The disillusionment of a Vancouver Occupier

I have a number of friends who actively participated in Occupy Vancouver, one being Wes Kirk. We met in college, in the journalism program, and he always intrigued me with the originality, humour, wit and edge that he injected into sprawling feature pieces on social and political issues. He didn’t end up pursuing a career in journalism — too smart, methinks — but he wrote occasionally, and his zest for clowning the powers that be never faltered.

When news of Occupy Vancouver came about, I knew he’d be interested, and I was right: On Oct. 14, the night before it kicked off, he and his fiancee spent the Friday night making signs and packing up a tent. He saw OV as I think many of us originally did: as the local offshoot of a very important movement.

OV’s problems are very different from that of Occupy Wall Street’s. We most certainly have problems, but they’re not exactly the same as those of OWS’s — and anyone who can’t explain why shouldn’t be protesting in the first place, IMO. A few primary issues? The unfair distribution of wealth in Canada, the rates of child poverty in B.C. and the sobering figures on drug use and homelessness in Vancouver — especially, of course, on our Downtown Eastside.

But I digress: Wes quickly joined the press committee at OV, a job seemingly perfect for him. We kept in touch and he told me about certain frustrations but maintained an overall sense of optimism and hope nonetheless.

The optimism seemed to fade with each exchange.

On Tuesday night, he sent me this:

—–Original Message—–

From: Wes
Sent: Tuesday, November 08, 2011
To: Woo, Andrea

I’ve kind of had it. I’ve written press releases and then watched them be tortured to death long after their usefulness expired. I can’t send something out, that has nothing in it but facts, until it gets approved by everybody and the GA (at the awkward time of 7pm). And then all along they were writing up an insanely insane list of demands, which included free heroin, and proceeded to ‘leak’ it to the CBC. There are some things you just don’t even write down.

Occupy Vancouver has taken a fundamental turn away from the worldwide Occupy movement. Which may make sense, but I hate the city, so it’s not really my fight anymore. It reminds me why I stopped volunteering for the Sally Ann downtown and started working with animals. Several groups have broken off from the original press committee (which is essentially no more) to take on the role of PR, motivated by their fury over the “mainstream media’s” coverage of OV. Unfortunately they don’t know what they are doing, and don’t realize the media has been looking for crazy spokespeople all along.

It is true that many of the people that were initially supportive, and even helped organize it, haven’t been around. I haven’t seen Harsha Walia in a while.

Also, I am a political junkie and a big fan of the democratic process, which they are vehemently against. My arms are raised and crossed over that one. If you want Gregor to come down and respect your GA, don’t go to debates in churches and start mic checking. You get to ask questions at the end, people. And George W Bush did not blow up the World Trade Center.

On a personal note, I’ve dealt with a couple of members of OV’s press committee who were fairly helpful and some others who told me, basically, that they don’t give a shit about “mainstream media’s” deadlines. Speaking for myself, as a reporter at a major B.C. daily, I most certainly want to put OV’s voice into any story on OV I do. But if I can’t get anything by my print deadlines, it’s not making it in.

Thoughts?

16 comments

  1. As a journalist and a former communications officer for a non-profit, this highlights something that’s been bothering me about Occupy Vancouver. (I’ve attended several general assemblies.) It’s the lack of control of communications, with several competing voices, some of which say things that are counterproductive and alienating to the “98%”. My experience tells me that an organization like this needs to carefully control its media profile and message, keep the fringe elements to a minimum and make it absolutely clear to the world what the organization is and isn’t saying.

    Slavoj Zizek has written articles claiming that the Occupy movement’s lack of a clear voice and concise demands is actually a virtue, a media-age version of Ghandi-esque pacifism: refusing to play your adversary’s game. Watching Occupy Vancouver, I’m increasingly convinced that you have to “spin or be spun.”

    Right now, 10am on Wednesday, I’m concerned this is going to turn into a riot. It didn’t have to be like this.

  2. Great post. I’ve met quite a few of the “occupiers” and they have all been intelligent, polite, and serious about the cause.

    The problems have stemmed form the fact that they were too lenient of people with single agendas at the beginning which spiralled out of control, and the lack of structure prevented any real decisions or communication taking place. .

    As an outside observer it also seems that they have become so in love with the process of what they are doing, that they have forgotten that they are also trying to achieve something.

    And how fascinating that they are so defensive over “their” land that some are willing to turn to violence to protect it, they really are their ancestors sons and daughters aren’t they.

    I’m hopeful that many will realise that this particular fight is not one that they can win anymore and re-group, learn their lessons, and actually concentrate on making a change to society.

  3. To quote my brother, Mathew Kagis, from the Facebook group:

    “so many people willing to bail when the going gets tough. What’s the matter? You want a nice, easy revolution with non-fat lattes? It’s messy, ugly and above all HARD WORK. Get used to it, or go away.”

    1. It’s not a revolution, it’s an illegal dangerous gathering of anarchists, criminals and professional protestors, NOT representing the wishes of the 99%.

  4. You are all missing the point. Who are any of you… any of us… to judge people? When those very same people are the only ones to standup and dissent. You should all look through history, its always the same, dissenters always make people upset. Well maybe we should all be a little more upset. I was at that “debate”, just like a high school class president debate, the garbage that was coming out of the “candidates” mouth was only lip service. Every single person there knew it… We wanted to hear what the candidates said, not because it meant anything, but only because we all hope that one day they may speak some real truth, and offer some real solutions. The occupy people were the most interesting thing that went on there. I’ve never seen politicians sweat like that… shouldn’t they all be sweating a little bit more?

  5. Good post. I think it further illustrates how anyone with a bit of intelligence has left the protest. Without rational types it will devolve into nothing… just a minority of screaming nutters.

    The reality is that most smart people work at corporations coming up with things like iPhones and medicine that lets you live longer. The movement won’t go anywhere until they become the dissenters.

  6. I feel heartbroken about what’s going on downtown. Sometimes the Occupiers seem inspired, other times it seems they are deliberately alienating the people they want to support them. I’m wondering whether there has been much work on developing solidarity ties with organizations and people that really do want to support them – like the labour movement, civil society groups, faith groups and so on. I feel like they’re trying to create a “generation gap” rather than speaking to the real gaps that exist in society.

    Thanks, Andrea, for posting this. I’m going to definitely share it around.

    1. Like: CUPEE? the BCCLA? The Unitarian Church and every single community outreach organization in the DTES? those kind of ties? Done. Funny, none of that shows up in the mainstream media.
      Stop being spoon fed by what corporate media wants you to think. Go down to Occupy and see what’s going on. Intelligent, dynamic, passionate people are everywhere. Most people on the sidelines just don’t WANT to see them.

  7. While I don’t want to start an off topic flame war, does he really “hate the city”? If so, why does he live in it? Seems like a bright guy with an education. If he’s unhappy move and start over. It can done. It’s done all the time.

  8. I do hate the city, and I don’t live there. I was there to participate in the world wide Occupy movement. The city is a Yuppie magnet and it has the opposite effect on me, so I stay away. And the rent here is great. The city has the elected officials it has chosen to elect. Thinking that either the NPA or Vision is going to bring affordable housing to Vancouver is like thinking Darth Vader is going to put an Ewok sanctuary on the Deathstar. The idea was to change the political process, not shut it down. I’ve spent a lot of time at OV, and I’ve seen Adrian Carr being heckled while the Saxmaniac is cheered on as viable oppositon to Gregor Robertson for Mayor. Booing or jeering when Gregor says there are only 145 homeless people is totally apporopriate, but drowning out all other voices… not so much.

  9. I agree we are not the same level of economic despair as the USA so movement here is not as strong but watch out if global economic recession hits here as you might be out in the street protesting instead of laughing and judging. Also do some research on the global banking system and the true design of free trade and crony capitalism. It is designed to fail. I wonder how many people on the occupy live twitter feeds even know what interest is or fiat currency. I’m a businessman and I can see what is about to hit the fan. I say take down the tent city and rethink and plan and stay focussed as the internet will be used to share information in the revolution coming.

  10. I am from Occupy and I love this debate.
    I understand the concerns of this article and I can agree with them.
    First, I think that in any group there is always going to be some trouble makers and these people are the ones getting put forward by the media.
    I also think that it is silly to think that we can get organized and have an impact in only a few weeks.
    People have to come down to OV, participate in the discussion we are having and help solve the many organization problems we have.
    This is about your future too

  11. I feel compelled to correct something. The press committee and the people who were desperate to form a workgroup and start issuing demands were not the same people. David Malmo Levine, desperate to get his pot activist agenda front and centre, started a workgroup, as anyone is free to do, around the issue of demands. Many of us treated this news with dismay.
    There is a fundamental disagreement with how to deal with the media in general. Activists who have been involved in things like the Clayquot Sound protest say that engaging with the corporate media is a loser’s game. That the corporate media will only misinterpret and report as enjoined by their corporate owners, and we have seen that, for example when the Province blatantly misquoted and misinterpreted the BCCLA statement on using the VAG.
    The press committee had a mandate from the General Assembly to report on what was consensed upon at the GA and matters of fact.
    Speaking for the movement is serious business. I’m sure we made a ton of mistakes. The media committee is reorganizing. If walking away is the answer for you, then I wish you well. I can’t. Every time I want to I wonder when this type of chance is going to come again. It’s too easy to quit when you see other people getting their way, especially if it doesn’t make sense to you. It’s easier when you accept that nothing like this is ever easy. Stories we’ve heard from OWS have indicated that they have faced these exact problems.

    Oh, and as for cheering the Saxmaniac? Dude, it’s called being charitable. You think anyone (besides maybe 5 or 10 of the truly clueless) is going to vote for him? It’s pathetic. That’s why he’s supported with cheers. He’s deluded and homeless and everyone knows it.
    Adrienne Carr is part of the established political structure – voting for her isn’t going to change *anything* except exchange the rationalizations for the same-old. We can disagree on this and I expect we do. Just keep talking. Just keep engaging. Whatever you think there are people who think the same as you do.

    (Hi Andrea, I believed we chatted when I was press liaison)

  12. I agree wholeheartedly with: Dana Kagis,D,Mathew Kagis and lucas.

    I am proudly a member of the Occupy movement in Vancouver and find it sad that people are not talking/ reporting on the daily triumphs of OV. Every day/ night that I am on site I witness / experience inspiring interactions between occupiers, occupiers and everyday citizens, occupiers and the self identifying 1%. Extremely close to every socioeconomic background is represented @ OV. I witness them working together daily to ensure the health and safety of our fellow protesters, problem solving, and working towards the betterment of our community, city, province, country and world. I see a almost constant stream of exchanging of ideas/ ideals, healthy debate and citizen engagement.

    Yes, there are problems, which society doesn’t have them; the difference between OV and the world around it, is the community @ OV are not apathetic to the plight of others, our community, city, province, country and world. We are actively working towards solving issues that effect us all. OV is a microcosm of a world I want to live in.

    Instead of being arm chair critics, please, jump into the fray. It is, at times, beautiful, frustrating, joyful, sad and disillusioning and all together worth it.

  13. I have been very sad to see the disillusionment with the occupy movement. People dismiss too easily what they perceive to be chaotic, or irrational. We are so indoctrinated by capitalist values of rationalism, efficiency and hierarchy that because the occupy movement does not associate with the values it is deemed illegitimate. In our culture irrationality is sin, similarly, anything that is inefficient must not be valuable, and anything lacking hierarchy is simply implausible. A revolution, or movement based on these principles would simply replace our current system of oppression with new leaders. This needs to be a slow change that can only happen through inclusivity, education and patience.
    To judge the movement on those who are able to camp in the park is missing the point. Obviously, those who are able to take time off work, or who are not in school are bound to be more radical, fringe people. However, we should appreciate that there are people who are willing and able to keep the camp alive, rather than scorn them. These people should not be dismissed for drug use, or seemingly disruptive behaviour, as they are obviously the most disenfranchised by the current system. If we cannot dismiss their voices and presence illegitimate.

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