Thoughts on #occupy

(Wherein i list out a bunch of thoughts on something I don’t fully understand, in the hopes that the act of writing will help me come to some sort of internal resolution or understanding. Or trigger commentary that might just do that too.)

For the most part, I stayed well away from the #occupy movement (aside: in my head, it always is preceded by a hashtag – likely because I mostly interacted with it via twitter. But I suppose it’s not required. I’ll keep it though). In part, I was deeply cynical of its origins – it struck me as disingenuously spontaneous, in the same way that a good flash mob is actually a carefully choreographed and well-rehearsed performance – but it also made me vaguely uncomfortable. I don’t feel part of “the 1%”, but nor do I particularly feel part of #occupy’s “99%” – that likely has more to do with my reluctance to be placed in any big-tent definitions.

I wandered through Vancouver’s occupation on the 4th or 5th day. The optimism, the stringent beliefs, the signs, the dress code reminded me strongly of hanging with the socialists in my first year at UBC talking society, future, politics in a blissfully abstracted manner. I spent an hour or so of my lunchtime there – so definitely not a long time – and came way inspired and invigorated by the half-dozen people I met and talked to, but even more suspicious of the movement itself. The Vancouver edition might well be different from Wall Streets, but it was uncomfortably similar to finding myself unexpectedly in a Tea Party demonstration in San Diego a couple of years ago: the wisdom of crowds was sorely lacking.

And then I watched from afar. In Vancouver, the media-focus (hopefully the movement’s focus as well – my understanding was filtered mostly through twitter, and in particular @raincoaster) dwelt on housing-related issues. While this was definitely a part of the myriad messaging elsewhere, Vancouver’s felt, from my position, somewhat unified around this. The videos of the human-megaphone were darkly humorous but seemed non-scalable as a viable societal solution. Vastly more exciting was the  huge volumes of Ustream citizen-reporting – most of it execrable, but thrilling in its very existence and portent for the future.

And then it got really dark, really fast and I was suddenly dragged back into paying attention: As the days dragged on in to weeks, the fair-weather idealists went back to work, to school, to the suburbs, to their parents, to their apartments – to wherever, and we were left, all over North America, with the dedicated few idealists – and the homeless, the addicts, the sick. And it was fascinating. Watching these groups try to interact; the idealists try manage (not really the right word – support? include?) a group of people who seemed to not care one iota about “the cause” but where there because there was a gathering, it was safe, there was food, there was shelter, there were other people. Watching the media stories increasingly report on addictions, on overdoses, on the homeless with shock and disgust like all these various sad, sad stories didn’t exist prior to #occupy.

Shortly before the Vancouver election I wandered past, but not through the #occupy encampment again. I didn’t go in because it no longer felt welcoming. I’m very uncomfortable with the desperation that was so palpable there. I’m well off and often feel guilty about it but helpless to do anything. And how terrible is it for #occupy that not even this movement, all-inclusive, didn’t really seem to know how to handle this desperation any more than any existing service providers do. And how disgusting that this misery crystallized the general public’s (at least, as I read it through the Vancouver Sun’s coverage) opinion against #occupy (there’s been an overdose? go in now! evict them!). In the last dying days across North America, the movement seemed to magnify the particular problems of the most desperate in each city: Homelessness, mental illness & addiction everywhere, youth violence, racism, alcoholism, sexual predation & abuse. I imagine It must have been heartbreaking for everyone who was involved at the beginning – seeing this beautiful idea fall prey to such a vicious reality. Vancouver’s measured reaction was in stark contrast to the police assaults across America, where gross support for such police-state tactics seems to be more widespread, but the end result was the same: In the end, the dispersal and subsequent journey to find a new place to occupy just seemed sad.

In Vancouver, #occupy initially tried to relocate to Grandview park on the Drive – which has just been renovated & re-opened. I don’t know all the details, and I don’t actually think I agree with the response, but I was heartened to hear about the resistance from the Grandview-area residents to having their new park occupied. #Occupy may speak for the 99%, but their methods aren’t for everyone. And seeing on grassroots group resist the efforts of the other was, to me, a hopeful outcome: #occupy may or may not continue, evolve into something else, but it certainly showed the power of getting together with a group of like-minded people to defend an ideal in a space. And this battle over the new park showed the inherent conflict in the movement of occupying a space at the expense of the very people they’re in theory occupying it for.