Sunday, November 27, 2011

Occupy has become Occupy Why?

Occupy has become Occupy Why?

MONTREAL - Don't look now, but the zeitgeist is shifting.

Maybe it was the Occupy camp that elected a border collie as its leader, or the death of a 23-year-old woman in Vancouver of a drug overdose, or reports of an alleged sexual assault in Philadelphia, but the occupation has been steadily losing its cool.

A month after tent cities sprung up throughout the western world as sympathetic satellites of the Occupy Wall Street movement, authorities are impatient and calling the cops.

Down at Victoria Square, even the don't-call-me-a-leader leaders of Occupy Montreal sound like they would welcome an excuse to decamp, so weary are they with keeping the peace and doing the dishes while others hang out or get high.

``Maybe we are on the verge of realizing that we're not ready to have no leadership,'' Felix Saint-Laurent told the Montreal Gazette's Roberto Rocha last week.

Anarchy, it seems, is overrated. Even with the shelter of Mountain Co-op tents, hot meals and the blessing of an improbably dry and balmy November, the Montreal occupation has become a dysfunctional village of the homeless and mentally ill, born-again bohemians and frustrated idealists.

So why are they still there, and why has the city been so reluctant to order them out or to tear the encampment down?

You can bet that if the street people who congregate at Cabot Square every night had the wherewithal and mental clarity to set up tents and bring in a generator, city hall would not have wasted an hour telling folks who make up society's truly disenfranchised to move along.

Why the double standard at Occupy Montreal, where even organizers confess they sometimes need to take a day or two off to sleep in a real bed or go to work or school? Sort of like a hunger striker who has the occasional lapse at Burger King.

When the Occupy movement bloomed on Wall Street in late summer, then spread on October from Newark to New Zealand, lots of people were prepared to cut protesters some slack. Naive, perhaps, but they were young and enthusiastic, their hearts were pure, their dreams of financial and social equality seemed noble at a time when the gap between rich and poor was becoming a canyon.

Those aspirations for a fairer, kinder, more environmentally friendly world, where everyone has access to health care and education is affordable, are still beautiful.

It's simply not clear how any of that will be achieved by a movement with such blurry objectives, where no one wants to take the helm in the battle to make change happen.

Writing in The Atlantic, Dominic Tierney said the U.S. Occupy movement has an image problem.

``Occupy Wall Street is at a fork in the road,'' said Tierney, who teaches political science at Swarthmore College, near Philadelphia. ``One path leads to political change, as the movement pushes the centre of gravity in American politics to the left. The other path leads to irrelevance or even harm for the progressive project.''

He suggested American protesters begin by waving the flag to demonstrate their left-wing demands are as red-white-and-blue as anything the right-wing Tea Party has to offer.

``Unless OWS understands the power of symbols, the American Autumn will be followed by a winter of discontent.''

Here in Montreal, sometime very soon - when the snow falls and makes tentlife unbearable or when something unfortunate happens - the mayor will decide he's had enough and Montreal police will pull the plug on that untidy open-air party at Victoria Square.

Only then will we know what, if anything, Montreal's Occupy movement stands for, and whether protesters who've spent a month on the pavement have enough steam left to push for the changes they desire.

Here's a good start: Roll up the sleeping bags; fold up the tents; pick up the garbage; write a letter; vote.

Do something.

Montreal Gazette

pcurran@montrealgazette.com

Twitter.com/peggylcurran

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