Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Occupy Vancouver: we need two-way respect

Imagine the Occupy Vancouver people in Armani suits, camped out in designer beige tents with cappuccino machines and the same outdoor heaters that restaurants use. If everything else was the same – the signs, the speeches, the behaviour – do you think that the city and its fire and police departments would respond differently to the Occupy encampment? Of course. They’d offer what’s been missing so far in the relationship between both sides: respect, and meaningful dialogue regarding long-term solutions.

Sure, I understand public safety and the need to protect people, and I don’t support the use of violence by police or the occupiers. But Vancouver’s city officials would not have chosen the same heavy-handed and confrontational response of an injunction if doctors, lawyers, and business people made up the Occupy group. Instead, they would have suggested a discreet meeting, among supposed peers, and likely found a settlement that satisfied both groups.

The recent drug-related death, overdose, and bylaw non-compliance at the Occupy camp appears to have cemented a paternalistic city view that all the Occupiers are irresponsible scum, losers, addicts, etc. and therefore, they need to be punished and removed. (Think: unsightly boil = lancing.) Since when has drawing rigid lines into overly simplistic us-versus-them camps ever resulted in a peaceful solution?

The loser label certainly doesn’t describe the gentle, sixtyish woman with her hair in a bun who said to me this week in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery: “I support these people. They’re peaceful. I’m part of the 99 per cent, but I can’t stay here.” She was briefly visiting the Occupy Vancouver site to give food to a young homeless man in dreadlocks, who was living in a tent with his dog.

Such dismissive attitudes don’t consider the Vancouver pediatrician who told me, over a client lunch at Shaughnessy Restaurant, that he had wanted to join the Occupy Vancouver movement and “felt like throwing something” on its first day. These labels ignore people like “Raven,” the young man in a wheelchair with long black hair and bright eyes, who provides on-site security at the Occupy location and approached me this week with warmth and kindness.

And what about all the members of the public who have donated books to the Occupy camp library, the ones now organized in a tent on multi-shelves with categories like “Hegel,” “Analytical Philosophy,” “Sociology/Anthropology,” “Ecology,” and more? Are they losers too?

That’s one of the huge things wrong with our local Occupy scene: too many decision-makers are not looking beyond labels and minor infractions. There’s no committed attempt to understand the movement and its motives and discover what benefits it could offer regarding new approaches to housing, street youth, and many other issues. The Occupiers’ genuine search for a new way to conduct business and relate to the earth and others has devolved into an age-old stance of name-calling and enemy-making. It’s far easier to demonize a supposed foe than bring empathic listening, on both sides, and try to understand each others’ wants and needs.

This week, while I stood on the sidewalk by the Occupy tents in downtown Vancouver, making notes in my tiny pad, a middle-aged, well-dressed man stopped to tell me that he had moved from New York City to the Vancouver region after 9/11 and now worked in the local financial world. Without prompting, he gave his view of how our local Occupy scene compared to its Wall Street counterpart. He saw these main differences:

  • ·“In New York, the NYPD is trying to find solutions,” he said. “Here, the police aren’t interested in solutions.”
  • ·“In New York, the best minds in business are trying to find solutions. Here, where business is second-string, they’re not interested in solutions.”
  • ·“In New York, they’re [Occupy Wall Street] getting help from Madison Avenue guys. Here, the market is too segmented. They need to make it clear what they want.”

Whether you agree with his perspective or not, the Occupy Vancouver issue is no longer about democracy, free speech, and creating new ways to address social ills, but about a sudden fixation with law and security. (Think: fear = riot.) With the upcoming municipal elections, winning votes and appeasing public fears and perceptions, however skewed, take precedence over truly listening to people’s needs and visions and seeking win-win solutions.

Let’s stop the double-standard treatments. All of us who have participated, at any level, in Occupy Vancouver, deserve respect, whichever side we’re on – and there are a lot more than two.

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November 12, 2011 at 8:34 pm Comments (0)