Friday, October 28, 2011

Camping at Occupy Vancouver

I've often felt guilty for being a daytime-occupier -- just dropping in for visits, getting reports from Markus (my husband) who works nearby, and stops in to listen to discussion groups, etc. sometimes during the days he's there. I felt like I should be there overnight, too, if I wanted to really support the thing -- and I do! So off we went, for one night only (my parents generously look after our animals, but we do have a wood-heated home, here, and there is no way I'm going to allow it to mold away in my absence by spending too much time off-island). It wasn't as amazing as I'd hoped, but I'm still glad we went.

Our Experience
The kids and I arrived when it was dark, and Markus had already spoken to people from the tent committee about where to put our tent. They even brought in pallets for us to set up on (to keep drier). Then we set our camping gear aside, and were given a tour of the current grounds by Selena (I think!). Somebody from the fire department told us that they've prohibited more tents from being set up, but there was no way were going back home at that time in the evening (too late for the last ferry), so we set up anyway. They never complained.

Our set-up: the 3-man tent we got for our wedding, with our flag draped over it, both for identification and for style! It also helped keep some of the street-light out. Inside we had a thermorest, a double-sleeping-bag for 3 of us, and a separate bag for Rhiannon, who monopolizes too much of the bed to be able to share with us. We had a plastic tarp waiting for rain, but didn't end up needing it, and donated it to the infrastructure tent in the morning.

I don't know what came over me, but I was extra shy, and basically avoided the two interviews Markus had told people I'd do. I also managed to forget to take photos of all the wonderful infrastructure that's cropped up in the past week. I'll blame in on dark-moon introversion.

*Note to non-lunatics: The dark moon (just before a new moon) is a time of low energy, letting go, and introversion. Many women's cycles naturally settle into a pattern of dark-moon menstruation; children are often noticeably quiet or irritable at a dark moon, and sometimes situations that might otherwise have an obvious solution can seem insurmountable.

Anyway, either I or Markus will hopefully get some better photos up here in the next few days. Among the great new presence we didn't photograph were a library, including a children's section (Rhiannon was thrilled!), a tea house, a dishwashing tent for the free food provided (by donations to) Food Not Bombs, a spiritual/creativity dome (in progress), an art-tent for sign-making but also for other inspired work, and a tent over the main stage on the steps.

There wasn't much going on. The protest march which we'd hoped to participate in (Occupy Kevin O'Leary) never happened, at least in part because the VPD had over-prepared and sent out rather offensive-looking troops. None of us wanted violence or trouble, so we just didn't go. Others didn't go because there seemed to be nothing happening! The place had that slightly irritible, forboding dark-moon energy, and just wasn't all that exciting. Maybe Tuesday night was not the night to have chosen!

We had some veggie soup and rice from the food tent, and eventually just went to bed. As luck would have it, no sooner had all four of us taken off our boots and coats, and snuggled into our very cozy little tent, than a lovely music gathering began, outside. We were too tired to join, so just lay there listening to the drums, guitar, klezmer accordion, and random conversations of passers-by until finally exhaustion won out over city noise and lights.

I must say we had a hard time sleeping, though. We are used to a home where the only night light comes from the moon, and our far-off neighbours are also quiet. Sleeping between the well-lit Vancouver Art Gallery and one of downtown Vancouver's main thoroughfares -- never mind that it's also currently an Occupation -- is rather a different story! The noise of people passing by on foot, and in vehicles was constant, and the general rumbling of the large city was felt as much by our bodies as by our eardrums. But the light was something else! Markus and I probably checked the clock about 10 times in the 8 hours we lay in the tent, each time thinking that it was light outside, and then realizing that, no, it was still just the streetlights....   Ah we are so spoiled, here.

So in the morning we got up, managed to pack up our tent before it got too wet in the rain, Markus went to work, and the kids and I headed back for some breakfast. On offer Wednesday morning was porridge, chili, rice (leftover from the night before), fruit, and various breads, peanut butter, and juice. The fact that there were two meals my gluten/soy/egg/bean free kids could eat was pretty exciting! But Tal was feeling a bit out of sorts and declined the hot porridge in favour of the raisin-bread we'd brought along, ourselves.

Food Not Bombs receives donations of food and equipment, and volunteers serve the food using standard health and safety procedures. Occupiers are asked to help out by donating, and by helping with dish-washing, etc. You can see the dishwashing tent in the background of this photo. There is a sequence of bins that the dishes are washed in: dump waste-food into compost, then rinse off remaining food. Next scrub in hot dish-soapy water. Finally, rinse in bleach-water, and two successive rinsing buckets to remove bleach. The kids seemed pleased to help out, and Tal even managed to talk to somebody about the molecular structure of ozone (you just never know!)

Thoughts on the Value of Tent City
This experience gave me a lot to think about, in terms of the value of occupation in the global movement and the evolution of the revolution, so to speak.

The Occupation has of course attracted a large number of homeless and other marginalized people because of the availability of free food, free shelter, and (I think importantly) social support and acceptance. Inclusiveness being a large part of what the movement is about, it`s perfectly reasonable, and a good thing. Especially because these people need a voice. too. But it also means that many of 'the 99%' seems to distance themselves from the movement, when they look and see what appears to be a "squatters'" encampment.

There's also the issue of money. Vancouver spends a lot of money sending police, fire crew, and civic officers down to patrol the site, while these are not necessarily needed (Occupy has its own security committee, under the heading 'peacekeeping', at that webpage), and certainly not in the numbers they're present. This unnecessary expenditure angers taxpayers, who not only resent the money spent, but also seem to often assume that the occupiers are not tax-payers, themselves.

On City Caucus I read that CKNW's Bill Good stated: "Occupy Vancouver has been reduced to a handful of young people clearly out of step with mainstream society." While Mr. Good may be clearly out of step with the movement, I can see why he came to that conclusion. While we were there we witnessed a couple of outspoken people so passionate about their causes that all common sense seemed to have left them. (Guess who was being filmed by the news crews?) There were also a few people with various developmental or social problems, using the stage to voice their thoughts. And I wondered if it was just a mistake or a calculated effort that CBC was there looking for interviews at 8AM Wednesday morning, while most of the service tents (infrastructure, library, media, etc.) had not yet opened for the day, and only about 15 people milled around, in various states of sleepiness. Perhaps Mr. Good came out at the same time.

So how did Mr. Good get that idea? The movement is young -- most of us probably are in our 20's, 30's, and 40's, and with today's life-expectancy, that really is young. But we (and our children) have a future that I feel is worth protecting, and that's why there are millions of us around the world are working together to make the changes we feel are necessary. On top of that, many of those who are physically or circumstantially able to camp downtown are students, single people, unemployed, or homeless. Those whose particulars are more "mainstream" likely are not able to camp downtown, and come during the day, only. (I admit that this Mama felt rather hypocritical, getting up in the morning, packing up our tent, and sending Pappa back off to work at his corporation, while I took the kids for their weekly swimming practice. Welcome to upper-middle-class-white-inferiority.)

The question is: do we need to camp, to support the revolution? Obviously, the camping makes a clear presence, and keeps the movement front-and-centre on the main streets of our cities, and it's also ensuring that some of the social infrastructures and systems that will be a part of the change we're making have a space to blossom, right in the hearts of our cities. But I would argue that that blossoming has been happening in various small ways, already, and that perhaps we can keep a presence without requiring so many of us to camp out on the grounds of the revolution. We need a central place from which to feed and catalyze the revolution that's already happening; we don't need to centralize everything to the occupation grounds at the cost of our own wider communities.

I know that's a very controversial statement, and I'd be glad to have comments, here, on this. At the moment I feel that the benefit of the tent-cities is threatened by the image they're creating. The infrastructure is good and productive, and obviously a certain number of people need to be there to maintain and protect it during the nights, but I think it would be more productive for the rest of us to save our energy and time, and put more energy into the daytime occupation.

When I participate in the marches, the meetings, and discussion groups; when I talk to people about life and art and science and humanity; when I drop off a donation or wash some dishes at the food tent, or when I browse the interesting information in the library, I know I am making a difference. I meet many intelligent people who have many interesting things to say and inspirations to help build our new reality. It feels right. But in the early morning, listening to a handful of people with really nothing constructive to say, embarrassed for knowing that the TV cameras were filming this as the face of what many perceive to be a failed revolution, I couldn't say that my sleeping there had made any difference at all.

Our family (and quite a few others from this island) will head over to Vancouver this weekend again, and I know it will be meaningful and good. But when the day is done, I think we make more difference by taking the revolution home into our own communities than we do by sleeping on it in the loudness and the brightness of downtown.

After all, we're having an election here, too, and I can't vote for Vancouver councillors, whether they call us squatters or not, but I can vote for people in my own community, and that matters.

Information on Occupy Vancouver's Security Committee, from the Occupy Vancouver website:
The security committee is seeking volunteers for 3-hour shifts (9pm-midnight; mid-3am; 3-6am) and there will be a sign-up board on Saturday. More information about responsibilities will be available on-site.


Occupy Vancouver (O.V.) is a non-violent movement for Social, Economic and Political Change, officially starting from October 15th, 2011, and will adopt the following policy with regard to Safety,  Security and Civility Issues. 

In the case of: 
1: Politically Motivated Violence (eg. property damage). 

O.V. does not endorse any form of political violence. In the case of any politically motivated violence O.V. participants will, to the best of their ability, attempt to physically distance themselves from the incident and keep themselves safe. 

2: Personal Verbal Abuse, Personal Physical Abuse (actual or threatened). 

O.V. as a community and movement will not tolerate personal physical or verbal abuse, actual or threatened. It is the policy of the O.V. to advocate calm and peaceful methods to resolving disagreements. Additionally it is the responsibility of all O.V. participants to help maintain and/or restore a peaceful environment if need be. 

Everyone needs to feel safe and secure, in order that we "hear all the ideas, to make better ideas." “To be one, to be united is a great thing. But to respect the right to 
 be different is maybe even greater.” 

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