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Occupy Toronto and the Prospects for the Occupy Movement

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.


On October 15, 2011, the Occupy movement that started on Wall Street on September 17'th spread around the world, becoming a rallying point for existing movements against austerity and corruption in several European countries and being a spark for actions in countries where austerity and the movement against it are less advanced.  In Toronto, there have been relatively large demonstrations in the last few months against the program of cuts to public services and privatizations that Mayor Rob Ford is trying to push through city council, which have mainly been led by the unions through the Toronto and York Region Labour Council as well as a coalition of community activist groups that has formed the Stop The Cuts campaign, largely spearheaded by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and No One Is Illegal.  While the anti-Ford movement was bringing out some new people in addition to the existing community activists, trade union militants and far-left groups, the contingent of new people that have been brought into action by the arrival of the Occupy movement in Toronto is very different from those who came out for the first time against Ford.

The new people that have been brought into political action through the Occupy movement are often very young (though definitely not all of them), have an explicit interest in theories about the state of the world and our society (including some fairly odd theories), are enthused about being connected to what is happening on Wall Street and across the world in an international movement against the top 1% of capitalist elites, and are often very interested in a broad array of issues beyond just income inequality and austerity that they perceive as being related to these two main concerns of the movement.  These additional issues include environmental sustainability, the nature and form of modern democracy, the right of indigenous people to self-determination, issues of personal freedom and individual liberty, as well as issues surrounding the relationship between technological development and human social structures.  

Many of these new people in Toronto have been so enthused about being connected to the exciting events happening in New York that they have come to the conclusion that Occupy Toronto should attempt to directly copy the decision-making structures and communication methods used in the Occupy Wall Street protests.  This has resulted in some rather strange developments in Toronto, including an initial belief that 100% consensus is needed for a political movement to be truly democratic and the use of the 'peoples' mic' method of communication (involving everyone repeating what one person is saying as a form of transmitting a message to large crowds without electronics in areas with bad acoustics) despite the fact that megaphones and sound systems are always used in demonstrations of all sizes in Toronto and do not entail the same legal issues as in New York.  While there have been decisions in the Occupy Toronto movement to accept super-majority votes of 90% or more as a basis for moving forward where consensus is impossible and to move towards the use of megaphones and a sound system for reasons of accessibility, the fetishization of a certain image of what happened in New York and the desire to copy it in exact detail still have a tremendous influence on many Occupy Toronto participants.  The idea that a super-majority of 90% should be needed to move forward on anything remains as a significant hurdle for the movement in Toronto in terms of actual democratic decision-making at the General Assembly meetings.  Some participants with more political experience than many of the new people coming out for Occupy Toronto have been pushing for a standard 50%+1 voting model at the General Assembly meetings, though it has been an uphill battle in dealing with the entrenched ideas about the relationship between consensus and democracy on the part of many new people, with the agreement to a 90% majority vote being seen as a fairly important concession by some of those pushing for a 50%+1 model. 

Despite the problems with the movement in terms of the fetishization of certain tactics used in Occupy Wall Street as well as the political and general immaturity of some of its main protagonists, there can be no doubt that this movement has really shook the world and is of world-historical importance.  Back in 2008, when the financial crisis really hit in the United States and came into the public consciousness across the world, many leftist activists in the United States and Canada were disappointed by the lack of large-scale political response from masses of working people.  By 2010, many had come to believe that an opportunity for a working class fightback against the financial elite had been missed.  However, any analysis of history will show that changes in consciousness among large numbers of people often occur very slowly through a series of fits and starts, with strange and unexpected events often being the spark for a mass movement of working people. 

This is exactly what happened in May ’68 in France, where a student protest around seemingly ‘petit-bourgeois’ or ‘middle class’ cultural issues relating to student life became the spark for a large scale workers’ uprising that shook the entire political-economic structure of French society and nearly led to the end of capitalism in one of the most economically and culturally developed capitalist countries.  This all occurred after the students were attacked by the police.  The Occupy movement that we currently see building around the world could potentially provide the spark for such an earthshaking popular uprising in one or more countries.  Italy, Greece and Spain have all seen massive workers’ demonstrations against austerity in the past couple years, and this movement being driven forward by the youth could provide the spark for a full-blown revolutionary fire to burst out in any one of these countries or even somewhere we don’t expect.  If this occurs, nowhere, including Toronto and the relatively quiet country of Canada, will be immune from the reverberations.   

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miroma (Michael Romandel)
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