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Occupy or Decolonize?

Heading Toward October 15

by Joseph Jones

Occupy or Decolonize?

The Saturday planning meeting for Occupy Vancouver on 8 October 2011 started off in a jam-packed and already stuffy basement room underneath the W2 Media Cafe at 111 West Hastings. In the event and afterward, the understanding of the nature of the meeting seemed to morph into something that organizers chose to start calling a general assembly.

After only a few minutes, the meeting halted for a move upstairs to the Woodwards atrium because of the unanticipated hundreds of people who showed up. Quite a few of the later arrivals never made it into the underground room.

Before the shift of location, prearranged primary moderator Sarah Rose Edwards Noel declared a planning focus on legalities, media, food, and kids — and stated that discussion of "causes" would not be on the agenda.

The first item, legalities, featured Stefanie Ratjen of BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA). As Ratjen began speaking, a questioner intervened to ask: "What is happening?" Noel replied that event content would be figured out later on. Versions of this exchange recurred throughout the several hours of general public discussion.

Ratjen managed a mention of two BCCLA "know your rights" publications that could be picked up, said a word about the increasing trend toward use of private security in Vancouver, reported that alleged police statements about the illegality of face covering are not correct, and referred to the uncertainties surrounding "structures" in public space.

Then the whole event moved upstairs to the atrium and restarted before 1:30 pm. In that large high-ceilinged hard-surface space, the use of "human microphone" restricted all general communication to a series of short phrases shouted back again by those who could hear. Ratjen wrapped up with brief tips for observing police actions: document the absence of badge numbers, note date/time/location of incidents, record what is said, use cellphones, create an environment in which "the whole world is watching."

Next the moderator outlined a list of anticipated committees, some already existing, some suggested as additions: finance, security and safety, first aid and medics, infrastructure (location, permits, transport, toilets, accessibility), workshops to be "organic and inclusive" (civil rights, anti-oppression, using Twitter, avoiding violence), sound crew (bands, generator, permits), networking (locals, unions, radio stations, artists), live streaming, press and media, kid zone (said to be unique to Vancouver), food.

The forum then shifted format to question and answer and/or comment and response. The moderator made multiple unsuccessful attempts to close off general exchange in order to break out into committees and continue at that level. The flow of discussion meandered, but a handful of intertwined themes stood out — themes besides the large basket of specifics on locations, targets, demands, nature of enemy, mission statement, etc. (Right back to that very first question about what is going to happen …)

The public forum began with a remark about how Vancouver is already "occupied," and bookended with a suggestion that in local context a call to Decolonize Vancouver would seem more appropriate. The crowd's substantial rejection of the renaming proposal brought the general discussion to a close. Then a group surrounding the "podium" area in the center of the crowd broke into a brief chant of "This is what democracy looks like." Maybe connected, maybe not.

Very few Indigenous were present. An opening acknowledgment of unceded territory never traveled outside of the basement and thus went unheard by many at the gathering, perhaps even most of the attenders. It can be speculated that enthusiasm for persisting in use of the verb occupy ties in with desire to feel linked to epicenter New York and its offshoots. At one point a paragraph from a New York statement was offered as a possible "agreeable general message" in advance of further discussion by an on-site general assembly on October 15.

Related side note:  A weird Americanism emerged in the attempt to formulate a preliminary "general mission statement." The same three opening words as the Constitution of the United States — We the people … — was repeatedly used to refer to the October 8th gathering: "We the people is not everybody who is going to be with us on the 15th"!

Discontent with a system that favors the 1% at the expense of the 99% appeared to overshadow if not obliterate awareness of the colonial basis of the capitalism that has fostered such disparity — and of British Columbia's notably peculiar colonial status.

Much discussion went toward police and what could be expected from them. Organizers mentioned communication already held with police, their seeking of "permission" and "permits," intention to establish a family friendly atmosphere, and expectation that police will respect a "safe kid zone." Many in the crowd expressed a variety of discomforts: anticipation that police will crack down, concern for the categories of people that police oppress, the relationship of police to the 1%, and the possible actions of provocateurs. Organizers asserted that the "security and safety committee" would be left to deal with the issue of police. [The large paper sign-up sheet for the committee bore the heading Security and Civility.] In a different register, considerable other discussion circled around notions of "violence" and "nonviolence" and "peace" and "safety." Bridging the two topics was a thread of discussion on the appropriateness or not of making specific reference to "police violence."

If dear reader thinks this attempt at an account of the meeting is confusing, dear reader should have been there in person! Something is coming and no one is sure what or how. Tendencies vary, despite obvious and perhaps temporary dominances.

*     *     *

Addendum (3:48 Am Oct 11): A provisional "working statement" is now available on the Occupy Vancouver web site:

[begin cut-and-paste]
We, the Ninety-Nine Percent, come together with our diverse experiences to transform the unequal, unfair, and growing disparity in the distribution of power and wealth in our city and around the globe. We challenge corporate greed, corruption, and the collusion between corporate power and government. We oppose systemic inequality, militarization, environmental destruction, and the erosion of civil liberties and human rights. We seek economic security, genuine equality, and the protection of the environment for all.

We are inspired and in solidarity with global movements including those across the Middle East, Europe, and the Occupy Wall Street / Occupy Together movement in over 1000 cities in North America. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.

We humbly acknowledge that Occupy Vancouver is taking place on unceded Coast Salish territories.

We are committed to an inclusive and welcoming space, to addressing issues of oppression and discrimination, and to creating an environment where all the 99% can be heard and can meaningfully participate. We are also committed to safeguarding our collective well-being – including safety from interpersonal violence and any potential police violence.

PLEASE NOTE: This is a working statement that we know will evolve as #OccupyVancouver grows and flourishes. Our demands and our dreams are not limited to this statement as we have many ideas and solutions. As stated by #OccupyTogether, no one group, person, or website could ever speak for this diverse gathering of individuals. However, the General Assembly on October 8th reached consensus to accept these broad principles as a starting point and there will be further discussion on October 15th at 10 am at the General Assembly at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
[end cut-and-paste]

The formulation and adoption of this statement, toward the end of the meeting, was hard to follow and impossible to record in writing. My raw notes have this:

1 : Unceded Coast Salish territory
2 : Diverse experiences – unequal distribution of power
3 : Space free of discrimination — 99%
4 : Each other's safety including police violence

Four successive tweets of first voicer Harsha Walia offer this version:

#OccupyVancouver GA agrees to broad / evolving principles 1) acknowledge unceded coast salish territories #OWS #OccupyTogether (Pls RT)
9 Oct

2) come across diverse experiences 2 challenge unfair & unequal distribution of wealth & power in city & globally #OWS #OccupyVancouver
9 Oct

3) create space that addresses discrimination and where 99% can be heard #OWS #OccupyVancouver #OccupyTogether #OccupyWallStreet (Pls RT)
9 Oct

4) committed to collective safety, including from police violence. #OWS #OccupyVancouver #OccupyTogether #OccupyWallStreet (Pls RT)
9 Oct

(After an event, our only means to reach back are memories and recordings — including texts.)

*     *     *

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