What Occupy Toronto Has Already Accomplished by James Sandham

It’s day four of Occupy Toronto, four weeks since Occupy Wall Street began, and a tentative, worldwide people’s movement seems to be underway with similar occupations established over the weekend in cities around the globe. But while this movement may be global, it is far from total, especially here in Canada, where many of the financial regulations demanded by those in the United States are already in place. This leaves a lot of people wondering about the raison d’etre of the Canadian Occupy movement – and that’s good. Because while many may question it, no one can dismiss it.

The primary criticism of the Canadian movement seems to be that unlike for our neighbours to the south, where a direct connection can be identified between “everyday people” and the occupation of Wall Street, a visceral connection doesn’t exist here. In the U.S., there is a shared sense of violation, the feeling they’ve been robbed, that a fundamental social taboo has been broken, and that now justice must be served (if not by the authorities then by the people themselves). Here, if it does exist, that connection is thought to be less personal, more nebulous – and far less widely shared. Compounding this sense of disconnection is the added fact the Canadian movement is still nascent, still in the process of self-structuring; many question what it will be able to provide and, until clear answers are forthcoming, believe participation to be pointless and perhaps even counter-productive.

Ironically, these people are already participating in the first accomplishment of this emerging movement: they are engaging in an examination of the status quo – and, more importantly, an examination of its alternatives. This is a process taking place not only at the various “people’s assemblies” that have sprung up at occupations around the globe, but at the proverbial water coolers of Main Street as well. Granted, at this point the alternatives under examination may be few, and of those few even fewer may be determined to be viable.

Nonetheless, it is undeniable something has already been born of this movement: what Naomi Klein describes as “decommodified space”. It is both theoretical (in the mind) and physical (as in, for example, Zuccotti Park – or outside of St. James’ church, here in Toronto) – a space where alternatives are examined, where discussion can take place, and where we can imagine something different than the totality of capitalism. We may not know what the specific alternative is – yet; but to think that it could exist is, in today’s freshly-spun, PR-managed, corporately-dominated intellectual environment, an accomplishment of its own. What’s more, the very process of its conceptualization suggests what characteristics will come to define this new paradigm: consensus, universal and direct participation, non-violence, collective cooperation, inclusivity, and tolerance. 


Photo: Occupy Toronto in St. James park (by Adam Bunch)

James Sandham is a Toronto-based writer. His first novel, The Entropy of Aaron Rosclatt, was published in 2008. His work has appeared in various independent publications.


Chris Burt said...

I appreciate the straightforward description of what is happening, and the leaving out of what's not happening, or 'should be,' or whatever other projection of the author that seems to be the main representation of the event in the media. As an essentially economic movement, I would point to this http://www.thestar.com/living/article/1071806--young-parents-squeezed-for-time-and-money-report-finds?bn=1 as the Canadian connection.

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