it against every broad, bold, untrue and unfair statement that has been lobbed at the protesters. I have asked for fairness and for people not to judge on preconceived notions that are often way off base. I have asked people to have faith in the protesters, and to trust that their motives are good and noble. I ask for you to return that courtesy.

To the Occupy movement, here is my message: Let us begin to trust each other. If you want continued support with this movement, and the support of the community at large, you must learn to put aside your unfair, preconceived notions of those who want to help you. Do not judge them based on their professions and callings. Judge them based on their actions and deeds. If we are truly all in this together and part of the “99%”, we must act like it. If we can’t trust each other, who can we trust? Because the people, divided, will surely be defeated. If this movement is to succeed, then let us look to being the 100% instead.

London calling? Occupy, Part 3

London, Ontario, you’ve had quite a bit to say over the last couple of weeks. I’m glad because personally, I think many of you have been quiet for far too long.

If you are curious, discussing, criticizing or congratulating the occupation of Victoria Park, then it’s working. Welcome aboard the Occupy bandwagon.  As I’ve warned, it’s sure to be a long ride so you may not want to sit for the whole time and watch. Again, I encourage you to get up, get out and get talking. Talk to your friends, neighbours, relatives and strangers and find out if you are alone in your thoughts, for or against the movement, and why.  We can only benefit from this dialogue.  All of us.

Reading comments on Twitter, Facebook and local news websites since the London occupation began on October 22nd has been interesting, to say the least.  There have been many comments of support from people in London who say they “get” what the occupy movement is about. Some see why there is a need for the physical occupation while others do not, but overall they support the message(s) the occupiers are trying to convey and will patiently wait for future messages and action.

Sadly, it seems there are just as many negative comments regarding the occupation, if not more.  Many people still don’t understand, and others proclaim they do understand but disagree with the movement as they just don’t relate. Understandable. No movement can expect 100% support.  If it were possible at this point in time, there would be no reason to protest, the world would be full of Pollyanna’s, and peace, love and harmony would prevail. (I will continue to hold out hope that one day this will happen.)

It is also understandable that some of you are becoming annoyed with the protesters, have concerns, and would like them to leave the park.  Reasonable comments say they wish no harm on the protesters and only want to see an end, or a demand, or a resolution, or something!

Others, however, are really up in arms and have gone so far as to make physical threats against the occupiers.  Folks, if any of you reading this are getting red in the face when you think about the movement and the occupiers, or are wishing physical harm upon them, then you need to cool your fuse, Dynamite.  If a peaceful occupation makes you that angry, the problem is likely – no, definitely – not the fault of the movement, or the protesters. I’m just saying.

The most common, and rational, comments and concerns I have come across are as follows:

  • Many fear the park will be ‘wrecked’ by the occupation and the taxpayers will foot the bill;
  • Some are upset that the bylaws are being disregarded, and in favouring a few, it is unfair to all;
  • Some feel they are not able to enjoy the park in the same manner they could before the occupation, and worry it will disrupt the upcoming festival of lights;
  • Others worry that time and energy is being wasted by city politicians who’s time could be better spent working on “bigger, more pressing issues”;
  • The city parks department has concerns about getting sprinkler systems drained so pipes around the park don’t burst with the freezing temperatures that are soon upon us.

These concerns should be acknowledged and accepted, because they are valid.  Who will repair the grass in the spring if it is damaged, and at what cost? Is it fair that the protesters can camp out in Victoria Park for as long as they like and anyone else, doing it ‘just because’, would be fined?  What will happen during the festival of lights if the tents are still there?  Is the city wasting time on listening to and dealing with to the Occupiers? And will they move the tents to accommodate the city to prepare for winter?

Reasonably, the occupiers should fix any damage that may be caused to the park, and I’m confident that they would.  These people are concerned with changing the world, not destroying it.  They have also gained support of several large unions, so finding the money for repairs should not be an issue.

Why should they be able to stay?  Because, in my humble opinion, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms – the document that gives us the right to protest and peacefully assemble – trumps any bylaw, any day.  I know many of you will disagree, but my position will not waver so it isn’t worth your effort.  My grandfathers fought in two wars for you and I to enjoy those rights, and I take them seriously.  ‘We’ cannot camp at the park “just because”, because “just because” is not a valid enough reason.  I like to hope that eventually we will agree that wanting to change the world one heart, one mind, one day at a time, is.

The festival of lights will go on, concessions will be made and perhaps the tents occupying that small corner of Victoria Park will be decorated. Maybe by then a more defined, cohesive message will have emerged from the movement and they will be able to share it with visitors to the park.  Christmas is, after all, the season of peace, goodwill and sharing.

I do not believe city officials are wasting time that could be spent on more “pressing” issues. The issues of each person occupying the park, and those at home supporting the movement, are pressing issues. Every single one of them. Their concerns about the future of our city, province, country or world are just as valid as yours. We can only decide what is pressing to us, personally, not everyone else. And it is the job of our elected officials to listen and engage with us, even though a Councillor or two may tell you that your voice is heard only on election day. “Democracy should not be a scheduled event that happens every four years.”

Will the occupiers move the tents for the city parks people to do their job? Personally, I would think them unreasonable if they didn’t.  To refuse could be perceived as combative and obstructive, and this is not a combative or obstructive movement.

With all of the above said in support of the Occupy London, Ontario movement, I must also offer up some honest criticism.  I know many supporters and occupiers will agree with me when I say:  It is time to do something.  I mean really do something.

There has been very little action from the camp, and little to no protest. I know of only one march that has taken place, aside from the first day.  There are signs erected around the camp, which is set up quite comfortably and neatly, but there has been no active protest or marching in or out of the park.  By many accounts, the General Assemblies are not well attended and have focused mainly on logistics. Next to nothing is being addressed, and consensus has been hard to reach.  That needs to improve for this movement to be a success, immediately.

It’s time to sink your teeth in to this movement, London Occupiers.  March, demonstrate, make a noise!  It is the only way your support is going to grow, and that is something you really need to work on, now.  You are coming to a crucial breaking point between the public taking your occupation seriously and wanting to listen, or getting fed up, walking away and tuning out.  Get your message(s) together, start talking and keep the public talking.  Good or bad, dialogue is what you want to create, but you need to generate it and keep it going before your chance is stripped away.

I and many others are rooting for you.  We are hopeful that you and the worldwide occupy movements will continue unabated and undisturbed.  We are trying our best to defend your right to occupy and protest.  But London Occupiers, we need something from you.  We need to see and hear you, every single day until everybody is listening. The people of London are waiting, Occupiers. It’s your call now.

 

 

 

Every Picture Tells a Story: Occupy, Part 2

Whenever I write, I write from my heart. That can prove to be quite challenging at times because (if you haven’t guessed)  I’m a bit of a bleeding heart, and as a result what should be a rational post can become overshadowed by emotion.  I’ve held off blogging about the Occupy movement for the last two weeks for this very reason. I knew my emotion could easily get the best of me. And as I begin writing now, I still can’t guarantee you it won’t.

The Occupy movement has captured my attention from the day it launched. I’ve been asked a lot lately why the movement has my attention, and why I support it.  Quite simply it is this:  I am inspired to see citizens of North America and the world uniting to air their grievances, whatever they may be, and engaging in dialogue with one another. What is there not to support about that?

Engagement in the political process is what I am ‘all about’.  When I first took an interest in politics as a teen, I made it a personal mission to inform my friends, family and anyone I met of their rights, responsibilities and duties as an occupant of this great country of ours.  The number one priority on my list:  VOTE! That mission has not changed in the last 20 years and I still hound encourage anyone who will listen to vote with every election.

It seems many people I speak to feel that this is the best and most relevant exercise of our democratic rights and freedoms: “Occupy the ballot box!”  I can’t help but disagree with that sentiment, no matter how much of a “vote” hound I am.  Democracy should not be a scheduled event that happens every four years. It should happen every day of your life.

This, to me, is a picture of what Democracy should look like:

I think I am finally starting to understand why the Occupy movement has no defined leader or message, and as I do it makes me happy that they have neither.  Without a clear message to condemn or a leader to attack, this movement has nothing for corporate media to sink it’s deadly teeth into. The movement isn’t easily sold to the average Joe Public who would rather keep up with the Kardashians than know what their neighbours are up to.  If you ask me, that’s a sad state of affairs, but I believe the movement is better off without CNN, Fox and the like “reporting” on it.  Keep it honest, keep it real, and keep it growing.

There is only one thing I am unsure of surrounding the entire Occupy movement, and is not the multiple messages, the lack of leadership, or how much staying power it will have through the coming winter months.  What I am most unsure of, personally, is why this movement is so troubling to some folks.  Those who go out of their way to mock, disparage or criticize the movement.  I’m getting tired of hearing the occupiers referred to as “dirty, stinky hippies”, “whiners” or “lazy unemployed bums”.

  1. None of them that I have met are dirty, stinky, whining, lazy or bums.
  2. Some of them are hippies, and yes some of them are unemployed. But you also have moms, dads, nurses, teachers, students, real estate agents, “IT nerds”, auto workers, artists, self-employed persons, etc, etc, etc.

The brush has been too broad and very unfair when painting the picture of the occupiers, and this is what I find the most troubling. Why is there such animosity for the people of the movement? Who are the occupiers hurting with their occupation? Is your life horribly and irreparably disrupted by these people?  If you believe it has been, I hope you will leave a comment explaining why you feel the occupation has caused you, personally, undue hardship. I would be interested to know.

The most important message for me in this movement, and the one that I would like to share, is cited in the picture below:

The demands are many and can’t be condensed into a neat little package at the moment. It is going to take a lot of dialogue and a lot more occupying of Wall Street, St. James Park, Victoria Park and every other street, city and park around the world before there is a unified message and eventual resolution. Some who otherwise support the movement are now asking, “But why occupy parks, especially with winter coming? Why not just go home and keep the movement going at town hall meetings and through social media?”

Because they want you to join them. They know that if they put up posters and invite you to discussions in your neighbourhood, most of you won’t show up. Admit it! I’ve gone to my fair share of “town hall” discussion meetings that have had abysmal attendance (just like the polling stations at every election).  For whatever reason, it doesn’t work and people tend to stay home.

So imagine this for one minute:  a gigantic town hall meeting that stretches across the world with thousands upon thousands of people in attendance.  Where every person has an equal voice and an opportunity to speak and be heard.  Where no issue is more relevant or important than another, and where participants diligently work together towards consensus and a potential resolution to those issues. Where every person in the world is welcome to join at any point in the discussion to add their two cents.

This is the Occupy movement.

It is no longer just Wall Street, Toronto, London,  Melbourne, Chicago or Oakland.  It is everywhere and friends, that is one huge meeting. With only a human microphone, many voices to repeat the message and the internet to accurately report it, this could take a while.  Instead of waiting and watching, and complaining about how they are doing things, join the discussion. Use your voice and share your opinions while you wait for your next chance to democratically mark a ballot. If you sit idle between elections, you are allowing others to make all the decisions for you. That is not democracy, and you are entitled to your say.

On November 5th, I would encourage you to get out and talk to your local Occupiers.  Meet them, find out more about them and ask them personally, “What change do YOU want to see?” Whether you agree or disagree, keep an open mind and hear what they have to say. We can work this shit out, people.  But we have to do it together.

Every Picture Tells a Story: Occupy, Part 1

I went to the Occupy Toronto protest/rally/demonstration this past Saturday looking for a story.  One key focal point to help explain to people who ask what this “Occupy” movement is all about, and to answer the resounding question I hear from those who don’t quite “get it”:  “WHAT DO THEY WANT?”

Many are balanced on the edge of their seats waiting for the questions to be answered:  Where is the specific demand from the protestors? When will that single ray of light be shed on what their purpose and point is?  After all, there must be a specific issue.  If not, then what is the point?  What are they protesting?  What is the story??

Camera in hand, I searched for 9 hours for that story. I walked around in the wet, cold park among the protestors and curious passersby, snapping photos, listening in on conversations and introducing myself to random people asking for their stories.  As a result, instead of coming back with one story, I came back with 807; 175 of which are posted to my Flikr account, for your viewing pleasure.

The pleasure was mine on Saturday though. It was nothing short of an incredible day, for many reasons.  The vibe was positive, the energy was high, and the feeling of solidarity was almost palpable.  People were gathered together, united in a common purpose: Democracy. To exercise their right of free assembly and speech. When they spoke it was evident that they were fed up, for many reasons, and they were there to tell the world.

That is the story of the Occupy Movement. There is no story.  There is no demand. There are many.

There are many myths about the Occupy Movement that need to be dispelled as well.  Here are just a few to start.

1) If these people want to participate in REAL democracy, they should get out and vote. Maybe we’d have a better turn out on election day!

I didn’t have the opportunity to speak to every person at the protest, and was too caught up in the moment to remember a lot of the time, but before ending our conversation I tried to make a point of asking every person I spoke to if they vote.  Out of 100 people asked, give or take a few, only 6 told me they do not vote.  The odds here aren’t too bad to suggest that these people are voting. In my experience, it is the voters who are active in social causes and movements such as this, and I have a hard time seeing how someone could believe that to be untrue.

2) Bunch of whining hippies and hipsters.  Why don’t they do good in school and get jobs. They have the same opportunities as everybody else!

Those gathered at St. James Park on Saturday were not just hippies and hipsters, as is evidenced in my photos, and they certainly weren’t whining.  Some of the people I spoke to were quite educated and included doctors, nurses, lawyers and scientists.  Others were artists; musical and visual.  Some worked in computers and information technology, while others were students working towards degrees and certificates.  Some were self-employed and some unemployed;  some by choice, some by layoff and others by unfortunate circumstances, such as disability. But every person there had ambition, positivity and hope, and not one of them was whining.

3) There is no leader, and no evident message.  Therefore, the protest is disorganized and cannot be taken seriously.

It’s true, there is no specified leader in any of the Occupy movements around the world, and there is no single, evident message.  But it is far from disorganized.  Self-organized, leaderless revolution has been very well organized as of late through social media and personal communication devices.  At the demonstrations, a human microphone is the method of communicating to large groups during general assembly meetings (which are usually held at least twice a day) to share observations, objectives, plans and other necessary information. It is organized and, as I heard one person astutely put it, “leaderfull“.

There are two more specific misconceptions that I would like to respond to.  Though not the only one to state it, local media personality and blogger, Nathan Smith, stated the following in his blog “Ballad of a Thinly Defined Occupation” posted October 16, 2011:

“…these protesters are fooling themselves if they think this is a cause anywhere near as righteous as that of the Arab Spring. Thousands lost their lives fighting for basic equality, never mind ‘financial equality.’ Instead of risking arrest, countless numbers of men, women, and children in Middle Eastern countries risked death…”

The Occupy movement does not presume in any way to be as “righteous” as the cause of the Arab Spring.  The only inference to the Arab Spring that I have heard or read from the Occupy protests is the inspiration and momentum it provided.  The protestors respect the fact that so many young men and women lost their lives in the Arab uprisings, and they were inspired by their bravery.  Not only that, they were inspired by their method of organization, and have turned that inspiration into mobilization of their own.  While most, and hopefully all, of the “Occupy” protestors will not face death or harm during their occupation, the real possibility exists that they could come to harm.  We cannot pretend we haven’t seen it happen before.

The second misconception I would like to address in Nathan’s blog is based on this statement:

“Just as the demonstrations on Wall Street lack the depth of the Arab Spring, the “Occupy Bay Street” movement in this country is lacking somewhat in credibility – at least when compared to protests in the United States. Our banks weren’t bailed out.

Yes, our banks were bailed out.  According to this article in Time Magazine, between 2008-2009, $125 billion in mortgages were purchased from Canadian banks. 

“At first glance Ottawa’s C$125 billion pales in comparison to the $1-trillion “bad bank” being contemplated by Obama to jump-start lending in the U.S.; however, accounting for differences in size between the two economies, the figures are nearly identical.” 

It is disguised well and seen as a necessary, relatively low risk move on the part of the Government, but let’s call a spade a spade: it was a bailout. How much will it cost the tax payer in the long run? We are told “probably” nothing.  But personally, I wouldn’t bank on that.

What do they want?  I really can’t answer that for you.  Not in one blog, that’s for sure.  This will take a series of blogs over a period of time, and many days speaking to individuals about what it is they are hoping to see come of this movement, and what it means to them.  One picture, one person, one story at a time, I’ll do my best to give as many protestors/demonstrator/occupier stories as I can.

Every picture tells a story. Every person has a story.  Everybody wants to be heard. I hope you will come back soon and “hear” what they have to say.

Occupy this. (We’re all in “this” together)

I was going to open this blog post with a quote by Voltaire, brandished across the top:  “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”,  and I suppose in a way I just did.  But the quote as written isn’t completely consistent with the post I am about to write.

If the quote read, “I may or may not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend (…can we maybe omit “to the death”? Be a pal?) your right to say it.”, it would be at the top in bold italics virtually yelling, “I agree!”.  Because agree with you or not, I will defend your right to speak, and I will listen. That is the reason any of us speak in the first place: to be heard.

I have been listening to the voices coming out of the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States for the last several weeks. I hear them and frankly, I agree with them. There is a growing disparity between the super rich (the 1%) and everyone else (the 99%), in the US, Canada and all around the world, and “the people” have had enough.

This is the core message I have heard from the protestors, and you may or may not agree (although the facts speak for themselves) and that is your absolute right.  But regardless if you agree or not, you should be defending the rights of the Occupiers to assemble freely, peacefully and to speak.  Like it or not, they are in part doing this for you as wekk. It is their right and this, my friends, is what true Democracy looks like.

A quick Google search of the words “Occupy Wall Street” links you to 25,900,000 results on the subject.  From Facebook pages to independent blogs, to pieces written by journalists from all over the world. People around the globe are talking about the Occupy movement.  I’m just not 100% sure people are listening, so this is where I attempt to step in.

The Occupy movement has spilled over into Canada, and on Saturday I am heading to Toronto to attend the Occupy Toronto (or as others call it, Occupy Bay Street) protest.  I have been asked a lot in the last few days why I’m going, and why I want to be a part of this.  My answer is simple:  the people need someone to listen, to share and to support their message, whatever that message is.  I am going as an independent, citizen journalist to watch and listen to the Occupiers and share their stories. The world is watching, and the stories are asking to be told. All they are asking is for you to listen.

I admire the Occupiers for what they are doing and for what they stand for – speaking up for equality.  They have done more than many do in this lifetime.  They are not sitting back complaining about their condition from an armchair, not bothering to lift a finger to effect change.  They are gathering and mobilizing, and they are seeking a better life for all.

Life is too short to just idly occupy space in this world.  Occupy your time for the better.  Occupy your life for the betterment.  Occupy the world for the greater good.  Occupy “this”.  Because like it or not, we’re all in “this” together.

The Importance of Objectivity

Objectivity:  expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations.Merriam-Webster

Fellow Pollyanna’s are hard to come by these days. Objective thinkers who are willing to look for the good in people and examine the “what if”, or the “if X than Y”  of a situation, free from personal opinion and emotion. The human animal is primarily ruled by emotion over reason; so much so that perception is often distorted into fact. 

I talked in a previous post about my feelings on fairness, equality and impartiality. Fairness: being free from prejudice and self-interest. Equality: recognizing every individual as being equal under the law, both natural and man-made. Impartiality: setting aside personal bias and keeping an open mind. I also talked in my last post about the words “I’m sorry” and “accountability” disappearing from the English language. I would like refer back to both of those posts, because all of these things have been lost recently on account of one topic:  a perceived incident of racism.

Yes, I said perceived and in the name of impartiality and Pollyanna’s everywhere, I stand by it. I’ve endured quite a bit of flack on Twitter for presenting a Pollyanna angle on the Wayne Simmonds incident, hoping (not unlike the player himself) that it wasn’t racially motivated and perhaps the banana tosser would come forward and say “I’m sorry”.  Thinking with the Pollyanna mindset does not in any way mean I don’t have my doubts as to the intention behind the act, because I do, and therein lies the overall point of this post.

If there is room for  any sort of doubt in my mind as to a person’s guilt or innocence, I have a hard time playing judge and jury. I have experienced and witnessed racism first hand.  In my ‘Welcome‘ post I tell you that I have a story, and that is one fraction of it.  I have endured slurs, bullying and violence because of the friend I chose as a child, and the colour of her skin.  We fought back with our words, with education and often times, with humour.  And it made us stronger, more compassionate and more tolerant.

I have my doubts based on my emotions and personal experience, but I still have to ask: where and what are the facts in this case? I have seen very few.  What we know: two bananas (or were they peels?) were thrown on the ice at two different times, while the same player was on the ice. No slur or statement is heard on the video which shows one of the two tosses, which would confirm the act had racial intent. There is no statement from the tosser or anyone who knows him that would suggest he is a racist. In fact, the statements from ‘friends of friends’ to the contrary suggest that it was a dumb, drunken act and was against the player, not his race.

The perception of it being an act of racism is based on the emotion of those who witnessed the event, and who later relayed the story to the world. Their opinion, and now the opinion of much of the public, is formed solely on the fact that it was a banana thrown at a black player.  A player who has stated himself he wasn’t 100% sure of the intent. If it was a white player this debate would not exist.That is a given.

Honestly, is that enough evidence to charge, convict and publicly flog the person responsible as being a vile racist that we must expose and destroy? Not in my opinion, and I know – thankfully – I am not alone. Why I am thankful for that knowledge and not quick to play judge and jury comes down to this:

Last week in the United States, the night before the banana tossing incident at the JLC, a man named Troy Davis was executed in the state of Georgia.  This came after several years of appeals and several “eyewitnesses” rescinded their testimony stating police coercion as the reason. Reasonable doubt should have saved him from execution, but at the eleventh hour, the U.S. Supreme Court decided his appeal would not be heard any further. A potentially innocent man died that night. Meanwhile, on the same day, in the same state, a confessed killer was granted clemency and his sentence was commuted from death to life in prison.

If you are not angered – nay, outraged – by what I have just told you, then there is no hope that my post will help you see objectively, now or in the future. While different in the severity of their crimes, both men, Troy Davis and the JLC Banana Tosser, are victims of being denied “the benefit of the doubt”.  Both have been convicted without a fair review of the facts. As a good friend so succinctly put it, “The court of public opinion has one harsh bitch as a judge.”

It has been my opinion since the beginning that the incident – whether racist in it’s intent or a result of dumb drunkenness – was wrong, and if the culprit had any decency or morals an apology should have been forthcoming.  We could debate all day over the intent and implications, but without the facts to support it there is no right or wrong answer, and the debate will continue in circles. Where does it end?

Racist or drunken, the perpetrator has to live with that demon. We have done our part to show the world that while one person’s actions can be perceived as being so negative and hateful, it is not reflective of the status quo.  Every person who has felt emotion and anger over this should pat themselves on the back for having a heart and a conscious. But in my opinion, it’s time to let it go, and I don’t think Wayne Simmonds would disagree.

Anger and hatred breed rapidly, especially when fed. Seek out the positive and let it breed instead.  Be objective in your thinking and fair in your judgement, and accept that maybe – just maybe – this incident had no racial intent.  Perception does not equate to fact. Be responsible in your judgement, because judging in the absence of fact may do more harm, where you think you are doing good.

What’s so wrong with saying, “I’m Sorry”.

I’m sorry dear readers, I must confess something:  I am apologetic.

If I dial the wrong number, I apologize.  If I let the door go at the mall, not realizing someone is walking behind me, I apologize.  If you were to run over my foot with your cart at the grocery store, I would most likely be the one to apologize. Yup. Even if you were lost in space, zigzagging through the aisle,  head spun around like Linda Blair looking everywhere but where you need to be…  I would say “I’m sorry”. (But that one would be difficult.)  And if I’m wrong in my actions or words, I apologize.

I know some of you will have the urge to criticize me for this “character flaw”, and that’s okay. (Don’t be surprised if you apologize for it later.)  But I will save you the trouble now and reply, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I regret that it is too difficult to teach this old dog new tricks, and I hope you will excuse me.”

Never underestimate the power of a sincere “I’m sorry”.  Two words that many have forgotten how to say, along with another forgotten word:  accountability.  It’s never anybody’s fault anymore.  Fingers fly in each direction, and nobody will take responsibility and say, “I was wrong.”

Three recent, very disappointing incidents in London, Ontario demonstrate this, two of which have made national news.

The first incident took place at a local weekend market, Trails End. Three transgendered individuals, who were working at a booth selling candles, were told by the market owner that they were not welcome.  The owner cited concerns as to which washroom the transgendered individuals would use, and the attention they drew from customers as his reasons for asking them not to return.  It wasn’t anything they said or did, it was just simply that “they” were “them”; discrimination due to lack of education.  A petition in protest of the market owner’s decision has collected more than 2100 signatures in a little over a day.  This is absolutely a case where an apology could go far;  saving not only the owner’s reputation, but also the reputations of the market vendors who rent space from him.

The second incident occurred yesterday afternoon when a 17 year old was subdued with a taser – partially in the head – by police during a fist fight with another young man.  I invite you to watch the video and decide for yourself if the officer was justified in his use of the taser or not.  My opinion is unimportant and still forming.  What is important is the fact that  nobody has taken accountability for it.  The young men who were fighting have not said, “I’m sorry. We shouldn’t have been fighting, and this wouldn’t have happened.”  They are the victims of their own actions, and they should accept responsibility as such.

Public response to the incident is divided as to whether or not the officer was justified in his use of the taser, and appears to lean slightly more heavily on the side of it being an excessive use of force.  The Chief contends the officer was justified due to the threat of harm the young man posed by wielding a chair.  However, the fact that he shot the young man in the head, which provincial guidelines advise against, and did not give him any sort of warning take the attention away from any justification he may have.  Case #2 where an apology on the part of the officer for bad aim and failing to warn the kid could work wonders to quell public anger.

The third and final incident has been discussed around the world today and occurred last night when the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers played an exhibition hockey game at the John Labatt Centre.  An unidentified attendee is accused of throwing a banana (or two, by some accounts) at player, Wayne Simmonds.  Simmonds is one of very few black players in the NHL.

Those who were at the game and witnessed what happened were appalled, and news of it quickly spread through social media and across the sports stations.  Many argue that without a statement from the alleged banana tosser, the media and public are being too hasty to condemn this as a racially motivated act.  While true, this is case #3 where an apology would be very welcome right about now.  Whether racially motivated or not, it was unnecessary and has been upsetting to many people.  If it was a misunderstanding, an apology should not be so difficult  to give.  A simple, “I’m sorry.” would go a long, long way. And it shouldn’t have to come from us.

London residents should not have to feel apologetic for the incidents we had no hand in last night, yesterday or last week, but we do.  We feel embarrassed and ashamed by it and we make apologies to the world; begging forgiveness from many for the actions of few. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, in my opinion.  After all, I apologize for everything even if it isn’t my fault, right?  (Again, sorry ’bout that.)  But it’s time we start demanding society return to individual accountability, from ourselves and from others.  Let’s bring back the value of a few small words because honestly, I don’t know what’s so wrong with saying, “I’m sorry”.

Remembering 9/11

As I sit watching the memorial for the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks on America, I am once again reminded of my own memories of that day.

I was working at an inbound call centre for London Life Insurance and I had just started my shift.  It was a fairly steady morning and I answered my third call.  The client came on the line inquiring about funds available for withdrawal on her policy.  We began the process of confirming her information when suddenly she yelped in horror.

“Oh my God!” she said, “A plane just flew into the building!”

“Ma’am,” I said, “Do you need to get to safety? Are you okay??”

“Not my building,” she replied, “The World Trade Centre!”  She was in shock by what she was seeing on the news, and we quickly went through her request and ended the transaction. I turned to my colleague to relay what had transpired on the call to her. “Where is the World Trade Centre again?” I asked, and she explained it was in New York City.

“Odd accident”, I thought to myself. I assumed the pilot of a small plane must have lost control, flying freakishly into the building. Never in a milion years was I prepared for what was to come on the next call.  As we spoke, the client told me she was watching the news footage of what had happened a few moments before in New York City. There were no details, she explained, as to whether it was an accident or what size plane had hit. We shared theories and possibilities and agreed, it was an odd accident.

Within moments the client shrieked in terror. “Oh my God! Oh my God! Another plane has hit the second tower! Oh my God!” she cried, “This is no accident.  The United States is under attack!” My jaw dropped and the colour must have drained from my face, as my colleague came over to my desk to ask what was happening. I scribbled a note for her as I finished my call with the client who was distraught by what she witnessed on the TV and said she would call again later.

I immediately pulled the CNN website up on my computer to see for myself what was happening.  Photos were very slowly trickling in showing smoke billowing from the 2 buildings, and a wave of panic spread over us all.  The phones seemed to slow right down as the news of what was happening spread.

A television set was brought into our lounge and we took turns sitting glued to it on our breaks and lunch, filled with utter disbelief.  I will never forget some of the first images I saw that day.  People jumping for their lives from the top floors of the building.  I cannot imagine being forced to make a choice like that, and what must have been going through their minds:  jump to your probable death, or stay on the top floors and be burned to death.  The image is forever imprinted in my mind, and I cannot shake it no matter how hard I try.

The North American world as we know it changed that day. Canadians and Americans alike shared this tragedy, and we can never forget it.  We must remember, however, that this is the reality for many around the world every single day.  We must count our blessings that, for most of us, this is the first horror we have witnessed in our lives and think of those struggling against dictators who deny them food, freedom and the safety we take for granted.

Take some time today to reflect on the incidents of 9/11, and of all the men, women and children who lost their lives that day.  Their loss cannot be in vain.  We must stand together to create a world of peace where incidents like the 9/11 attack, and those that occur every single day around the world, are things of the past.  We are all part of one human family, and the infighting among us must stop.  It has to begin with each of us.

Count your blessings, love your human brothers and sisters and please, stop the fight.  World Peace starts with each of us.  No truer words: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Fairness, Equality and Impartiality

I am hearing a refrain of “It’s not fair!” lately, and no, it’s not from my kids.  It’s election season in Ontario, which means it’s platform and promises time, which in turn means it’s “you can’t please everybody” time.  People listen for promises from each party that they hope will ease their burden just a little, and when there is nothing recognizable to benefit them in the platform, they cry “unfair”.

Is it truly unfair, or does it just not fit our own personal agenda? It’s a question worthy of consideration in the current social and economic climate we live in.  In many parts of Canada, employment is at an all time high.  Especially here in London, Ontario.  The numbers released today show a slight drop in the unemployment rate, and I might have heard a very faint cheer as the news spread.

It is welcome news, but I won’t to get too excited yet.  The drop can easily be attributed to the transient, student population in London. The return of the school year always means a few more positions re-open, easing the burden on the unemployed population – a little.  The reality is there is still a lot of work to be done at the municipal, federal and provincial levels to create the much needed jobs. Like, yesterday.

We need jobs.

Of course, job creation is a very hot issue in this election.  The Liberal Premier, Dalton McGuinty, has come forward with a couple of ideas to stimulate our workforce that have created a buzz in the media and subsequently, the voters.  As the incumbent, and not an overly popular one at the moment (self admittedly), he has an uphill battle.

Yesterday at the University of Western Ontario, Premier McGuinty announced 200 jobs (plus the potential for spin off jobs) planned for London thanks to the Samsung, green energy plant that will locate here.  Opposed to McGuinty’s green energy plans, Progressive Conservative leader, Tim Hudak,  has said the Conservative Party will tear the Samsung contract up should they be elected, and the entire green energy program would be scrapped.

Energy is a very complex issue and, in my opinion, is not something we should politicize in this manner. Coal, a non-renewable energy that takes millions of years to create, has numerous emissions that pollute the air we breath.  Nuclear, well, it scares the beejeezus out of me.  The possibility of a reactor meltdown is the stuff horror movies are made of.  Wind is possibly, and reportedly, harming people who live near the turbines, and wildlife is suffering. There is not enough evidence to the contrary to debate or doubt that what is happening is real, and these concerns must be taken seriously.  Solar panels seem to be the least harmful form of power generation, but are proving to be costly to manufacture for what they in turn produce.

Each energy option has it’s downfalls, yet we know something has to be done.  Instead of politicizing the issue, we need to defer to the experts to weigh the benefits and risks further.  We, personally, need to weigh the immediate financial cost versus the future financial and health costs of each option to ourselves and our environment. The rising costs of energy sting, yes, but avoiding discussion and exploration of the issue will only hurt us down the road. We need to be forward thinking, and a little less self-centred.

The proposed $10,000 tax incentive to hire recent, skilled immigrants who have come to Ontario from other countries is another hot button issue that has come under attack.  I must admit, when I first heard of it I was a bit taken aback.  After all, I am a recently unemployed Ontarian heading out into a competitive market with too few jobs.  The thought that Sally from the UK could possibly be hired over me for 10,000 reasons (that would likely have nothing to do with suitability for the position) nearly had me seeing red.

“That’s not fair!”, I said.

I did some investigation and realized the positions covered under the credit are not positions I would qualify for based on my education anyway. So I decided to look at it from another perspective. It’s not “fair” to me, but who is it “fair” to?

I thought of my husband’s co-worker who is an immigrant and fully qualified x-ray technician, working on an assembly line in an auto plant who’s future is still unsure. He doesn’t have the required credentials to work as an x-ray technician in Ontario, and trying to get accreditation has historically proven very difficult.

I thought of physicians – too many to count – who drive taxi cabs in my city and elsewhere.  Not out of choice, but necessity, and I thought of how desperately I need a family doctor. The red tape they face to earn the accreditation to practice medicine in Canada has held immigrants back for years.  Tell me, is that “fair”?

Opportunity exists for all of us based on our need.  Through the Ontario Government Second Career program, I or any other unemployed Ontarian may apply for assistance to return to school and find a second career.  I  personally would not qualify for it, based on the education I have under my belt and I accept that.  I don’t mind leaving that opportunity and the funding open for someone else who can use it. But the opportunity is there. That’s fairness.

All Ontarians deserve the opportunity to better themselves, and to be assisted in that process by any means we can make available.  Out of equality, we should not begrudge helping them. Equality does not mean sameness. We need to put aside our personal biases of  what is fair or unfair, and look past our self-interest. That is impartiality.

There is a need among many of us, and that includes our immigrant population in Ontario who – for the record – are included in the 8.9% unemployment rate in London, and the 500,000 unemployed across Ontario.  They are us, and we are them. That is Canada.

Keep an open mind as you go into this election season.  You may not agree with the policies and promises for your own, personal reasons.  And that is okay.  But be aware of other perspectives, take them into consideration, and try to look past the end of your own nose.

“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”. John Lydgate, poet.