Op-Ed: Although police have moved in, 'Occupy' still has a job to do

Posted Nov 23, 2011 by Mike Lapointe
The long-awaited showdown between police and 'Occupy Wall Street' protesters has indeed been ugly at points, but continues to proceed in a relatively civil manner. Many now question whether the movement can survive following widespread eviction notices.
Occupy Toronto
Occupy Toronto
The ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement has dominated news headlines across the world for the last three months. Their beliefs, aims, and tactics have been scrutinized by every major media outlet. People of every political stripe have passionately defended their arguments for or against the protesters in social media throughout the occupation.
The occupy movement has captured the attention of people to a degree that hasn’t been seen since the 1960’s. There has not been a sustained movement of this kind, one that spans international borders and unites different generations, in a very, very long time.
In the last couple of weeks however, media attention turned to the eviction of occupation sites across the United States and Canada. Most sites have failed to win the support of municipal authorities and many occupiers have gone back to their homes without a fuss. There are a few court cases and lawsuits still making their way through the judicial system, but it’s looking increasingly like protesters are going to have leave public spaces.
Does this mean that the movement is over?
Far from it.
Particularly strong condemnation of the occupiers on a number of fronts has started to emerge in the last few weeks. Many commentators in the mainstream media have criticized the movement for their organizational flaws and their lack of focus. Occupiers have been maligned for ‘defacing the aesthetic’ of city spaces and for creating a haven for the homeless.
Politicians have had their turn to weigh in on the movement as well. Government leaders in both Canada and the United States have voiced their opinions on the occupy movement, with statements that have ranged from outright derision to politically-correct support for the efforts of ‘frustrated people’. Protesters have responded in kind, recently showing up to President Obama’s speaking events as well as to GOP campaign stops. ‘Occupy Toronto’ protesters have marched straight to City Hall on a number of occasions.
Their latest move is to orchestrate a mass refusal to pay off outstanding student debt.
Perhaps the physical occupation of city spaces may be coming to an end. But to suggest that the movement itself has come to an end is to miss the entire point. Before one asks whether or not occupiers have a right to be there in the first place, one must ask if protesters have a right to be upset with the political-economic reality that 99% of us now confront.
Short answer: they absolutely do.
Just because the occupy movement isn’t a ‘polished’ organization in the same way that political parties or lobby groups are doesn’t mean that protesters do not have legitimate grievances against a system they had no hand in creating – and that may not allow the next generation to achieve what they have been promised all their lives.
At Occupy Toronto
At Occupy Toronto
I do not mean to suggest that the occupiers (and most everyone else living in North America and Europe) don’t benefit from a standard of living that is unsurpassed in human history. I’m not saying that occupiers should aim to challenge our democratic practices or bring our capitalist system down. What I am saying is that the ‘Occupy Movement’ is exactly what should happen when the political-economic system that has direct influence over our lives and yet operates completely over the heads of the majority of people – is in danger of coming crashing down.
The promises of politicians and economists have gone unfulfilled for far too long. Jobs have not materialized from lowering taxes on the rich to rock-bottom levels, and complex financial instruments allow for mass (yet legal) tax-evasion on the part of the economic elite anyway. Governments have not been able to balance their budgets as a direct result of these policies – not to mention the costs associated with waging expensive and illegal wars in distant Middle Eastern countries.
It is difficult to argue against the notion that Western democracy now has, more than ever, significant difficulty in responding to the needs of the middle-class. It is hard to prove that the rewards reaped by the the top 1% of earners within laissez-faire, elite-driven capitalism will somehow ‘trickle down’ into the rest of the population. What was once political and economic orthodoxy is now called into serious question. As of yesterday, the failure of the hopeless ‘supercommittee’ proves that political grand-standing takes priority over meaningful attempts at deficit reduction – let alone much needed reform.
It is up to the occupiers to make sure that the rest of our society get the message: there is still a lot of work to be done.
For those who charge the protesters with disorganization, uncleanliness, or simply being an ugly nuisance to city-goers, there may be a point to be made. People can choose to focus on the negative aspects of the movement all they want. But to dismiss the occupiers as an irrelevant, homeless mob is to display the same narrow-mindedness exercised by irresponsible politicians, business leaders, and bankers. The occupiers are not stupid. They realize something is very wrong, and they are very angry at the powers-that-be for quietly guiding the next generation into the unenviable position of paying debts they never incurred, and fixing a system they had no role in creating. Let’s face it – ‘business as usual’ has to change and it has to change now. The alternative is far too frightening to even consider.
The movement has achieved one major-if-unspoken objective. Regardless of whether or not the physical manifestation of the ‘Occupy’ movement continues to exist, more people are now more conscious of what’s at stake if policymakers do not address the glaring problems in North American and European political-economic systems. More people have engaged in (often highly spirited) debates about taxes, government spending, international conflicts, and the role of democracy itself in channelling how citizens voice their grievances against the system.
I have followed ‘Occupy Toronto’ from the beginning. I have attended the planning meetings, seen the tents, heard the opinions, and marched with the people. There is no question that they are getting more organized, and there will be more to come. Even if the cops take the tents away.
Perhaps those who have a problem with the occupiers should look past the tents and listen to what they have to say. Even if you don’t agree, you may stand to learn how your own well-being tomorrow may be at risk if nothing is done today.
The Occupy movement is not over, it is just beginning.