As the worldwide movement of Occupy Wall Street spreads its influence in cities across the world, we in Toronto can’t help but say ‘us too’. And a fine job we have done to embrace the movement. We’ve staged marches and sit-downs, made tent cities and general assemblies. The media has doted on Occupy Toronto’s every move, and while some remain uncertain of the group’s precise intention, many have indeed shown support.
Movements hinge on two primary components: purpose and process. Purpose refers to the intent and demands put out by the group, while process encompasses the ways in which the collective engages and interacts. Many have criticized Occupy Toronto for a lack of unity and purpose, but what may appear to be its weakness may also be its greatest strength. The plurality of interest has opened the flood gates for people to feel connected, empowered and included in a global movement – it has allowed those, both young and old, to say, ‘I can get hip to this’. While visiting the tent city I was fortunate to meet an elderly woman named Indira. She approached me with a collection of blankets and hats. As she passed me her contribution, I asked her, “Are we doing the right thing?” She looked at me, eyes glistening, and responded, “You most certainly are.”
In accommodation of such plural interests the movement also adheres to the true function of democracy; all decisions are made on consensus building and unanimity. And as we would expect of such an attempt, things are slow to reach conclusion, making a specific policy agenda hard to come by in just a few days. Decisions are regularly made mid-process. While marching the streets of downtown the entire group decides in which direction to proceed. The very nature of Occupy Toronto takes a stance against complacency. It aims to breed a culture of response and critical thought that many have left by the wayside in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. For a generation that is braced by poor work outcomes, a disheartening political system and a staggering collection of social and environmental issues, life is all but simple. But in this movement, it is possible for some to find inspiration and the desire to say, “This is my world too.”
Joanna Flatt graduated from the Master of Public Policy program at the School of Public Policy and Governance, University of Toronto in 2011.