Occupy Toronto

As we entered the park, the grass was strewn with handmade cardboard signs, painted in every color imaginable, decorated with glittery hearts and shakily drawn globes. Tents were pitched along side of the pathway and people sat outside, covered in warm blankets, huddling together in conversation. There was no campaign of exclusion, no blank stares, no feeling of “otherness.” If you wanted peace, if you were respectful, you were welcome.

The gazebo, the hub for general assembly meetings, was filling up with people. Michael Stone, a noted psychotherapist, yoga teacher, Buddhist teacher, author and activist, would be speaking in a matter of minutes. Chalk drawings littered the floor, signs with various messages were propped up against the gazebo, including one denouncing the Keystone XL Pipeline. A young boy wearing a woolen hat sat on the ground, drawing circles in chalk, while holding a small saucepan (presumably with his dinner in it) in his left hand. I sat on the floor in the gazebo, joining a circle of men and women eager to hear Michael speak.

As Michael spoke, eloquently and beautifully, we echoed. The people’s mic rung out into the air, carrying his words beyond the gazebo into the surrounding tents of occupiers. The people’s mic is a reminder of the sacredness of sound, of the fact that one human voice can be carried through the voices of others. We didn’t need a sound system. In the chaotic heart of the city, where towering buildings left their lights on at night, we sat in relative darkness.

After the talk, people were encouraged to ask questions and exchange concerns. Ideas of creating a safe space for women were exchanged. A young gentleman reminded occupiers of maintaining a drug-free, alcohol-free camp. An announcement was made about daily morning meditation.

A young woman with flushed cheeks raised her hand to speak.  She had a day job and no one at work understood what Occupy was all about — that the lack of a clear message made it difficult for people to back the movement. Another girl, with a sunny disposition, responded with a simple word. Love.

Love. An answer that may cause some readers to roll their eyes. An answer that is no longer “good enough.” Since when did this word become so cliche that it no longer has meaning? Since when did we de-legitimize love as a cause for action? This perhaps, is one of the reasons why Occupy exists. In our materialistic society, love is reserved for Valentine’s Day cards and love songs. It is no longer the driving force of our every day actions and interactions.

As I sat there, listening to the concerns and responses of a diverse group of occupiers, I noticed a large tapestry on hanging on one of the gazebo’s walls. A First Nations tapestry depicting a wolf. Throughout my brief tour in the camp, respect for First Nations was apparent. From the sacred fire to the handmade medicine wheel outside the media tent, occupiers seemed to be aware of the fact that they were already occupying occupied land.

When we left the park, a group of young men were assembling a yurt, under the dim glow of a lamp post. A docile dog was sleeping under a tree. Someone was playing a drum. The lineup for hot potatoes was growing longer.

The sense of community was undeniable.

Regardless of the varying political and religious beliefs of the occupiers, they are united by their deep belief in changing the world. The idealism that I thought had died with the ’60’s was revitalized by bright, passionate men and women– from grandparents to students. There were occupiers who were alive with John Lennon was murdered. There were occupiers who were born after 9/11, like the little boy I saw. Occupying grandmothers came out to sing. Some of the occupiers are homeless. Some occupiers have jobs. To limit the Occupy movement to one political party or generation is to miss the point all together.

When Occupy Toronto was evicted, I watched footage of a guitarist singing to a police officer. I heard an elderly occupier talk about securing the safe transportation of hundreds of books from the library yurt, emphasizing the need for non-violence. I watched a young man, wrapped in a multicolour striped blanket, walk up to a line of police and place a yellow tulip on the ground in front of each officer.

The Occupy movement has not been evicted. A movement cannot be evicted. The very word “Occupy” has new connotations now. It has entered our collective consciousness.

No matter how you feel about it, the fact is, you’re talking about it.

Is it idealistic? Yes. Is it non-violent? Yes. Is it possible? It’s already happening.

Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

–Martin Luther King Jr.