Sunday, October 16, 2011

Occupy Vancouver Report

We spent most of Oct. 15th at Occupy Vancouver. Because of commitments on our island (a wood-heated home, pets, and the children's various activities), we won't be camping in Vancouver, but we do intend to spend a day there every week or so. We had a few reservations about the event, because we'd had so many warnings from people re: police violence, black bloc violence, angry protesters, etc. But there was none.

A few people commented supportively on the fact that we had our kids with us, and they were far from the only children there (although the children's area wasn't very well-used). It was, I think a fabulous learning experience for the kids, and their level of engagement even surprised me.

Taliesin said on the way into Vancouver that he didn't really want to go, but then seemed to be fully participating, throughout (this is a boy who NEVER does things he doesn't want to do, especially if it might lead people to believe things about him that he doesn't really feel). He held up his "let us eat real food" sign to the cops' faces, waved and smiled at them. He sat and listened to speakers and meetings. This boy who sometimes hides in corners in a class of children came right out of his shell, spoke to strangers, crawled around people to get a better seat at the meetings, and afterwards told me that he "felt comfortable, there, like with those people who were loving and friendly. Like at Uncle and Ginger's wedding." It was kind of amazing to me to see this transformation. This is a boy who is utterly unconfused about who he is, in the moment. Sometimes it just takes us parents some time to get with his program.

Rhiannon has no comment other than to say "it was nice", but did make herself a lovely sign. No input from us, of course... That red printing says: "What if the world was one big mounten." I'm not 100% sure what she meant by that, but somehow I think I get the gist of it.

Well, you know... when you have such a picturesque husband, you have to expect him to become the focus of others' cameras... On the Occupy Vancouver website (Flickr page that updates with new photos on a regular basis) I found two great portraits of him, neither of which he remembers being taken! Thanks to Mark Kortum for this one:

We were so worried about the post-riot VPD and their new MRAD (Medium Range Acoustic Device, which can be used as a sound-weapon to disperse protesters), that we brought along ear-muffs and plugs for the kids, but there was no need, this Saturday. There was one arrest, which may have been much more harsh than necessary, of a woman who had driven her car up onto the sidewalk. I'm not sure what happened, there, so I'm not going to speculate. What I did see were dozens of police men and women lining the perimeter of the gathering, smiling, talking with each other and with occupiers, nodding at and thumbs-upping various signs, and waving happily at anybody who was nice to them. This reenforced my thoughts that the police, like bankers, lawyers, salesmen, etc. are also members of the 99%. I used to think they might not know it yet. I'm now reminded that many of them actually do.

The group was so diverse. A friend mentioned to me that "the vague people they have on CBC are really discrediting the movement", but that is obviously not for lack of intellect at the gatherings. This crowd of an estimated 5000 seemed to have a high percentage of intellectually inclined people, and there was progressive, productive discourse going on everywhere, between people of all ages, genders, political leanings, and walks of life. Click on the photo above for a closer look. 

Cooperative games abounded!
So did less cooperative, but equally thought-provoking games.

People had many important things to say, both on and off mic. The mic was open to everyone, and the crowd was interested, engaged, and kind. Conversations around the occupation ranged from all the many various political and societal issues that brought people here, to the future of the Occupy movement, to how to maintain peace with cops and other protesters, to where to find a toilet, etc. etc. etc.

And we got to spend a little time with our friends, too! We saw at least 15 Bowenites there, though I didn't count. (Yes -- sign-sharing was all part of the process...)
Leaving the site? Drop off your sign! Need a new inspiration? Pick one up or make a new one at the sign-making station!!

The signs were diverse, and some bordered on threatening; but among the human interactions the message of love and respect was pervasive. Among the efforts to create harmony and happiness were the many committees formed (see a current list, here), and the infrastructure set up, staffed, and maintained by volunteers. There was food donated and distributed, a children's area, various sound-equipment areas, donated port-a-potties (which were sadly already overfull by Saturday evening, awaiting pump-out on Monday), a medical tent, a media tent, etc. etc. Here are some photos:

We went to donate some earplugs to the medical tent and found a small lineup of people, a woman being treated for an injured knee, a growing collection of supplies, and a couple of very good people putting their skills and compassion to good use as they ran the operation. We will not be without doctors in the new reality!
And our spiritual needs will of course also be looked after. Click the photo to enlarge and read the signs.

This is (a terrible shot of) the media tent. There are people diligently documenting the occupation, and they continue to put in a LOT of work, as is evident just from looking at all the resources at


General Assemblies: GA's. 3 per day, at noon, 4PM and 7PM. There is an agreed-upon set of hand-signals for the Vancouver Occupation, and even if you think you are an unknown bystander standing out in a crowd of 5000, your opinion matters. Your fingers wiggling in the air means you agree. Your rolling fists mean you have a related point you'd like to add to the conversation. Your thumbs down means you disagree but will not stand in the way. Your crossed fists means full block; you'll leave the movement if the proposal goes ahead. We work on consensus, and YOUR VOICE MATTERS.

We participated in the pre-GA meeting, on the other side of the Art Gallery. There were a few friends in the group, as well, and we felt good to be in good company. This is where the hand-signals were discussed, refined, and agreed upon. There was no policy discussed, here. Just how to make the GA and occupation successful, inclusive, and peaceful. I was worried that the kids would be bored by this meeting, but Tal, at least, was captivated, and sat totally enthralled, soaking in everything that was discussed.

This man (ashamedly, I've forgotten his name) brought his "decentralized sound system" to use. It involved transmitting sound via radio to many different tuned-in ghetto-blasters, which were carried into the crowd by participants. I liked the idea in general, but as he spoke, I realized that it is not at all decentralized sound. It is, in fact, particularly centralized, as the voice of the one person with the mic booms out across the crowd, and no other voices are heard at all. I far prefer the human microphone system, where the speaker shouts 2-5 words at a time to the group, and those who can hear shout them back, thus amplifying the sound for everyone else. It's a very organic method, and when we participated in it we were much more aware of what was being said (because we repeated it ourselves, word-for-word), and we were much more engaged in the discussion. Also, unlike electric-amplification, where a person can speak as long as s/he wants, the forced brevity of the human microphone encourages a great clarity of thought and purpose. I can see that, for speeches such as those presented between the GA's, the sound system can be a benefit. However, for GA's and other group-participation purposes, the human microphone is still it!

As the evening got cold we had to head out for the last ferry home to our (cold) wood-heated house and hungry animals. We will not be camping in Vancouver. 

In fact, after having been actively engaging in the city for 13 hours, we were REALLY grateful to have a warm and soft bed to get home to. But we're also very glad we went, and I think we're all looking forward to our next day, there.

Thank you, everyone, for this wonderful first day of a beautiful new way of living! We'll be back again in a few days!


  1. Emily. We love you. You are the best. N + K, far away.

  2. And we love you too! Even when you're far away... Happy almost-birthday, Lily! We can't wait to see you when you're home again!


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