The Foundations of Democracy: Dissent and Toronto’s Occupy Movement

Dissent is the foundation of democracy. When economic and social tensions escalate, people search for change. On September 17, 2011, in Manhattan’s Liberty Square, public tensions culminated into a massive protest in New York City, dubbed Occupy Wall Street (OWS). Inspired by the Arab Spring Movement, Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless movement fueled by collaboration, social media, and consensus (Tharoor 2011). OWS seeks to challenge the power of the one percent and stop globalization in the following ways: challenge the authority of multinational corporations, end the cycle of greed by banks, and to expose the role of Wall Street in the financial collapse of global markets (Occupy Wall Street 2011). Simply, the OWS movement targets social inequality (Poisson 2011a).

Occupy movements began emerging around the world, including Toronto’s movement, Occupy Toronto. On Saturday October 15, 2011, more than 2000 protestors gathered in downtown Toronto and marched through the financial district. Up to 100 protestors re-claimed St. James Park as an ‘indefinite’ camp site for the Occupy Toronto movement (Poisson 2011a). Like OWS, Occupy Toronto also asserted an anti-neoliberalist, anti-greed, and social inequality message (Poisson 2011b; O’Toole 2011) and further claims no central leadership structure or specific demands (Poisson 2011b). However, many people feel that the Occupy Toronto will mobilize people and work to develop alternatives to the status quo (Poisson 2011b).

The legal battle to evict the protestors from the park began shortly after its occupation. The city of Toronto cited by-laws which make it illegal to camp in city parks and streets (Brendon, Black, and Taylor 2011), while protestors cited freedom of expression and rights to assembly contained within the Charter of Rights in their legal battle against the city (Kennedy and Rider 2011). Susan Ursel, Occupy Toronto’s lawyer, argued that it was unconstitutional to evict protestors from the park because the camp itself is a form of the protestor’s expression (Kennedy and Rider 2011). Despite Ursel’s argument, Justice David Brown ruled that the occupation did in fact violate the city’s by-laws. The 39 day occupation officially ended on November 23, 2011 when Toronto police carried out the order to evict. The eviction process was described as “cordial” although eleven protestors were arrested for refusing to co-operate with police (Kennedy and Rider 2011).

It is easy to forget about the Occupy Toronto movement. Many people question its success (Strobel 2012; Wordsworth 2012). With public space long ago re-claimed by cities across the globe, it appears that the Occupy Toronto movement has stalled. Those who quit their jobs or left school to galvanize the movement have now returned to their previous lives.  One former media officer laments that he felt the movement was not able to achieve much (Scallan 2012). For some, the movement was a success because it made people more aware of global social issues (Kennedy and Rider 2011). Despite the differing opinions, it remains clear that many are not happy with the status quo and it is only a matter of time before the pressure builds again.

References

Kennedy, Brendan and David Rider. 2011. “Fight Over St. James Moves to Court.” Toronto Star, November 16. Retrieved October 22, 2012 (http://sfx.scholarsportal.info)

Kennedy, Brendon, Debra Black, and Lesley Taylor. 2011. “Occupy Toronto’s Encampment Ends Peacefully.” Toronto Star, November 23. Retrieved October 22, 2012 (http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/1091188–occupy-toronto-s-encampment-ends-peacefully)

“Occupy Wall Street.” 2011. Occupy Wall Street: The Revolution Continues World Wide. Retrieved October 12, 2012 (http://occupywallst.org/)

O’Toole, Megan. 2011. “Occupy Toronto Protestors Set Up Camp, Prepare for Next Step.” National Post, October 15. Retrieved October 14, 2012 (http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/10/15/the-occupy-movement-comes-to-toronto/).

Poisson, Jayme. 2011a. “Inside Occupy Toronto: Imitation or Revolution?” The Toronto Star, October 15, p. A1.

Poisson, Jayme. 2011b. “Occupy Toronto Protestors Settle in at St. James Park.” Toronto Star, October 15. Retrieved October 14, 2012 (http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/1070694–occupy-toronto-protesters-settle-in-at-st-james-park)

Scallan, Niamh. 2012. “Occupy Toronto Anniversary: ‘I Don’t Feel we Achieved Much,’ says Former Media Officer.” Toronto Star, October 19. Retrieved October 14, 2012. (http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/article/1274594–occupy-toronto-anniversary-i-don-t-feel-we-achieved-much-says-former-media-officer)

Strobel, Mike. 2012. “They’re Baaaack: The Occupy Toronto Mob is Back and Ready to Descend on the King Street Park on Monday to Mark the First Anniversary of Their Controversial Camp-o-thon.” The Toronto Sun, October 13. Retrieved October 22, 2012. (http://www.torontosun.com/2012/10/13/theyre-baaaaack).

Tharoor, Ishaan. 2011. “Occupy Wall Street: An Era of Dissent in America?” Time, October 12. Retrieved October 14, 2012 (http://world.time.com/2011/10/12/occupy-wall-street-a-new-era-of-dissent-in-america/).

Wordsworth, Araminta. 2012. “Occupy’s First Anniversary Draws Attention to Movement’s Lack of Achievement.” National Post, September 17. Retrieved October 22, 2012 (http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/09/17/occupys-first-anniversary-draws-attention-to-movements-lack-of-achievement/)

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