Some thoughts on the pending struggle at #occupytoronto

Much of me feels I shouldn’t even be at a computer right now – rather that I should be back at #occupy, participating in trainings and discussions about tactics of resistance in anticipation of the eviction of the movement from the park, the notice of which was delivered this morning at 12:01 am.

But, in reality, I had to come home – I’d gone down there on a whim, unprepared – without proper clothes or supplies, without my camera, and without anyone really knowing where I was. I also have other obligations to adhere to be places and see people, and those must be honoured also in the course of a moral life – even when it feels like a time of emergency.

The annoucement of the eviction notice brings the song I wrote last thursday into clearer focus. At the direct action training I was asked if I was “yellow” (somewhat averse to being arrested) or “red” (not averse to being arrested). No one even bothered to ask if I was “green” (very averse to arrest); I suppose nothing about my looks green with my scruffy hair and Palestinian keffiyeh. But the truth is, despite the hard words in my song, I am not already committed to defending the park with my own body, in a way that puts my own freedom in danger. But I have no excuses this time – I’m not a traveller or a visitor, I can’t simply say “this is not my fight” because it is. So I have to ask – what is my role in this conflict? I know which side I’m on, but in what way can I best serve the cause? I know that I am a musicien and a philosopher, but I also think myself a dissident and an activist. Are those identities in conflict with each other? Merleau Ponty writes that the militant understands things immediately, whereas the writer tries to understand things in general, even timeless fashion. But Merleau also writes that writing is a craft, a part of the struggle, and not fully distinct from more apparently “practical” forms of involvement. Moreover, my own work in body hermeneutics of political situations has demonstrated (to me at least) that involvement in praxis is a major theoretical tool for the writer to understand social movement. When I put it this way, things seem obvious – there is no contradiction between my identity as thinker, and my identity as activist – they are one in the same.

The park is inspiring – truly much more impressive than Liberty square in NYC. The signs are still shining brightly (if a bit muddy), the tents and yurts are strong. The ground is a little bit muddy, but straw keeps the worst at bay. The food tent is constantly providing food by donation to the protestors, people are speaking with each other, having discussions, training sessions are happening constantly. Things are happening! While I was there, Gordon Lightfoot was being interviewed – his child is down here, and she is spending the night here tonight. While I was quite close to him, I couldn’t hear his voice because he was speaking quite softly – but one thing I did hear him say when asked “do you see any similarities between this movement and your generation” (i.e. the 60s) – he responded “I’ve never seen anything like this before”. I think that’s quite important, and interesting, and apparently something being repeated by many people from the older generation who step by the camp – that this movement does not resemble the movements of the 60s, that it’s something new, something altogether modern and futural. The values of no-leadership, 99% – these are much less divisive in society than the old divide between the liberal youth and their conservative parents. This time it seems that everyone supports the values of the occupy movement, the only bad thing anyone has to say about them is the worry that their tactics are ineffective. But, when the evictions begin – this is where the tactics become effective – non violent resistance only works (according to Ghandi) if you meet two conditions. The first is people have to already agree with you, and the second is that you get your head smashed in for acting on this value which other people already in their conscience agree with. This is what politics was for Ghandi – not convincing people of new ideas, but eliciting them to act on ideas they already have. If people already agree with the #occupy movement, all that remains is for the movement to be violently crushed – and out of this use of political violence, it will rise up like a Phoenix ten times stronger, again and again, until significant concessions are the only way forward for the state to resume normalcy.

Last night I watched the livestream of #occupywallstreet while the police there raided and destroyed the camp in liberty square park. I felt very angry watching the eviction, but I did not feel that it was my fight – I didn’t feel a motivation to get on a bus and go down there. Occupy Wall street is to Toronto what Tahir square is to Occupy Wall Street – an inspiration. But, by extension, if Wall street does not represent my home ground, then Toronto does. Toronto is where I must defend, sumud, hold fast to the ground and resist: support the decolonization of Canada (the role of indigenous activists in the centre of this movement is inspiring and essential). Support the 99% against the 1% (despite myself certainly being, by privilege if not by income, part of the 1%). Undo the power of banks and big business over the Canadian state, and, eventually, move towards power structures that enact the interests of the people rather than the elite.

EDIT: Due to a court injunction, it seems the protestors will be allowed to stay in the park, at least until friday.

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4 thoughts on “Some thoughts on the pending struggle at #occupytoronto

  1. I don’t think the ineffectiveness of their tactics is the only reason to question the ‘Occupy’ movement, or even the most important one. I would still say the incoherence of the movement prevents it from being meaningfully evaluated on a substantive basis.

    On a personal level, I definitely advise against getting arrested. Western societies are getting less-and-less respectful of rights and increasingly authoritarian. An arrest record is probably much more of a liability today than it would have been in the 1960s. As it is, you probably have a file being assembled about you by various security services as a potentially troublesome radical, and it is hard to know what consequences that identification could have in the future.

  2. I’m a little hurt by the manner in which you continue call the movement incoherent. If you don’t spend time at the camps, or on their media, then are you not condemning it for being poorly represented in the mainstream media? Do you not think that the representation of the movement, or of any movement, by the corporate media will not reflect those firms agendas – which is to defend the interests of their investors. If you don’t have anything original or first hand to say about the movement, then it might be better if you didn’t say anything at all. If you don’t have time to understand the movement in a more authentic way, then I think the appropriate thing to do is not speak beyond your own understanding. If I want to hear that the movement is “incoherent”, I can hear that on the evening news. If you have a more interesting analysis, then by all means make it, but if you are just going to repeat what we hear everywhere, then maybe best keep it to yourself.

    On the subject of arrest, your advice is surely prudent, but the question is whether the relevant maxim is prudence or duty (or rather, duty to yourself, or duty to others). Everyone has to make their own decision, and there are other ways of defending the movement other than getting arrested. Maybe it makes sense to support those who are willing to get arrested, and to occupy the park in such a way that the police’s physical capacity is challenge, but personally try to avoid arrest.

  3. i am absolutely adverse to getting arrested for very concrete reasons. i am also fierce in my solidarity of those who have the resolve to defend the space.
    yet, our guns are nothing compared to their guns. i bet some cops are itching to use that sound canon we purchased last year for the g20 while the judge who granted the injunction likely doesnt want a small scale civil war in toronto as is seen in oakland, nyc etc.
    we will resist, symbolically, because that is all we can do and create new symbolic, liberated spaces. we have to be fluid and adaptable as conflict is inherent to the process and this is part of our discipline. i want to know: what is next if-when we are kicked out of the park?

  4. Paul Martin on the occupy movement:

    ““The fact is that the free market system works, but unless governments and people are constantly on the watch out for rampant inequality, unless they understand the need for redistribution programs, unless they understand the need to invest in education and better health care and a better environment,” Martin said, “then effectively the free market system will fall on its own accord.””

    http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/11/18/paul-martin-occupy-wall-street_n_1101886.html?just_reloaded=1&ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false

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