The state of #occupy

In my next post, I plan to examine the shortcomings of the free market in creating beneficial outcomes for society, particularly where journalism is concerned. But for now, I’d like to encourage you to read Gerald Caplan’s editorial from Friday’s Globe and Mail.

Caplan, who holds a PhD in African studies from the University of London, is a left-leaning University of Toronto academic, public policy analyst and political activist, with links to the federal New Democrats. In his most recent contribution to the Globe, he bemoans the disappearance of the Occupy movement which, as he states, “flashed through our lives like a comet in the sky,” but ultimately made little impact in terms of altering the course of events that have culminated in high levels of inequality in the United States, and increasingly in Canada as well.

I concur with the core of Caplan’s argument, namely, that inequality remains a pressing issue, along with the societal ills it entails (including class warfare, civil unrest, wealth disparities between white Americans/Canadians and visible minorities, increased crime). However, there is also an aspect of Caplan’s contention which I must dispute: as far as I’m concerned, the time to eulogize Occupy is far from come.

A protest scene at Occupy Oakland. Image c/o Steve Rhodes/Flickr

Certainly, the initial furore that erupted last year has died down, as Caplan points out. Corporate news coverage of Occupy has also decreased, as the movement has (in some cases, as in Oakland and Manhattan) become more institution than newsmaker. In many cities, indeed, the excitement has waned as participants resumed their quotidian lives, electing to pick their battles. Police intervention, which has forced the eviction of tent-dwelling Occupiers and prohibited food distribution, has also precluded any continuation of the alms-based collectivist lifestyle that some participants espoused.

But Occupy hasn’t gone away. Its mission remains incomplete. And its legacy and message persist.

From mass protests in Montreal around election time, the continuation of student protesers’ rejection of the boundless neoliberalism that seems to be infiltrating all aspects of our lives, to mass demonstrations at both the Republican and Democratic national conventions, there is still a widespread desire to effect change, to reverse the rent-seeking patterns that have afforded corporations and financial profiteers unprecedented prosperity at the expense of the rest of us.

Caplan claims Occupy had no impact on the Quebec election, even though public opinion swayed substantially from Jean Charest’s Liberals relative to the level of support his party enjoyed in 2008. (And who’s to say the Maple Spring, whose ambitions and ideology aligned substantially with those of the Occupy movement, was not largely responsible for this shift?) Likewise, he argues that Occupy played no role in the recent Alberta elections and Ontario by-elections. He may be right, though I suspect his conclusion is based exclusively on the outcome of those elections. (I’m not sure it’s reasonable to expect that Occupiers, themselves, could have altered this – and I don’t know what result one would anticipate if they did.)

Let’s not forget that, while the Occupiers present themselves as the ‘99%’, the number of people who turn up to Occupy rallies has, on a good day, represented a tiny fraction of those affected by kleptocracy, corporate rapacity, and the steady usurpation of civil liberties across North America. But that doesn’t mean Occupy hasn’t made a mark. And it certainly doesn’t mean the spirit of the movement is dead.

Whether we’re advocating for justice in the legal cases of Julian Assange and Bradley Manning, bringing attention to the nightmares of climate change, nuclear power and drone strikes, exposing the perils of ‘free’ trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP, #TPP2012 on Twitter), or demanding action to rein in runaway student debt, the military industrial complex, deregulation, or venal, militarized police, many members of my generation are inspired to find out who is calling the shots, and what we can do about it. Much of this inspiration emanates from Occupy. Information is the movement’s elan, and remains its most potent weapon. Social media is bringing together an exchange of ideas and knowledge never before seen in human history. And incidentally, now is the time when such discourse is, arguably, more crucial than ever before.

As long as the desire for a better world lives on, the message of Occupy will continue to resonate.

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