We have had more than our fair share of messianic figures over the past 18 days at Occupy Toronto. St. James Park has become a spiritual occupation zone for some who give sermons at the gazebo, meditations, and impromptu livestream speeches. We have also seen collective leadership emerge through dialogue and participatory democracy. We’ve seen organizing in new ways. We are taking part in the beginnings of a new way of building a movement. We haven’t seen this before.
At Occupy Toronto we’ve seen yelling matches and worse. We’ve also seen hugs between strangers and a multitude of late night conversations; the kind that change your life. We are ready for something better, the messiahs, organizers, witnesses, and enjoyers of Occupy Toronto all know it.
Throughout all of this we have been collectively waking up. Many of us would say that we have been awake from a long time, but it is now that we are collectively, around the world, waking up. We are seeing the seasons through the lens of revolutionary change: Spring, summer, fall, and winter have taken on new meanings in 2011 as we rise up for change at the roots, which is shaking the branches at the top.
I have spent time at Occupy Wall Street, and lived at Occupy Toronto. I have been digitally involved through social networks, writing, and watching this rising global movement. Days from now I will be going to join in the movement that is burgeoning in Israel. I will be joining the vital struggle for self-determination for all peoples who share that space. I feel as though I am in several places, and I am. My heart is here right now, at St. James Park, but I haven’t forgotten my mission over there. It is part of this worldwide movement. It is part of the profound shift that we have sparked together. I’m not going anywhere. We are everywhere.
Incredible things are happening here in our tent city. We have occupied a space and given ourselves time. This space has allowed us to organize a near constant barrage of actions, which challenge the ills of our communities, cities, and world. We have begun the hard process of re-analysis toward understanding the roots of the oppressions that we face, and we have begun to take truly radical action to dismantle them. We have done this by engaging in relief work with our partners who are hungry, freezing, addicted, and facing a world in which our ability to take care of ourselves and one another is diminishing. We have also done this by establishing the basis for a revolutionary movement. We are facing down the daily assault on human rights, and building an essential new way of living.
As we collect our analyses and build a collective perspective, we are pioneering a new vision for a better world. It’s a vision that is being developed in the media tent, the logistics centre, the medical yurt, the hillside, and at our general assemblies. It is a vision that we find as we sit-in at banks and speak our minds at city hall.
We know a great deal right now. We know that capitalism instills a culture where profits come before democracy, sustainability, and even human rights. We know that racism, classism, sexism, and able-ism are perpetuated through our systems of education, communication, and law. We have the foresight to know that our relationship with our planet must be sustainable. We know that we want to participate in the decisions that impact our lives.
Representative democracy has ceased to represent anyone but those with the cash to pay for representation. We know that we have the will and ability to outlaw poverty and hunger and to create a new charter for our society that includes health and education as human rights. We know that all peoples deserve the right to self-determination, and that our society should facilitate each of us reaching our full human potential.
We know that the oppressions that we are facing down are interconnected. For example, we know that racism is reinforced by capitalism. In many low income communities of colour consistent divestment in infrastructure and education, and police brutality perpetuate high unemployment, hopelessness, and a lack of access to material wealth. Resources are hoarded by the few, never to be shared with the rest. That the status quo is fine is a lesson taught in our schools and reinforced by our media. We know better. We know that there is a deeper wealth in our communities. The wealth of knowledge and solidarity, and the wealth of vision and strategy to build something better is what we have. This is why we have seen fit to come together, occupy space, and take the time to rebuild our sense of a better world. We are beginning to understand that a total systemic shift is not only necessary, but within our reach. To be clear, we are on a long path. Genuine change comes through multiple means. We make reforms on the road to revolution, never taking our eyes off the prize, and never losing focus on the important changes that we make here and now.
Already, we have made enormous strides. Occupy Toronto has come together to establish very real agreements on the implementation of safer space for the movement. Through participatory democracy, collective work, and serious reflection we have found a collective desire to have a space that is free of abuse, whether it is verbal, sexual, or the abuse of substances, we have agreed to work against discrimination and marginalization, and we have agreed that our occupation is a non-violent space. We began as strangers, and together we have built collective understandings on which to base our movement. The participatory nature of this agreement allows us to take responsibility for it together, equally accountable in this forward motion.
We have not only looked at the structures that we need for the internal functioning of our movement. We have also found common ground on which to begin the process of imagining a better world, which challenges oppression in radical ways. We have reaffirmed that sustainable relationships with our planet, our environment, our resources, and one another are the root of justice, peace, and life. We have found participatory democracy to be the best form of sharing power and making decisions about the things that affect our lives. It allows us to take responsibility for one another. We have found a deep desire to create egalitarian structures for human connection, and self-determination for all peoples. We recognize the rights of indigenous peoples who have gone without justice for so long. We also believe in the power of the individual as a unique member in a larger collective.
As we experience this process, we are experimenting with a new kind of strategy. Our non-violent direct action is informed by, and balanced with, the building of an alternative kind of social interaction and exchange. We are participating in our democracy and our economics; we are learning to organize our society on a horizontal plain. Ideas are shared and inspired. Building towards equity is truly a beautiful experience.
We must take all of this seriously. As we practice direct actions that inspire those around us, and reach out to those who may not know what to make of this movement, we should remember that if we are willing and able, we are going to accomplish our goals, push forward, and win. We are in a process of building equity through the assemblies and systems of interaction that we have created at Occupy Toronto. We are turning up the heat on our ability to shake the oppressive systems of the past and present. We are writing our future. It’s a new story. We haven’t seen it before, and we are only on the first pages.
This is only the beginning. What we are witnessing right now is the birth of a global movement. It is taking shape right now. We are taking part in the early stages of profound societal transformations. The conversation has already shifted. We have begun to change the way we engage with the world and interact with one another. The exchange of ideas has already yielded wins. Just look at those in the US who, in recent days, have started to vote for the rights of workers in Ohio and women in Mississippi. We are beginning to choose equity instead of greed. Around the world, we are taking our votes to the streets and choosing justice. The system may use violence to attack us, but we aren’t going anywhere.
This wave of change is growing, and will continue to gain momentum if we work for it. We are standing at the edge of a sea of unrest. We are ready to dive in and begin the long journey across. If we adjust our lives to focus on this movement building process, and the task at hand we will succeed. We are building something that hasn’t been seen before. We are ready to re-imagine our systems, our species, and our planet.
Toronto – November, 2011
A. Daniel Roth is an organizer, writer, and educator. He works with the Hashomer Hatzair Movement, Organization for a Free Society, and Occupy Toronto. He can be reached at [email protected]