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Occupy Toronto: We Know What We Mean (Even if We Haven't Said it Yet)

I hope Occupy Toronto and other protests resist the production of a white paper. I hope that we wait to articulate our demands. Morality will not so easily be policy-wonked or shoehorned.

I've just come back from St. James Park where Occupy Toronto and the 99% is in full-swing. Entering off of Jarvis/Adelaide, I passed a logistics table, a library, a legal tent, a medical tent, a 'club' for dancing and a sacred space for prayer and sitting. When you come, you'll dodge curious TV crews and lots of critical debate. There are whiteboards and chalkboards where you can find out what's needed, who to contact for what and a schedule of upcoming activities. It is a marvel of conscious, self-organized organization.

The 99% are sticking to their principles: active, critical and persistent resistance. (I suppose that I am supposed to interject 'peaceful' into that list, but if you think that resistance to the 1% equals violence, you have no idea what's going on here.) What is happening here is far more potent than throwing Rob Ford-like sucker punches at the most vulnerable. Go listen to the critical debates happening in self-organized groups, listen to the joyful singing and dancing; heck, sit down and participate in mindfulness sitting for integrity, justice and fairness.

The Occupy chain of events are a response to the moral challenge of our time: a civilized answer to gross greed, avarice and mean-spiritedness. These have infected our private and public lives as wars without an end; the financial meltdown, the hunger, the student loans and the desperation among other ills. It is no accident that before he wrote capitalism's sacred text, The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759). Another founding father of capitalism, Alfred Marshall, advised that, "the desire of men for approval of their own conscience and for the esteem of others is an economic force of the first order of importance." Wish it were so, Al. Wish it were so. Squarely facing the moral question of a fast-rising Canadian income gap means social tension, according to the Conference Board of Canada. And why shouldn't it? We've taken our fair share of hits to the chin. We are the 99%. Everyone knows what that means.

Joe Warmington of the Toronto Sun calls Occupy Toronto events a "grievance convention" and wants to know how come the 99% don't know that Canada is a great place to live. Is there some other utopia we seek? If so, which one? "Which one would provide economic justice, fairness, equity and prosperity to all? And would this utopia embrace protests like the one they organized so well here Saturday? Is that standard set by Cuba? North Korea? Iran?" Cohesive criticism of an unjust and unfair economic system warrants comparison to the current Iranian regime. Not very comforting, but not very surprising either. We are the 99%. Everyone (else) knows what that means.

I've heard over and over since resistance coalesced (first in Zuccotti, and now globally, ) that Occupy had better come together around a list of demands and policy initiatives, a so-called white paper. And fast. But Occupy has resisted this fencing in. We refuse to be policy-wonked, shoehorned and mismanaged any further. We know from hard won experience that lists include some but exclude others. Once we have a list of demands, these can be co-opted by politicians (pro and con) for their electoral ambitions. In terms of that dirty word accountability, it would be too easy to disavow culpability around any particular demand. We've seen zero accountability in the States around the bold-faced deceptions that led to two wars and the selling of securities designed to fail. In a genius rhetorical move, Occupy has offered a list of demands. "There's a push, especially in the media, to define the Occupy movement" so writes the Toronto Star.

It is far too soon to label the Occupy event as a movement. We've been at this rodeo at least since Reagan, Thatcher, Mulroney and Harris. The use of the word 'movement' to describe what is happening makes it easier to demonize the critique and suspect its motives. The challenge is more fundamental than any white paper could address. Morality, too, will not so easily be policy-wonked or shoehorned.

We all know why people are camped out in the park overnight, in the rain, wind and cold. And, make no mistake, it is cold out there. We know why they've camped out in Manhattan's Zuccotti Park for four weeks. Occupy Wall Street says it "is leaderless resistance movement with people of many colours, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%." Wealth and income disparity is the thread that has woven these events into the same fabric no matter the racial, ethnic, gender, sexuality or any other line that can be drawn. That is how such different groups (the seniors and students, the Buddhists and Christians, the socialists and the Liberals, the queers and the straights, etc.) have found common ground enough to inspire self-organization. We are the 99%. Everyone knows what that means.

I hope Occupy Toronto and other Occupys resist the production of a white paper. I hope that we wait to articulate our demands. I hope that we don't surrender to the need to make a presentation at Sussex Avenue, Queen's Park or Toronto City Hall. As soon as we do, I know that the Toronto Sun, Stephen Harper, Rob Ford, Bay Street, Wall Street and the entire 1% will try to pit us against a mom who needs daycare or people who ought to have access to health care and medicine. We are the 99%. We know what that means.

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