Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Looking in from the outside at Occupy Vancouver

I don't enjoy protesting in the streets.  That's one reason why I've hardly ever done it.

Prior to now, the only event I've ever marched at was a march organized by Renters at Risk.  It took a direct threat to my home to get me involved.  My corporate landlord had become notorious for evading rent controls through the practice of renoviction, evicting tenants on the pretext of making renovations and allowing them to return only if they were willing to pay a far higher rent for their purportedly beautified apartment.  So I went to community information sessions, did a little furtive flyering and in the end I hit the pavement.

It was more stately than most protest marches.  I'd guess that the median age of the protesters might well have been over fifty, not surprising since long term renters were the most threatened.  It was non-partisan.  Our MP and both our MLA candidates marched with us, either in support or for self preservation.  Media coverage was entirely sympathetic.  It was a tightly focused rally on an issue which I could wholeheartedly support.  In spite of the fact that it was as safe and conservative as a protest march could possibly get, I still felt like a fish out of water.  I was feeling shy and nervous, treating it like a grim duty, and I'm ashamed to say that I felt a bit irked at people for not feeling as glum as I did.  Why would anyone be happy at seeing the neighborhood as a whole rally around common values to change things for the better?

I can't see myself ever becoming comfortable at protests, but I think that's true of the vast majority of Canadians.   The average Vancouverite is not going to join the camp at the Vancouver Art Gallery unless the situation in Canada gets as bad as it is now in Greece.  Partly it's a matter of a culture clash between how Vancouverites see themselves and how they see the occupiers, and there's more to be said about that, but I think the main concern is time.  Most people don't have the option of joining a tent city, or going to a general assembly every day.  Many people have jobs and children.  Protesting is costly, getting arrested more so.

Democratic change happens when people who don't like protesting get involved.  Change wouldn't get started without a determined few raising awareness, but it doesn't become irresistible until middle aged folks in suits who have places they'd rather be get swept along after them.  Democratic change is risky for the forerunners, becoming safer and safer as community consensus gets broader and broader. 

Well here I am, getting swept along.  I've been thinking about how the Occupy Everything protests might matter to me.  If there's a place for uptight nervous introverts like me, it's a movement that's going to keep growing.

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