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Hey Protesters: Our Top 1% Differs From U.S.

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What does interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel, have in common with Phillip Brown, General Manager of the City of Toronto's Shelter Housing Support and 65 employees at the Hospital for Sick Children?

By analysing government documents I have calculated that they earn in excess of the $181,000 that grants them membership to Canada's demonized one per cent, that many participating in Toronto's very own Occupy Wall Street spin-off are directing their anger towards. By comparison, the top one per cent of earners in the United States earn closer to $300,000.

The Occupy Wall Street movement that has spread around the world with a series of protests has lacked a clear or consistent message and instead allowed the disaffected to seize the opportunity to speak out on the issue of their choosing. The clearest messages that have come out of the original protest on Wall Street focused on the "greed" of the top one per cent, the apparent insufficient taxation of the rich and the multibillion dollar bailouts of American banks.

It appears that grievances migrated to Canada with complaints about the top one per cent of earners and bank bailouts, as protesters in Toronto chanted, "We got sold out, the banks got bailed out" and "We are the 99 per cent". It's worth noting that none of Canada's banks were bailed out and in fact Canada's banking system has been praised as a model of stability for the world. Canada's top income earners are taxed at a rate of 46 per cent, compared to about 23 per cent for their American counterparts.

It's hard to imagine that those camped out in St. James Park seriously blame the interim leader of Canada's New Democratic Party, a municipal worker who dedicates his career to housing the homeless or a few dozen highly trained employees at one of the world's best Children's hospital for Canada's social and economic ills. Yet the imported chants and rhetoric that have fueled Saturday's march targeted these individuals, because of their incomes.

A handmade cardboard sign that lays near the path that enters St. James Park, now home to Occupy Toronto, reads "This Concerns Everyone." It turns out "this" is an apt definition for what is happening in Toronto and around the world.

While referred to as a movement, the 'occupy phenomenon' spreading around the world is poorly defined and lacks some of the key necessities that define social movements. The most glaring deficiencies, that are also significant barriers to success, are a lack of common purpose, and a resistance to defining specific target or demands.

A quick read of famous community organizer Saul Alinsky's seminal text "Rules for Radicals" would provide occupy supporters with perspective on the pitfalls of this 99 per cent vs. one per cent strategy while also outlining key conditions for winning. Four examples of Alinsky's advice that would come in handy to occupiers:

  • 'A tactic that drags on for too long becomes a drag. Commitment may become ritualistic as people turn to other issues.' (Occupy Wall Street began September 17th and has been a 24 hour a day commitment for hundreds of people since.)
  • Keep the pressure on. Use different tactics and actions and use all events of the period for your purpose. (The tactics and actions have remained largely the same.)
  • The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. Avoid being trapped by an opponent or an interviewer who says, "Okay, what would you do?" (No constructive alternative has been proposed by any of the occupy movements to date.)
  • Pick a target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it. Don't try to attack abstract corporations or bureaucracies. Identify a responsible individual. Ignore attempts to shift or spread the blame. (No target has been selected, instead abstract targets, ideologies and philosophies have been attacked. Occupy supporters are themselves shifting and spreading the blame.)

Occupy Toronto has benefited from an incredible amount of media attention. There is a clear willingness of media to tell their story, organizers just need to develop it. Picking a specific target, having clear demands and a plan will make it easier to keep the pressure on and find success before the tactic that has become the name and purpose of the movement; occupying, becomes a drag.