Can you Occupy Corner Brook?

October 25, 2011

Late last week I started to hear brewings of a group of people planning an action on Saturday in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement. My initial thoughts were skeptical: how can you make a movement about the gap between the rich and everyone else be relevant in Corner Brook? There isn’t any sort of financial core of the city, no large glass buildings to signify large corporations. Can you Occupy Corner Brook in the same way you can Occupy Wall Street?

So I stopped by the Occupy Corner Brook march and assembly on Saturday afternoon to see what they were saying.

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We met at the old City Hall building on Main Street at about 1pm with about 30 people in attendance. People were holding placards reading everything from “STOP legalized bribery in politics!” to “Jailterms not bonuses” to the slightly more vague ”We need info!”, recycled from the TDF protest last fall.

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After reading a letter from the Occupy movement about organizing in your own area (which awkwardly contained a lot of American references) we left City Hall, headed up Main Street, along Park Street and finished at the Majestic Lawn. If nothing else, it was gorgeous and warm and a great day for a walk, placard or not.

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After arriving at the Majestic Lawn (with some curious looks from West Coast Farmers’ Market shoppers) the group settled into a circle to hold a General Assembly. One of the big parts of the Occupy movement is that there is no leader — no one person leads the discussion, no one person comes up with the ideas, nobody is “in charge.” At the General Assembly, a form of democracy being used to create decisions at Occupations around the world, anyone can speak and decisions are only made via a consensus vote. During a vote, participants vote with their hands: thumbs up for “Sure, I agree with that”, thumbs down for “I’m not totally in agreement with this idea, but I’d be willing to go along with it if everyone else wants to” and arms crossed in front of your chest for “Naw man, this isn’t cool, I’m out.”

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At the General Assembly on the Majestic Lawn, a group of about 40 talked about the Occupy movement and the types of concerns it talks about: the gap between the rich and everyone else (the 99%), misspent public funds, governments siding with business and industry before people, and much more.

It was interesting to follow the train of conversation. While it started out talking big issues like those mentioned above, it quickly moved to planning. I got the sense that the group had a huge number of concerns and issues on their minds, something discussed at length by media outlets covering Occupy movements around the world. However, this group was quick to get down to business. They knew that they would have to try to educate people about these issues and (perhaps most importantly) how they relate to Corner Brook and everyday lives.

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Committees were struck to focus the efforts of the group: one to research the key issues and one for outreach initiatives (with everything from zines to teach-ins discussed on Saturday). Unlike most other Occupy groups around the world, there was no plan to occupy the Majestic Lawn for the night, so the group left with a plan to meet again soon.

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So, back to my skepticism from the start of the story. I now have a feeling that the way the event on Saturday played out was quite cool. I think that those who gathered for the march on Saturday all feel like something is wrong. Some people had a more definite sense of exactly what was wrong, along with ideas on how to fix it, while others probably just had a gut sense of wrong-ness in the world.

While there was no world-changing effects from this one assembly on Saturday, what it did do is bring these people together. Now they can get to know each other. Now they can start talking about the issues and now they can start learning. Even if Occupy Corner Brook just stays as a group that researches provincial, national and global issues and works to educate the local public about them, that’s pretty cool, but at the moment they definitely want larger change than that.

According to the Occupy Corner Brook Facebook Page the group plans to participate in the #Robinhood Global March on Saturday (meeting again at 1pm at old City Hall and heading to the Majestic Lawn), hold another General Assembly and then camp on the Majestic Lawn.

I can’t tell if this group is going to fizzle out after the trendiness of Occupy Wall Street dies off, or keep going as a local voice for global change. Either way, I’m really curious to see what happens.