Occupy Toronto leaderless, unfocused but hopeful

TheStar.com – business
Published On Tue Oct 04 2011.   Dana Flavelle, Business Reporter

It’s partly an anti-business protest, though the chief spokesperson is a college business student.

Their symbolic target is Bay Street, though they plan to hold their events in a park so it doesn’t tie up traffic.

They’re not sure yet what they stand for. But they know they want something better than this. And they’re going to meet Friday to figure out what it is.

This is Occupy Toronto, a movement inspired by Occupy Wall Street, a self-described leaderless resistance movement for people of all gender, race and political persuasion.

Police have arrested more than 700 Wall Street protestors since that occupation began Sept. 17, mainly as they marched toward the Brooklyn Bridge Oct. 1.

The Toronto group is one of dozens that have sprung up around the globe since then.

They plan to launch their own version on Saturday Oct. 15, which they call a globally coordinated day of a protest that’s expected to continue into December.

The Toronto organizers acknowledge Canada doesn’t have the same problems that sparked the ongoing protests south of the border in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park.

“In America, you have the foreclosure crisis, the bank bailouts, massive amounts of unemployment and the Wisconsin union destruction,” said Bryan Batty, a 25-year-old college business student and spokesperson for Occupy Toronto

But Canadians have lots to be mad about, including the government’s growing debt load, high youth unemployment, and environmental destruction by big forestry and oil companies, he said.

If the movement seems unfocused that’s because organizers says it’s going to be up to “the people” to decide what counts.

At general assemblies, beginning this Friday in a downtown Toronto park and continuing throughout the “occupation,” participants will meet and talk and share their concerns and educate each other.

The theme, if there is one, appears to be corporate greed.

As one Occupy Toronto supporter put it in an email, the Canadian government is in debt, bankers have been allowed to run amok, and the average Canadian is paying the price.

“We the people are tired of living with no hope,” Gregory Kane wrote. “Perhaps the entire protest, the entire “occupy” movement is simply about gaining and spreading knowledge and joy. What else do we have to live for?”

The fact the movement lacks a leader or specific goal is part of its appeal, another supporter said.

“It’s everyone’s movement. Everyone has a chance to be heard,” Sarah Jensen, a 28-year-old college student in Barrie, wrote in an email. “I’m fighting to end poverty. I’m fighting for good jobs. I’m fighting for equality. I’m fighting for people to care about each other and their country. I’m fighting for the environment. I’m fighting non-violently for a better tomorrow.”

The Wall Street protests were inspired by Canadian anti-consumer magazine Adbusters.

Editor in chief and co-founder Kalle Lasn said he’s been calling for this kind of protest movement for 20 years.

It’s finally happening because people are angry with the financial fraudsters on Wall Street who created America’s economic mess and largely went unpunished, he said in a telephone interview from Vancouver.

And the grassroots movement in Egypt last spring showed people how they could use Facebook and Twitter to get huge numbers of people out into the street “to vent their rage,” Lasn said.

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