Time and the Occupy Movement

At 7pm every day, Occupy Vancouver holds their Daily General Meeting on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery. There is a marquee-like covering from Canadian Tire, a full sound system and mircophone, a number of computers and a mixing desk. In one corner, a member of the media committee Livestreams the proceedings onto the Occupy Vancouver website.

The most striking thing about the Occupy Vancouver movement, in comparison to so many protest movements I’ve seen in Australia, is the sheer level of organisation that has been achieved so far. Rather than the group of idealistic hippies and angry Socialists I was expecting, there is an impressive and surprising level of coherence and direction to this movement. I can’t comment very far on the Occupy Movements elsewhere because I haven’t seen them, but from what I’ve read, procedural organisation despite the circumstances seems to be a common feature, despite what the critics have been saying.

The meetings adhere to an agenda and are minuted. They follow procedures that have been implemented by consensus and are unforgiving to those participating out of process. The people involved are, for the most part, intelligent and articulate, passionate but succinct. There are working groups and committees covering everything from media to infrastructure to security: issues are worked through in the appropriate group, responsibilities distributed, and proposals devised and taken to the GM to be voted on. As everything is based on consensus, with over 90% of the group needing to agree to a proposal before it is passed, the meetings usually pretty arduous – comically so at times – and frustration is common. What critics seem to forget, however, is that this is not unusual.

Political process takes time, whether carried out by middle-aged politicians in parliament houses, or by people living in tents in front of art galleries. The Occupy Movement has arisen out of a common feeling that something is very seriously broken. It appears to lack specifics because it’s going to take a while to figure out how to fix it. In the meantime, I for one am glad someone’s finally stood up to point out the obvious.

Fortunately for Occupy Vancouver, being Candians, everyone is being remarkably reasonable about it all. The police don’t intervene much, the movement itself has remained peaceful for the most part, and participants have been responsible and considerate as they can be. So far, unlike Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson hasn’t yet ordered anyone forcibly removed, though he has wondered out loud when they might finish up and move along. With elections coming along, and conservative challenger Suzanne Anton using the removal of the protestors as a major election platform, this may soon change, but for now everyone’s been allowed to stay. As a result, Occupy Vancouver has been granted the time and space to develop a level of coherence and organisation, something both Sydney and Melbourne were denied.

During the October 15th marches that kicked it all off, I remember thinking very clearly to myself that this is important. What’s going on here, this stretch of people ahead and behind me, similar masses of people doing the same thing all over the world: this is important. It’s going to take a while, and it’s hard to tell how much of an impact people in tents will have, but it’s certainly reassuring that someone’s finally admitted we have a problem too big to be fixed by carbon credits, recycled toilet paper and whinging about politicians in the pub. At the very least, it’s a faster way to a solution than sitting by and watching it all burn down.

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