The tents are gone.
So’s the humming kitchen that occupied the Vancouver Art Gallery’s northwest corner, its busy chefs concocting gourmet meals to nourish those holding the space day after cold and rainy day.
So’s the comfy, couch-adorned, and well-stocked People’s Library off the main stage where facilitators and guest speakers — anyone really — could “mic-check” and get a chance to be heard while enthusiastic crowds, or a dozen people, or less, shimmied their hands to approve an action, gave it the thumbs-down or made circular movements with their arms to encourage verbose speakers to move things along.
Democracy at its most grassroots, exhilarating, I-can’t-take-this-consensus-thing-anymore best.
The believers and the not-so-sure kept returning for more than a month after that first, chilly, sunny Oct 15 day, which drew 5,000-plus participants.
It was the movement they’d been waiting for but never seemed to get because there’s too much apathy, because the issues are too cumbersome, because “the other side” is too powerful, because . . .
Until Sept 17, 2011, when Occupy Wall St took over Liberty Square, giving the developers’ preferred name, Zuccotti Park, the RIP.
And like a subdividing amoeba, it spread.
Despite the naysayers and name-callers who try to dismiss it all as an anti-social uprising of the drug-addicted, the stinky and scruffy, and the “scofflaw” (the choice description of a Vancouver Sun writer), who should “just get a job.”
Despite the nonchalantly inflicted violence of cops like John “Pepper Spray” Pike against sitting students.
Despite mainstream media’s futile clamour for clearly defined goals and leaders to spice up their soundbites.
Psychotherapist Michael Stone recounts conversations with cabbies who tell him all they could see were people smoking pot and playing on bongos.
So he tells them about the different kinds of people he’s spoken with, their creative ideas for sanitation he’d never seen before, that in New York City people used bicycle generators to power the Occupy encampment sans fossil fuels.
Small examples of the kinds of innovation the movement made visible that were lost in the ridiculous media babble about whether people could tent in public space.
“This movement counts for everything,” Stone says. “And I want it to succeed.”
His heart dropped when he saw police clearing the occupied spaces.
Occupy Vancouver’s last tented night at the VAG was dismal. Even as many methodically dismantled their physical community, the human mic-check system gave way to angry exchanges, the 2pm deadline to clear out looming emotionally large.
Very early on, one young man, as he sat on a makeshift sofa in a warm tent, told my partner that the Occupy felt like a real home with a real community.
They called it The Living Room.
Now, the VAG’s steps have been hosed down, the soil where the tents stood freshly mulched.
Now there’s a different calm from the one that prevailed when a community of no-longer-strangers committed themselves to change.
Hopefully, it’s the calm before a new storm of Occupy activity.
Stone says he’s optimistic, not hopeful.
“There’s always going to be resistance to change,” he observes. A clinging to the familiar, though it’s way past its due date.
With the Occupy movement now under siege, it’s time to figure out how to meaningfully occupy the food and banking systems, Stone adds.
Not to mention the political system.
“The biggest problem is Liberty Square,” Occupy Wall St organizer Patrick Bruner observes. “The biggest problem is the fact that people think that that’s where the occupation of Wall St happens. That’s not where it happens. It happens wherever you choose that it happens.”
It happens when people move their money into credit unions, like 14,000 Coloradans did. It happens when you get out of the car from which you’ve been safely honking your support for Occupiers and contribute your ideas for change.
There’s talk of holding a general assembly on the Peace Bridge across Niagara Falls, to show the communication happening among the various Occupy movements.
Like Stone, I have no idea where any of this is going. Like Stone, I am optimistic.
Unlike him, dare I say, I’m hopeful.