After 11 years of bringing you local reporting, the team behind the Vancouver Observer has moved on to Canada's National Observer. You can follow Vancouver culture reporting over there from now on. Thank you for all your support over the years!
Occupy movement grappling with "new phase of life"
Speakers at standing-room-only downtown forum help activists contemplate "moment of transition".
(Page 2 of 2)
While Occupy Vancouver had been criticized for its encampment and refusal to apply for city permits for its protest, Grewal argued that the goal of Occupy should be to model new ways of political engagement – and challenge the jurisdiction of authorities over social change movements. He encouraged the audience – and the wide array of organizations represented in it – to heed international calls for Occupy to shut down West Coast ports in protest of the widening gap between rich and poor, amidst crackdowns on Occupy encampments.
“Let's stop appealing to the systems,” he said. “Let's start challenging their jurisdictions.
“In the end, if we're fighting for self-determination, ultimately we're not dancing to the tune of their drummer. Let's stop fighting for permits, and let's start fighting for our freedom.”
Grewal and fellow panelist Glen Coulthard argued that the Occupy movement should align itself with Indigenous peoples' struggles, because both share a common enemy in the economic system.
“My concern is the relationship between the Occupy movement and a concern for indigenous struggles against dispossession,” said Coulthard, who teaches in the University of B.C.'s First Nations studies and political science departments. “Across the country right now, indigenous peoples are re-occupying their own stolen territories -- there's dozens across the country.”
“The entire infrastructure of capitalism – especially in settler-colonial contexts like Canada – rests on that prior ongoing dispossession of indigenous peoples from their lands. I think you're going to see a hell of a lot more roadblocks going up – like you saw in the 80s – and indigenous communities are going to need support for that direct action.”
Lorene Oikawa -- vice-president of the B.C. Government Employees Union and chair of the B.C. Federation of Labour's human rights committee – said the unexpectedly large turnout at Friday's event indicates that the issues of inequality raised by the Occupy movement are still very much alive.
“With the Occupy movement, that's the message that we need to retain and keep spreading – not to forget that it's about the people, and that we're all together in this,” Oikawa said. “We want safe, healthy, thriving communities for all people. We need to remember that goal and keep the conversation going.”
One policy demand that could become a movement focus is a tax on global financial transactions, Oikawa suggested – something akin to a “Tobin Tax” on currency speculation, or a “Robin Hood Tax” and financial transfers. Klein agreed that such a tax would make a workable target for a movement for economic equality.
Considering this week's displacement of Occupy Vancouver from the art gallery and courthouse, the mood in the crowded room was buoyant, with many laughing and cheering during the speeches, and small-group discussions animated. Many in the audience expressed hope that Occupy continue in a new form in Vancouver.
“I'm encouraged by the turnout tonight – the fact the room was full, it's to me a sign that people in the community are recognizing they are part of the 99 per cent,” said Craig Langston, president of Cerebral Palsy Association of B.C.. Since Occupy Vancouver started on Oct. 15, Langston said he has displayed a sign on his wheelchair: “People with disabilities part of the 99%.”
“What the movement has done for me is show me my own personal power,” he said. “I feel a bit of a calling to be part of the movement.”
“A lot of people with disabilities have a real fear of speaking out against the government – they wonder, 'If I criticize the government, will I lose my benefits?' (Occupy) is empowering the community. That's what I'm hoping from the next chapter of Occupy – I hope it'll come back, but bring the focus back to issues. More and more people in the community are seeing what's possible.”