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Popular Education at Occupy toronto

by Kalin Stacey

Popular Education at Occupy toronto

Several weeks into the occupation of Toronto’s St. James Park, many issues remain unresolved with the camp’s ‘90% consensus-based’ decision-making structure. As the General Assemblies struggle to create an inclusive and truly participatory process, many participants have voiced frustrations with ongoing oppressive statements and dynamics – often unchallenged by facilitators despite the routinely announced “ground rules” prohibiting such behaviour – and the assemblies’ inability to provide adequate accessibility, discussion, decision-making capacity, or forward momentum. Committees and small group initiatives, based on popular education models, are now creating space for workshops and classes to try and address these concerns.

One such group, the education committee, established an on-site free school, located in a white canopy tent north of the park’s gazebo. The free school’s appearance followed numerous calls in assemblies, committees, and scattered conversations for a space dedicated to sharing knowledge and skill-building. Inspired by the decentralized 'freeskool education' movement, it provides an open venue for workshops, presentations, skill sharing and semi-formal group discussions.

A group autonomous from the education committee has also come forward with a workshop series; Who is the 99% is meant to spur critical political discussions and deepen the analysis of activists in the camp.

Some of the initial workshops hosted by the free school sought to address the concerns raised about process and oppression in the park. For instance, the day after one General Assembly devolved into accusations of ‘reverse racism’ and ‘divisiveness’ when gender-based inequalities were called out, occupiers were invited to attend a workshop on challenging privilege which drew nearly 50 participants. A discussion on anarchism brought out two dozen people. Another workshop, called Consensus 101, introduced newcomers to the basics of the consensus process, while yet another invited a discussion of male privilege and sexism, particularly in the occupy movement.

Not all classes run out of the tent are so serious, or meant to address the deep-seated issues in St. James (the recurring recycled paper arts class is one example of a more laid-back session); however, the education committee plans to emphasize political development and the crucial skills-building required to stay safe in the camp and take action outside of it.

Despite growing interest and participation in the free school, questions remain about its overall effectiveness. If the learning that takes place inside the tent fails to filter out into the broader occupation, or participants are not engaged by the discussions in the first place, then the free school will not succeed in mobilizing St. James. Also, if organizers become bogged down in endless internal education while the need for broad engagement and real action grows, the free school may be in danger of contributing to the occupation's insular focus. That said, the education committee hopes it will become a space for experienced activists to help campers prepare for winter, protesters prepare for escalation, and general assemblies prepare for disagreement, conflict and real consensus.

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Topics: Poverty

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Kalin (Kalin Stacey)
Member since Novembre 2011


Solidarity activist based in the Haudenosaunee Grand River Territory. Currently an editor and host for Grand River Radical Radio, which is a new project of the Grand River Media Collective. We provide a daily news show on, for and from the grassroots. You can find our podcasts hosted at, and sometimes here at the TMC.

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