All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

Occupy Wall Street, in Vancouver

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No, not literaly.  Wall Street is a nice, quiet street along Burrard Inlet – nothing to do with the demonstration that started yesterday.  The front yard of the Art Gallery – which is Vancouver’s poor excuse for a central square – was crammed with people, and the mood was happy.

Sunny Saturday morning, OWS at VAG

There were several thousand people (2000, according to the police), and the mood was buoyant.  Cops were smiling, chatting with onlookers.  Speeches and music, as always.  Even free vegan food!

A common stance: the fiction of "legal persons" is destroying us.

Here and there on the web and the media, you hear complaints that the OWS is all over the place, does not have anything specific it stands for, is just an excuse for venting frustrations.  A friend mentioned seeing a sign calling for the freedom of buying raw milk, wondering what that’s doing there.  Some commentator managed to place the word “inchoate” in there.

True enough; it is all that, but it would be a huge mistake to dismiss it.  A few things stand out.  First, this is as grassroots as it gets.  The original OWS started as a response to an idea launched in Adbusters magazine: “What if we occupy Wall Street?”  People just came, a slow-motion flash mob.  And kept coming.  And stayed.  And now OWS is spreading worldwide.  Something definitely hit a note.

Getting ready for a long stay

And if there is no central organisation. there are certainly recurring themes: 1% of the population is messing it up for the remaining 99% (‘I’m in the 99%’ becoming a meme); corporations are not people, and should not have rights of people, despite the legal fiction.  And here in Vancouver, something else was coming out loud and clear: corporations are polluters, killing our future.  If anything, it almost seemed that “corporations” and “tar sands” have become synonymous.

Of course, they are not.  And quite a few corporations are actually model environmental citizens (if, again, a corporation could be a citizen – it isn’t).  But the frustration at corporations is finding a convenient target in the tar sands – almost more so than the banks.  After all, Canadian banks were remarkably well behaved, compared to their US counterparts – thanks to the fact that they are on a tight leash, thank god.  About ten years ago, there was talk of merger between the biggest Canadian banks – and a groundswell of public opposition, so that the merger was denied.  The merger was to create global, competitive Canadian banks, and pundits lamented the intervantion of the government preventing it.  But Canadians mostly saw layoffs and poor service as consequences of the merger. So, thanks to the public reaction, our governments have been nervous about letting the banks have their way – and that may well be why we didn’t get the mortgage crisis the US banks triggered.

The tar sands, on the other hand, are widely seen as irresponsible, arrogant, and largely in control of the Harper government – to say nothing of Alberta’s.  I’m really happy that they are targeted.

The second thing that stands out: how diverse the crowd was.  Unions were there, but so is small business.  Dreadlocked types are there – but so are earnest looking young and clean cut ones.  And older folks.  A typical mishmash, leading CBC to refer to “a carnival atmosphere“.  Traditionally, carnivals were when things were turned upside down, and masters worked for their servants.  If only!  But grassroots movements are the healthiest manifestation of democracy – and a sign of hope and optimism.  With that, and the radiant sunshine, no wonder people were smiling.

Capitalist, and proud of it. The good kind!

Still, though, the protest felt a little squeezed – there isn’t lots of room in front of the art gallery.  And it’s a bit weird to protest before an art gallery; it’s not exactly a seat of capitalism, or of authority.  But there’s nowhere else to assemble, in Vancouver.  No large plazas, no Tian An Men square.  Some have proposed leveling the block between city hall and broadway – now a parking lot and a few decaying buildings.  But not really central.  Me, I’d love to see the Robson block, on the other side, permanently turned over to pedestrians (it worked last summer!); and reshape the plaza behind to facilitate crowd gathering.  If anything, the facing law courts are a seat of power, and an apt symbol for demonstrations; and it has a nice connection to Robson and Granville streets, which are at least good walking streets (and may become pedestrian malls – one can always hope).

Lots of people, not a lot of space

Be that as it may.  The folks of Vancouver are now participating in a world event that started with the Arab spring, grew to foster the Madrid demos and the London riots (alas), and morphed into Occupy Wall Street.  We’re there!  And next time I’m around, I’ll find one of the food trucks and get something to feed the campers.  Let’s show support!

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Written by enviropaul

October 16, 2011 at 11:34 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. […] is entering week two and David Suzuki was scheduled to address the crowd at one.  Just like last week, despite the gloomy weather, the atmosphere is festive and the crowd is happy.  The police […]


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