Min Reyes, a 20-something student and one of the organizers of Saturday’s Occupy Vancouver protest, was glued to her television as thousands of citizens came out to protest on Wall Street.
“I knew then,” said the Paraguayan-Canadian who refuses to divulge her exact age but relates that she dropped out of a journalism course at BCIT in order to organize a ‘local movement’, “that it was just a matter of weeks before it hit home.”
Reyes was also galvanized into action by the “Arab Spring” and especially by recent protests against austerity measures in Spain, where protestors called for an international “day of revolution” on October 15th.
While Occupy Wall Street’s slogan of “I am the 99%,” seems to be continuing in its local manifestation, the goals of this fledgling movement are unclear.
Reyes is only one of many organizers from a wide variety of backgrounds and groups that include environmentalists, anti-war activists and labour unions. She said the overarching idea of the protest is that “humanity must come before profit.”
She points specifically to local issues such as the high cost of housing that is “impoverishing Vancouverites on a daily basis," and hopes that the protest will help “take back the public sphere as a political space” and show that “our struggles are not just individual but systemic.”
However, it would seem that the local Occupy Vancouver movement is much more about process than end goals at this stage.
“We want to create a venue for grassroots democratic discussion,” said Reyes, who is helping to organize a series of “General Assemblies” where members of the public can voice their concerns.
When Derrick O’Keefe, a long time activist and co-chair of Stop War.ca attended one of the general assemblies held on October 8 at the W2 Media Centre at Woodward’s, he was impressed by the fact that he “didn’t recognize many of the people there.”
O’Keefe said that the room booked for the meeting was inadequate for the crowd of over 300 people – most of them under 30 – who arrived after an ambitious social media campaign.
“We didn’t have a Wall Street bailout here,” he notes, “but the 99 vs. 1% idea provides useful framing for a variety of important issues.”
For instance, he said that stopwar.ca is organizing workshops on how “wars are fought by the 99% for the benefit of the 1%” and that upcoming protests in Toronto offer slogans like “Occupy Bay Street, not Afghanistan.”
At the time of writing, there was no firm program for Saturday’s protest, which will be finalized on Friday night. It does have the feel of a big, chaotic, youthful, idealistic movement, but one that has the potential to bring many important local and global issues into public discussion.
And there is a sense of urgency in many of the young organizers. Reyes said:
“The time for protest is now. We have to seize the moment and get social justice on the governmental agenda. If we don’t succeed, we could face many dark, anti-democratic years.”