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Interview: Local business owners spar over Occupy

by Megan Kinch

On Thursday evening, the owner of StarFish restaurant, which is located across the street from Occupy Toronto, hosted a meeting to talk about his dislike for the camp in St James. Patrick McMurray claims to have lost a significant amount of business since the occupation started. A large media scrum was present outside, and approximately 12 people were allowed in for the meeting. Demonstrators were barred, as were some local residents, but Brian Palmerston, a businessman who works nearby and is supportive of Occupy Toronto, was inside. TMC's Megan Kinch caught up with him for an interview:

Brian Palmerston: So, we waited outside the front door of the restaurant for about 20 minutes, while about a half dozen to a dozen media scrummed around us. Eventually, a select number of residents and business owners and some employees of these businesses (were let in); however, the meeting (soon) closed.

The group looked mostly like residents, and the chair of the meeting was the owner of the restaurant (McMurray). He spoke about 90% of the time, and the questions and answers accounted for another 10%. He was surprised by the size and interest, because originally this was an email that went to about 3 people, and got circulated.

The main themes - and forgive me because this is my own summary - but their main points are:

  • They have no problem with the occupiers occupying the park. (McMurray) puts the responsibility concerning what to do with the occupiers on Mayor Ford's shoulders. He said ‘that’s for him to figure it out’.
  • At the same time he is very concerned about the violence (and) safety. He cited an incident that apparently happened either last night or on the weekend, where a fire in the one tent took place. He cited alcohol and drug problems, and a participant in the meeting mentioned that someone (had been) sexually assaulted. The overall concern was health and safety, and security of residents and business, and this treasured park. They value that park dearly; its really a cornerstone of their community.
  • What they really ask for, what they want, is when Ford tells the occupiers to leave, that they leave as peaceably as they came in. ...(and that) they leave the park in as good shape as it was starting off, and preferably better.

Toronto Media Coop: Are they concerned about the straw on the ground?

Brian Palmerston: They’re concerned about the – to paraphrase one woman who we were standing beside while waiting to get in- she says the park is a mess, garbage bottles and lots of litter. What they said is 'it’s a mess '.

Toronto Media Coop: What is your personal interpretation of that meeting?

Brian Palmerston: These people are scared. They're in some cases angry, and they feel that they’ve been occupied and they only see the underbelly, and - this would be my editorial, for what its worth - it’s a classic not-in-my-backyard response. And while that’s understandable, the gift of the community is actually to demonstrate how we can include everyone on the margins, so that everyone is cared for. (It's) almost like they feel violated and not heard and not respected . So, for example, and this is one of the challenges (for Occupy Toronto) - its often, I’m sure you’ve hear this, if X would only come down and see us, then they’ll get us. That’s true, but X would like us to go to them and show them what we are. So no one has talked to them from (Occupy Toronto). And this is a fact, in the face of no information, that vacuum gets filled up with lots of negative stuff, and that’s what’s going on. They’ll take any incident, no matter how minor, and even though its handled meticulously by whomever on site - its still a cause for our removal.

Toronto Media Coop: It seems like they are dealing with the same issue that everyone in the park is dealing with: safety, security, etc.

Brian Palmerston: Exactly.

Toronto Media Coop: It is interesting that there was such a huge media scrum for one business owner who sent one email, instead of for the hundreds of people that have a really different message.

Brian Palmerston: There was a lot of confusion today, I talked to a reporter to confirm the time and location of this meeting, and there were lots of rumours today. One of the rumours was that Occupy Toronto was going to be served legal papers for eviction, so they were chasing that story. The other rumour was that Mayor Ford was hosting a press conference, prior to this meeting, about how to deal with Occupy Toronto, but that wasn’t true. So there was one radio reporter and some of our folks (who) were engaged in conversation with some of..the residents, business owners, that kind of thing. The way the reporter cast it was as a heated debate, which was an unfortunate exaggeration. This is just one example of the pressure reporters are under, which is to create a level of drama under very tight time constraints, which does not contribute to the full understanding of what is really going on. So there was actually just normal discussion going on, until there was pushing and shoving at the front door to determine who gets in and who gets left out; the restaurant owner basically barred the protesters from getting in, and called the police to informed them that he was concerned (he said) about fire hazards. That what caused the pushing and shoving; people were told to go away.

Toronto Media Coop: Do you have anything else to add regarding this?

Brian Palmerston: To put this in context, this is a fundamental transformation, the start of a transformation of the way we relate together as a society, as a government, as businesses. This is sort of the thing that we are going to have to expect; its going to be uncomfortable and its going to be messy, and we’re going to be inconvenienced as we move up the food chain in consciousness. This movement is causing consciousness raising and people are saying ‘maybe I don’t have to put up with these inequalities’. And people are saying if we are going to be the change than we have to behave impeccably instead of peaceably (whenever we feel like it). If the residents are concerned with the whole 99% and 1%, and they feel like the 99, and they are inconvenienced by having the occupy camp in front of them, then that might be their contribution to building a better society. So it’s a bit like running a marathon.’ve decided to run a marathon and you don’t know how you’re going to do it, and its going to hurt but you have to set new patterns of have to try even not knowing how you’re going to do it. None of us know how to accomplish it. They are asking us how we’re going to solve it. What are you doing to do? What’s your platform? The community's the platform and that’s going to build towards how you are going to solve it.

(all emphasis added)

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justin (Justin Saunders)
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Thank you

Thank you so much for doing this series of interviews Megan. As Palmerston seems to suggest, it's absolutely critical that the participants in the Occupy movements across Canada and around the world pay careful attention to (and have great compassion for) any and all parties that might be affected by the various occupations, and that occupiers reach out to as many people and groups as possible to explain why they're doing what they're doing. Building understanding of the movement (and thus hopefully growing it) will take great strides if participants strive to understand others, communicate with them, reach out to them, try to involve them. You've done that here, and it's both inspiring and necessary. Thank you again.

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