From the perspective of a university student, especially in such a dynamic and liberal city such as Montreal, it is difficult not to get excited about the “Occupy” movements. However easy it may be to dismiss the protests as confused, muddled, huddled, or any other range of adjectives to describe the lack of organization it is just as easy to understand the anger.
Unemployment of those under the age of 25 is frighteningly high with figures around 17% in the US, 20% within the European Union as a whole and the terrifying figure of 42% in Spain. Though we often discuss the bleak futures of college graduates in today’s increasingly competitive and demanding markets, the facts remain: people are having too hard of a time finding a job, and are really struggling because of it.
We are not the only ones being affected by the global economic downturn. As the MUNACA strike right here on campus reminds us daily, middle-aged people are facing lower real wages and fewer pension rights. For them as well as us, the dream of a comfortable retirement, especially in the United States, seems more and more out of reach. So who can blame those that are in the streets crying out for a more just and transparent system?
Last week I was in my native Washington D.C. and got a chance to visit a couple of protest hot spots. Having somehow been misguided, I was led to believe the Freedom Plaza protests were the ones part of the Occupy movement. When I was told this was actually Stop The Machine, a long planned, anti-war, financially backed project, it shed some reason on why I found the crowd to be mostly aging hippy types and Vietnam war veterans. Though the moonlight drum and dance circle was quite nice.
The actual, and now global, Occupy movement had chosen McPherson Square, a classic for protesters for it’s proximity to the White House and business district, as their occuplaza. Here I found more of the signs and slogans we’ve grown to know and love over the past few weeks: “We are the 99%”, “People not profits” and my personal favorite, “I love every one of you whether you like it or not”. Some were giving out food and water, discussing projects and actions, or hula-hooping barefoot on the grass.
Pleasantries aside, these people are motivated and it shows. Whether it’s spreading the word via facebook or twitter, stopping rush hour traffic in downtown DC, or sleeping on the cardboard signs they brandish in the face of the police all day, willpower is abound downtown. Be it to protest against the greed on Wall Street, the influence of lobbies in DC, nuclear power or environmental negligence, all causes can be found amongst the occupiers of not just DC and Wall Street, but across the globe from Montreal to Tokyo.
None of them deny being diverse in their reasons for protesting and most will fess-up to the lack of organization within the movement, but something should be said for their argument of “beauty in diversity” and their willingness to tough it out on the unforgiving squares of the world’s metropolises. History has shown both great good and great evil rise from social and popular movements, so it is always important to take them seriously. However, and as is reflected in popular opinion, the fundamental message here is good. In the words of the Economist, it is a fight against “deep-seated grievances” for more “openness and freedom”.
Literally a block away on Pennsylvania Avenue (yes, like the White House) was Taste Of DC, a festival bringing out a collection of notable restaurants and bars of DC and setting up stands where people can “sip, savour and celebrate on America’s Main Street.” If the location, right next to two serious protest groups, wasn’t ironic enough, the whole thing was sponsored by non-other than US banking colossus, PNC Bank. Though I can see how this could be taken as an insult to the people living night and day on the nearby squares and plazas, the bright orange and blue basketballs they were giving out served as a good distraction. The look on the smiley employees’ faces as they gave out the goodies seemed to say: “Call it even?”