Occupying little common ground Matthew D.H..Gray
It would be hard for anyone walking through the Occupy Toronto camp at St. James Park this weekend to deny that the protesters arrived with a myriad of agendas and a lack of focus. One organizer, Kevin Kunnyu, spoke of “shutting down” Bay Street in an anti-globalization protest ten years ago. “None of those issues [inequality and globalization] have gone away. It's just that after ten years of a war on terror, some of them have been diminished. But then Tahrir Square reminded us that we can change even the most impossible-seeming situation by standing up together.” Kunnyu claimed that the purpose of the protest is to show society that “we actually have to create a system by which we can work out the problems and the solutions ourselves.”

The “Occupiers”, inspired by the upstart Occupy Wall Street protest in New York, which was itself inspired by the origins of the Arab Spring uprising in Cairo, range from Marxists to environmentalists to activists for First Nations rights to supporters of Ron Paul, libertarian Republican U.S. presidential candidate. The likelihood of all these disparate groups agreeing on a “system” to fix the problems is extremely unlikely. Even Kunnyu conceded that “there's about three thousand people here, so I think there's about three thousand messages.” The movement has been ridiculed by some areas of the media for these contradictions and the movement's inability, as a whole, to articulate a set of demands.

This flaw has also been the movement’s strongest asset. It's the reason they've been granted support from various unions, public intellectuals, and, in the United States, some notable members of the Democratic party. Most importantly, the lack of focus means the movement can draw people who aren't motivated by fringe-realm political opinions. The movement can be an expression of anger over the massive inequalities that are growing. In the United States, the birthplace of the movement, and the country hit hardest by the recession, it allows the public to express their disgust with an unfair taxation system, as well as the tolerance of an opaque banking system that allowed for the market collapse in 2008. How appealing this message is to a broader audience has yet to be determined. In the 2009 American election, the inexperienced, but fiercely ideological Tea Party candidates, managed to take Congress back from the Democrats in the face of faltering support for the Obama administration. Like the Tea Party, the Occupy movement contains real anger at the 2008 bailouts. But whereas the Tea Partiers seem to think the banks should have been allowed to fail rather than being saved by tax dollars, the Occupiers are angry that the bailouts were needed in the first place.

But there are similarities between the Tea Party and the Occupy movement, despite being on seemingly opposite ends of the political spectrum. In the past week, two YouTube videos went viral. One was of Former Democrat US Representative Alan Grayson making a populist appeal for the Occupiers on Real Time with Bill Maher, and the other was of Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren making a sensible and articulate argument for a progressive taxation system. Both of them will be running in the next election: Grayson for the House of Representatives and Warren for a US Senate seat in Massachussetts. It remains to be seen whether or not the frustrations of the “Occupiers” are widespread enough to affect the 2012 US General Election, or possibly split the Democrat party the way the Tea Party split their rivals.

Additional Info

  • Subtitle: Bay St. and Wall St. protesters united in frustration, if little else
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