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October 30, 2011

Occupying Ottawa

Reuel S. Amdur

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Occupy Ottawa began on October 15, with around 500 participants. The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) took part, along with CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) and NUPGE (National Union of Public and General Employees).

Matt, who didn’t want to give his last name, is one of the Occupy Ottawa crowd hunkered down and living in tents in Confederation Park, across the street from City Hall.  There are currently some 30-odd tents in the park. Paul Dewar also made an appearance at the site. 

When asked why he is taking an active role in the Occupation, Matt replied, “I want to see some change, and I want to be a part of it, something I can get behind.  There should be more taxes on the large corporations, and the rules should be based on virtue rather than money, money, money.  I want to be treated like a human being, not like a dollar sign.”

Curtis Benedetti, another Occupier, told the Charger that “The power of the corporations has gone way too far.  They control everything.  I’m an environmentalist and when we try to solve environmental issues, they have people in the government to change things so that they can do what they want.”  Benedetti is currently out of work.

Sean Neil-Barron went down to the camp “to see what it was like to be part of as democratic movement that was upset about the system and economics and politics.  I wanted to see what it meant to see a long-term engagement with the important issues, not just a one-off protest.”

Matt commented on the support that they are receiving from the public.  “We’ve got a ton of food.”  He offered your reporter some, and as we were talking a young woman came with a large box of food.  Unions have also provided food, and the Occupation has also received financial contributions.

This is a genuine grass-roots movement for social change, and it started in Canada, when Adbusters magazine called for people to occupy Wall Street.  It has spread all over the United States, Canada, and much of the rest of the world. 

The movement is amorphous in character, but its message is clear: There is a need to have a basic redistribution of wealth.  They are the one per cent and we are the 99%.  It is a message that is resonating, but the forces in society that should be behind it are not taking advantage of the situation to, as the old IWW song book put it, “Fan the flames of discontent.” Or as Saul Alinsky put it, “Rub raw the sores of discontent.”  Will these forces allow things just to peter out?

PSAC was there, briefly. Good but not good enough.  Different union groups should be taking turns with a substantial presence in the park, and there should be massive union demonstrations from time to time.  Where is former PSAC president Nicole Turmel, and why is she not holding a caucus meeting in the park?  These same forces should be seizing the opportunity in every city where the Occupiers are engaged.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is one of the biggest things going right now, even if it is not up there with the Arab Spring.  It has been spontaneous, but it should not remain simply that.  It should not be allowed simply to go to waste.

Where are the leaders on the Left?  It may be apocryphal, but the words attributed to Alexandre August Ledru-Rollin hit the mark. On another occasion, Lenin said much the same: “There go the people.  I must follow them, for I am their leader.”

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