Saturday Night at Occupy Vancouver

On my way to Saturday night Occupy Vancouver, after my last Writers Festival session, I stop for pizza on Granville Street. The cops and the clubbers are out in force and the street is blocked off to traffic, as it seems to be every weekend. I’m unlocking my bike, pizza slice in hand, when a guy hanging around out front glances at me. He’s young-ish, mid-20s maybe, scruffy and wearing black – a leather jacket or a hoodie or both, I don’t quite remember. He looks again, longer this time, and circles around, trying to be inconspicuous.

“You’re gorgeous ‘ey,” he says finally, sheepishly but direct. I don’t know how to react so I give him a deadpan sort of expression and finish unlocking my bike, then ride up Granville towards the protest.

Occupy Vancouver is strange this late at night. The feeling is still jubilant but disparately so, closed in a way. I try several times to start conversations but all finish quickly, in solitary sort of silences. I feel like I’ve come too late to a party, when everyone’s done socialising, drinking and discussing, and are waiting around for other people to start going home so they don’t have to be the first.

A group play drums by the Food Not Bombs tent and a few people dance. One guy, in a plastic Roman helmet, facepaint and colourful robes shakes anything he can get his hands on that will make rattling noises. He moves like he’s been dancing so long he’s forgotten how to walk without a beat. Elsewhere, people gather on steps and ledges in quiet groups and gaze out at the cars and the street lights and the buildings.

I’m suprised by how much it’s grown in a week. I came down for the march on the 15th, and there were enough people circling the main streets to shut down the downtown area for most of the day. There were slogans and banners and cardboard signs and everyone seemed as amazed as me at the sheer number of us, stretching forward and back in both directions so far no-one could remember where it ended or began. People had come down from all over British Columbia – I marched alongside a group from Kelowna at one point, about a 5 hour drive away.

There were quite a few tents on that first night, but in the space of a week the number has at least doubled, to probably well over a hundred. In addition to the residential tents, I find an info booth and a tent handing out warm clothes. There’s a food tent, a tea tent, a media tent; even a library. I make myself a cup of tea in the appropriate tent and meet a guy called Tarek, who tells me to call him James because Tarek is too hard to remember. He wanders off.

Over near the drummers, a few people are busy constructing a large dome out of thin metal poles. They’ve just finished stretching a tarp over the top of one side when I walk over. I offer to help but a woman in facepaint and a pirate costume tells me they’ve already finished. She explains to me that it’s going to be a healing tent, with massage and reiki, and that the world is so wrong, the energy is wrong and people are greedy and the disabled are just misunderstood telepaths, that we were all telepathic once, that’s how we are truely meant to communicate, how we used to communicate before we were suppressed and lost the ability, that we’ve become closed to our true nature and ignorant and the disabled are a sign of that and that’s what’s so wrong with the world, that’s where we went wrong.

I light a cigarette and go sit on the steps of the art gallery by some other smokers, hoping my theory about cigarettes winning friends and conversations with strangers will hold true. They’re talking about something sensitive and I interrupt and it’s awkward right away. I decide it’s best to go quiet. Eventually they change the subject to something about banks. This is a topic I can ask about, so I do. They tell me that earlier in the day, a bunch of people went across the road to the banks to close their accounts and have a dance party. Not surprisingly, the police got involved.

“The Mic Check thing worked really well though, hey?” one girl said.

From what I’ve experienced, Mic Check is the human mic system popularised in the original Occupy Wall Street movement in New York. It’s a sort of human microphone, where a person shouts “Mic Check” to signify they want to speak. All the people around them repeat the phrase, then the person speaking speaks in short sentences, with the crowd around them repeating what they say so that everyone can hear. Essentially, the crowd itself becomes the amplification system.

“The crowd was able to talk to the police and work everything out,” the girl continued. “It was really good.”

Over at the info booth a guy tells me there are General Meetings at 1pm and 7pm every day. I go in to ask what Work Groups are, hoping they were some sort of volunteering system that would allow me to get further involved and find out more about this thing. They aren’t, but there are these GMs at 1pm and 7pm every day and I should come, the guy says. I nod and tell him I’ll see him tomorrow.

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