I joined the Occupy movement because I believe democracy is eroding in Canada.
More than ever, we live in society where large corporations influence government policy. A prime example is the reversal of the oil royalties in Alberta. The auditor general Fred Dunn was chastised by the government for reviewing and suggesting that the oil and gas royalty taxes be raised. There was an outcry largely led by the oil and gas industry, and province backed down from their plans to raise royalties. As a province, we lost an excellent opportunity for badly needed revenue to fund the social, health and infrastructure needs. Another example is the lack of regulation – no oil sands extraction project has been rejected by the Energy Resources Conservation Board despite conflicting environmental assessments and costs to community. Now, communities downstream from oil sands projects are adversely affected because of the waste that is produced and flow into the rivers. Dr. John O’Connor raised the alarm on the health concerns – specifically alarming rates of bile duct cancer. The province made allegations of malpractice for causing undue alarm when really they were, and continue to be, in denial.
In the Occupy Calgary meetings, we make our decisions using the consensus process. Everyone involved in the movement has an equal say regardless of income or age. It is a difficult process that requires patience and learning new ways of communicating. In the end, this is a better way of organizing because of the inclusivity.
We must remember that the foundations of our culture was laid through protest and civil disobedience. In the Bible, the Book of Matthew tells about Jesus driving the moneychangers out of the marketplace because he saw greed within the temple walls. Gandhi defied the salt laws imposed by the British by marching to the beaches and making salt out of seawater. Rosa Parks defied segregation by refusing to move out of the front half of the bus where only white people sat. Martin Luther King Jr got arrested several times and won a Nobel Peace Prize because of his opposition to segregation, violence, poverty and the war in Vietnam. Nelson Mandela was labelled a terrorist and imprisoned for close to 30 years for his opposition to apartheid. Democracy is not just voting at election time – it’s about the ability to express dissent and work to change the status quo. Dictators in South America and Eastern Europe and most recently the Middle East have fallen with citizens rising up and peacefully affirming their rights to a dignified life. Similar to those who participated in social movements discussed here, the people of Occupy Calgary have peacefully come together at Olympic Plaza to name injustice and organize for a better world. And like them, we will overcome opposition, whether it comes from businesses, governments, police, and military (what we call the 1%), every step of the way.
I thank the indigenous people for hosting us on their land. I thank the Mayor Nenshi, City of Calgary, and Calgary Police for respecting our right and determination to protest, to organize and work towards a better more inclusive world.
In closing, I leave with you a quote from Gandhi:
“First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.”