Halifax Media Co-op

News from Nova Scotia's Grassroots

More independent news:
Do you want free independent news delivered weekly? sign up now
Can you support independent journalists with $5? donate today!

An Occupier in Nova Scotia's Response to Margaret Wente

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

Editor's Note: John Thibeau wrote this piece in response to Margaret Wente's original Globe and Mail article, which can be found here. Thibeau sent this letter to Margaret Wente and the Globe and Mail on Friday, May 11th.

By: John Thibeau

Firstly, I’d like to begin by stating some very important facts for anyone reading this piece. I am not an Anarchist, Communist, Marxist, Socialist and also not a capitalist. I am not left wing, right wing, conservative, liberal, republican or democrat. I am not Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or Pagan. My name is John and I am a human being who is an active participant in the Occupy movement (not the Occupy Wall Street movement). What I speak of I speak from experience in my community, with my neighbors, with my fellow Occupiers. With that said, let us jump right in.

May Day: In many places in North America the media is labeling the May Day effort as a failure much like you have. Unfortunately this could not be further from the truth—especially in Halifax where I participated in one such demonstration. Did we have thousands of people? 150; maybe. Did we make the National news? Nope. Did any significant change come as a result of our demonstration? Not even a smidgen. I can understand how one might view this as a failure. Now permit me to clarify the easily made error in perception.

May Day has been perhaps one of the most successful events Occupy has had here in Nova Scotia, and not because of numbers. Its success stems as a result of the participants of that event. Yes there were many Union workers there as it was, after all, International Worker’s Day. However, what you and those like you who have not participated in the Occupy movement missed was who those other faces were that came down to join us. I don’t know them. Over 50 people with whom I had never had previous contact with attended and participated in the after event, which was strictly Occupy. They were strangers to the Occupy movement ... no, not strangers, new friends.

I can completely understand, based on the measurements we have used in the past for judging the success or failure of such a protest how it could be seen as a failure. This is just not the case. Why did North Americans not come out en masse as our brethren in Europe? I have no concrete answers, only speculation: the same as any individual has whether they are a politician, a professor, a white collar worker (though that may be a good place to start asking) and yes, believe it or not, even journalists. My speculation (because I am responding to yours already) is that we here in the land of the privileged have absolutely no concept of suffering. We have no clue on what it means to be truly oppressed (these are general statements, as there are many sub-groups within our society that have). We tolerate the injustice and the oppression out of guilt. Knowing how little the world has compared to us, it is easy for the average citizen to say to themselves, ‘Well, I just lost the right to wear a mask in public but I guess that’s OK. At least I still have my iPod.’ That is the generalization of my speculation and as there is much more to address, I will press forward.

There were other nasty moments. In San Francisco, black-clad activists trashed the Mission District, smashing windows with crowbars, spattering storefronts with eggs and paint, and spray-painting anarchy symbols on parked cars. Their targets were not greedy banks and big corporations, but small shops, restaurants and a housing project. “This just seems like they’re frustrated with their impotency at this point,” Jeremy Tooker, owner of Fourbarrel Coffee, told the San Francisco Chronicle. Some protesters invaded a building belonging to the Roman Catholic Church and refused to leave. “We are not the 1 per cent. I don’t get it,” said a spokesman for the archdiocese. “I think it’s an indication of how confused the Occupy movement has become in terms of its goals and its focus.”

             Black-clad activists? Right from the start, for anyone who has participated in Occupy, this is not the typical description I have come to hear associated with it from the press. I’ve grown accustomed to dirty, pot smoking, hippie; spoiled brat; lazy bums; and a number of other vulgarities (direct or implied) but have yet to see any Occupier who fits this description. The first tell that people are *using* Occupy as a means to further their own agendas and not that of the people is violence. Occupiers are not anarchists either. There are Occupiers who carry anarchist ideologies but when they enter the Occupy environment, they are Occupiers first and Anarchists second. There is a difference.

             The media failing to make the distinction is a big part of the problem with the *image* of Occupy and only furthers confusion over its motives. The lack of credible and concrete association to the Occupy movement or the fact that the Occupy movement itself has separated itself from this type of behavior is a clear sign that these actions are as big a concern to Occupy as they are to the public and the government. We are, after all, part of the same community. It is fortunate that we do not have any Black Bloc or any such extremists here in Halifax. Perhaps if we did I would have some experience to share with you. As it is, I do not.

You will be elated to hear that Occupy addressed that flaw; and not just my own local movement. I recall seeing a few others with similar statements. The statement? Well, in not so many words—that Occupy does not condone, nor approve of the use of drugs or alcohol and, in the interest in the wide variety of beliefs and ideologies of all those participating, does not tolerate their usage on site. Violence and sexual harassment is strictly prohibited and when the situation is not able to be resolved or endangers the safety of those inside the encampment, the proper authorities will be contacted and asked to intervene.

This policy serves two purposes: to show respect to the public we were trying to reach, and to respect the inclusiveness of the Occupy movement. This policy was proposed and passed through our General Assembly. On top of this, posted at every entrance to the encampment (we were fenced in), we also organized our own security force. Armed with radios and kindness, our Safety and Security team—on many occasions—helped to de-escalate many situations that could have turned out very differently. Though mostly composed of experienced and trained security personnel, we also shared our knowledge and experience to others who quickly became strong and effective communicators able to bridge misunderstandings and miscommunications.

The five “scruffy” (not sure what their facial hair has to do with anything) individuals arrested were very specific and individual cases. Here you supposedly have five individuals (the CNN report actually used the word “alleged” about a dozen times) who have attended Occupy activities as well as other social movement group activities such as the Anarchist’s meeting where the undercover FBI agent first encountered these men (despite the FBI claiming they do not infiltrate activist groups). An Anarchist’s group meeting where they left because the Anarchists felt they were too aggressive and too quick to resort to violence. If an Anarchist group finds them too extreme, how exactly do you think that the Occupy movement would perceive them? These individuals did not spawn from the Occupy movement; their ideologies existed prior to the spawning of the Occupy movement. This is a great example of a journalist or media outlet misleading the public, planting seeds of misinformation and creating opinion through a non-existent connection.

Though I do not disagree that Occupy has definitely lost a significant amount of public support, I do not believe it was ever seeking sympathy. Occupy is about empowerment and not about being a victim. We have all been the victim. Occupy provides a new approach to injustice: do not sit and wait for justice, go out and make it happen (through non-violence and peaceful means). This does not always mean a demonstration; it can be as simple as voting, signing a petition or doing in your community what your governments won’t. It teaches the idea that individuals, regardless of belief, can come together as human beings in a collective and help to create a sustainable and self-reliant community without the necessity of the bureaucracy of waiting for politicians to act.

Occupy was nothing more than a child when it began. Many of those involved were virgin to the activist lifestyle; absolute strangers to advocacy and protest. Like any child who ventures into a new experience in life, they lacked knowledge and education. That in no ways affects the credibility of the message(s) they have been attempting to share; and many are they. However, like all children who make mistakes or go through new experiences, Occupy has learned; it has grown; and it will continue to do so. This is not your traditional social activist movement; if it was we’d only be talking about it once a year on National Occupy Day like we do so many others; maybe an International Occupy Week. You say the media’s infatuation has cooled and yet, here we are.

The message is confusing only if you’re looking for a message that defines every ideology and belief within this all inclusive social movement; you are going to be waiting a long, long time. Are you prepared to decide on such a statement to represent an entire collective of this magnitude? No one person amongst the Occupy groups has that authority; no one occupation carries that power. If it is a 100% clear cut message you seek to generalize this movement, it will not happen. The whole purpose is not be generalized and pigeon-holed into a niche which would make it much easier for the media and the powers that be to put us away in a nice little category and push us out of the public eye. That you continue to be confused means you will continue to seek understanding; the ever present 'why'. You can only find what you seek from individuals and small sub-groups within the movement who share particularly specific ideas. The difference between Occupy and all movements beforehand is that our ‘audience or demographic’ (not the words I would use but words that express the idea that most readers will understand) is all inclusive. We’re not after just anyone; we want to include everyone.

As for regaining public *support* (not sympathy), this has already begun. With the coming of spring and the closure to a forceful, violent and shocking eviction & arrest also comes a rejuvenation; a new energy; a new strength; a new evolution within Occupy. Occupy is not filled with the typical stigma of the personalities and characters that have been portrayed—and those characters they do have are much more than merely their outward image. They possess education; university degrees (in some cases PhD’s and Masters); intelligent and caring individuals who chose a more natural and environmentally oriented lifestyle. Should they be branded so despicably when their very creed is to take care of all living things? The media glorifies those who would send our brethren to die for oil, land, money and power but put down and vilify those who would help to create a sustainable, environmentally conscious society. There seems to be flawed logic in there. And people question the motives of the Occupy movement: What about the motives of our leaders? How about the motives of corporations and financial institutions? And what about the motives of media outlets who refuse to offer and report unbiased accounts of what is really happening, not just with Occupy, but at all times?

I am pleased to see that you publicly acknowledge that there are failures among the capitalist system. I agree with you whole-hardheartedly on this subject. I also think that there are as many failures, or more in some cases, in other forms of economies—including socialist and communistic economies. That you interpret Occupy to be adamantly opposed to capitalism is easy to understand with signs that demand the deconstruction of the capitalist system. Personally, I don’t believe in that but I am aware enough to recognize the inherent and apparent flaws in the system and because of that I can sympathetically understand their point of view and see some of my own in there. Because I am able, like so many of all who are participating in Occupy, to identify with people, I can respect them and get along with them quite swimmingly despite our differences in ideologies or beliefs.

Giant squid? I have nothing for you there. Publicity stunt? I wasn’t present and as this is the first time I have heard of it I have nothing to offer as an explanation or opinion. Although it sounds like it was a lot of fun while at the same time drawing attention to Occupy. PR gimmick perhaps? Regardless, it did at least that. Though it won’t create the world of tomorrow as I envision it, it does carry one essential necessity: happiness; people had fun, people laughed, people experienced joy. Happiness is essential and spreads as quickly as anger; if not faster. A little break in taking oneself too seriously is the best way to take a step back and have a moment to reflect on all that lies before you; and a glimpse perhaps, into what is to come.

I think you perhaps expressed, as best as I can, the take on the Social Scientists. Honestly, can you blame them? The Occupy movement is the sort of a once in a lifetime opportunity to study and observe first hand a drastic and sudden change in human consciousness and thought process. There are very few times when any person can sit back and say: “Wow! I am living in a truly historical and unprecedented time that will change the way the world works for the rest of time.” Very rarely.

And though I am aware of tragedies that create this form of sentiment I do not discount the impact they have on society—the sheer magnitude of people from the vast majority of all labels, groups & associations the world has ever seen are coming together. They are joining forces; slowly but it is happening. They are finding bonds in those they used to fight because of a failed understanding and respect of ideologies. Journalists have a prize for when moments like this that the social scientists find themselves in, it’s called a Pulitzer.

It will take much, much more for the Occupy movement to ‘melt away’ then what has happened. It really is too big to just disappear (and I’ve tried to avoid all the slogans and jargon associated with Occupy and keep it straightforward & easy to understand). If ever the Occupy movement disappears from the public eye and mainstream media you can be assured they, like early Christian cults and others like it, are not gone—just in hiding for fear of persecution.

Thankfully, the powers that be have not created the police state necessary for that type of disappearance; however both here in Canada as well as in the United States of America it is a reality that is not far off.

I have done my best to address the points, issues, concerns and opinions raised in your article, Margaret. It is no easy task to communicate thoughts, emotions and ideologies from such a wide variety of individuals—and individual collectives—among the Occupy movement. I have written what I feel is a response that should help to illuminate some of the mystery of darkness you and others may have in regards to the Occupy movement. I hope that it is enough to at least convince you that there is some focus within the chaos, because there is.

This is sufficient enough to lead you down to your local Occupy movement—but remember when you get down there that there will be those who you will disagree with but that is perfectly acceptable. I am certain that if you approach the situation with an open mind you will find at the very bare minimum, one individual, one individual collective, or one individual ideology, idea, or belief, that you can personally relate to. What have you go to lose? Skip the coffee shop sit-down-break and take it to go. We’re waiting with open arms and open hearts. We don’t have all the answers because we’re still not whole yet. We’re missing you.

Want more grassroots coverage?
Join the Media Co-op today.
2791 words

The site for the Halifax local of The Media Co-op has been archived and will no longer be updated. Please visit the main Media Co-op website to learn more about the organization.