THOUGHT FROM THE FRINGES OF THE OCCUPY MOVEMENT

There is a wonderful and radical spirit flowing across the world.
People are going into public spaces and demanding that the public good
be the key focus of all economic and political decision making. I am not
a part of any Occupy expression, but have been encouraged that demanding a better world is a contemporary dream.

My only connection to this movement is occasional visits to Occupy Toronto at St. James’ Park. I am fascinated by the decision making process. The patience of general assembly facilitators and spirited input by participants is something I’ve not seen since the early days of the Clamshell Alliance and the large assemblies of the Great Lakes Coalition Against the Cruise/Alliance for Nonviolent Action.

In my visits, though, I feel like an outsider. As I am not staying at the park or flexible enough in time and spirit to go on marches or take part in any concrete tasks (i.e. medical; logistics; food), I feel I shouldn’t participate in discussions or group decision making. I am a visitor to someone else’s movement, not a part of it.

I hope that this movement continues to grow. There are huge social problems, from poverty to war to urban violence to homelessness to alienation from participating in mainstream decision making, that need to confronted. Every moment that a public space is occupied is a moment in which the world as we experience it can be transformed.

The occupy movement is a place for experimentation in effective compassion. How is food shared? How can the scare resources of shelter and privacy be equitably provided? How can the views of different people be brought forward into the decision making process without discouraging those with divergent views from participating? How can this movement link with other struggles without losing its own internal dynamics and logic? It deserves to be supported and lessons learned from it as it evolves.

Different expressions of the occupy movement have different needs. What they have in common is a need for space that can be set aside on an ongoing basis, access to food, shelter, washrooms and communications technology so that they can be sustained on an ongoing basis. In some places a flying squad of supporters would be truly helpful—if they are threatened there should be something in place that will bring the broader community together in support. Spiritual and emotional support is often greatly needed—it is hard to maintain a movement if only the physical needs are met. Logistical support, including food and medical supplies, is always important for an ongoing public movement.

Weaving links to the broader community is essential. If you are a member of a church or a union with a presence near the occupied site urge them to open their doors to the occupy movement. Even a couple of hours a day would be helpful. Whether providing a space for mediation or a hot shower, simple practical expressions of solidarity will help sustain the movement for the long haul.

If you know neighbours that feel intimidated by the people in the Occupied space, bring them by and introduce them. Neighbours need to be acknowledged as stakeholders in the public space; their help will be essential in keeping the space available for the long haul.

The public face of the occupy movement is essential. It is hard but long term movements do need to realize that both sides of a protest are included when the whole world is watching. It is hard to focus public attention on police violence and overreaction if the media can show occupiers using force or violence, throwing things at police or vandalizing property.

I am hoping that as winter approaches safe places are found for those occupying in the northern hemisphere to continue their protest in the public eye. From church sanctuary spaces to city squares surrounded by buildings that block the wind and snow, most urban places have areas where occupiers can continue to gather publically and safely. It will take a long time for the compassion and commitment of the Occupying movements to have a substantial impact on the broader world. But as someone who began participating in social movements while the Vietnam War was still being waged, I know that the world can change.
And social transformation can best come about if movements are supported on a long term basis.

I am on the fringes of the Occupy world. As I reach late middle age I am filled with hope because this is happening around me.

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