The Occupy Movement: It's Not Going Away
by Susanna Kelley
We'll go on forever, Pa, 'cause we're the people." - Ma Joad, "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck
Over the weekend Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's office issued a statement making it clear police will move in very soon to remove protesters from the Occupy Toronto encampment.
Also this weekend, the New York Times published a brilliant piece on the Occupy Wall Street movement by Columbia University's Jeffrey Sachs. (You can read it here: http://nyti.ms/tiGSFu)
To summarize, Prof. Sachs posits the now worldwide Occupy movement marks the beginning of a new progressive age, which is coming about in reaction to the income inequality that's resulted from 30 years of failed Reaganomics.
All that money never did "trickle down" from tax cuts given to both corporations and those with high incomes, he says.
Instead, Reaganomics meant cuts to spending on social programs as a percentage of GDP and ensured political parties were financed, and thus controlled, by the business sector. Business in the US scorned regulation; political parties enabled deregulation, and Wall Street's unethical behavior brought about economic mayhem around the world.
In Canada, the replacement of managed trade agreements with mid-1980's free trade agreements with the United States, Mexico and other nations resulted in international companies pulling their factories - and jobs - out of Canada. As trade barriers came down, Canadian workers were left to compete with countries that paid their employees pennies a day.
Prof. Sachs says in the U.S., both the late 19th century Gilded Age, when robber barons ran politics, and the Roaring Twenties ended in financial ruin and years of economic depression for most citizens. They were then followed by long eras of progressive reform, which is what he is predicting will happen in the coming age.
It is logical that the Occupy movement will kick-start a major new progressive era in politics, and not just on Wall Street, or in Denver, or Portland, or Berkley.
It is now worldwide, sprung from the same seeds as the Arab spring - well educated youth who cannot find work, through no fault of their own.
And unless something is done about joblessness amongst the young, it's not going away.
There are those like Mayor Ford who believe the Occupy movement can be put down by sending in riot police, like in Portland, Oregon and other cities over the weekend.
Or that it will end if the police take down the tents, as they did in London, Ontario (although the secret decision to do so made by city council is now being questioned as possibly illegal.)
Mayors and police say they have to end the protests, pointing out there have been drug deaths and fights in some of the camps.
That is true.
Of course, there were no drug overdose deaths or fights in Toronto or London or Vancouver before the Occupy movement. We look forward to these cities returning to their overdose and violence free states once the tents are taken down.
And yes, while Occupy Toronto has drawn some of the more radical elements - a few Mohawk Warriors and anarchists, for example - it is clear it is the more moderate protesters who are in control.
Occupy Toronto is well organized.
It boasts a library, media centre, information centre, food tent, sanitation supply tent, medical tent, and dozens of porta-potties.
Camp cleanups occur twice a day.
It is not the seething hotbed of violent hoodlums, homeless and mentally ill some politicians would have you believe.
It is, however, full of idealistic youth who are demanding a better future for themselves and others.
Everyone knows that a generation of young people in the U.S. now face dwindling job opportunities and years of living on meager salaries - and that's if they do get a job - due to the fraudulent actions of some bankers and mortgage lenders whose actions were unregulated.
In Canada there are different reasons, but the result is the same: a generation without a future.
And so, they protest.
There are, of course, a number of ways to handle a situation like this.
One is to send in the police and retake the land by force. That will get violent and ugly.
In the last 20 years, "Toronto the Good" has experienced the G20 riots with the biggest mass arrests in Canadian history as well as the violence of the 1996 Ontario Public Service Employees Union protest and the 2000 Ontario Coalition Against Poverty riot at Queen's Park during the Mike Harris years.
No matter which side you're on - and there was plenty of fault by police in 1996, and by protesters in 2000 - as a journalist who was in the middle of the crowds covering those protests, it is disheartening to see human beings sink to such levels in their treatment of each other.
It also does absolutely nothing to solve the core problem: lack of future opportunities.
Nor is letting the protest peter out as it gets colder the answer: jobless, hopeless youth will simply find another place to protest.
And with the latest Nanos poll showing nearly 60 per cent of Canadians agree with the protesters and their aims, you'd think most politicians would tread carefully.
There is an alternative to sending in the police.
Listen carefully to what the moderate protesters are saying, find areas where there can be agreement, look for ways to address those concerns, and enlist their abilities to get to there.
That is what true political leadership does.
The Occupy movement itself has some very intelligent leaders. Use their youth, energy and creative ideas.
Put some of them on task forces, along with experienced politicians, looking for creative solutions. Then allow them to be part of those solutions.
Solve the root problem.
Stop telling them what can't be done, and help show them what can be done.
It was 40 years ago that a generation of young Americans protested on university campuses all around their country and stopped what they believed was an unjust war - Vietnam.
It's taken over 30 years of income inequality for the continent's youth to rise again.
They must be part of the solution, as it is their future.
It is when times are dark, as they are now, it is most important to remember all the progress that has been made over the centuries thanks to a human spirit that very often rises like the phoenix from the ashes.
Or as Ma Joad put it in Steinbeck's great Depression-era novel The Grapes of Wrath, "We'll go on forever, Pa, 'cause we're the people."
You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley