Occupy Toronto

I would like to begin by saying that for the most part, I try to steer clear of politics here. I recognize that I am not a political analyst or policy expert; I’m just a guy who sees the world through a particular lens and wants our planet to be a better place. For this post, I will try to avoid taking a firm stance on either side, and just report on my brief experience of Occupy Toronto from the perspective of an outside observer; an observer arriving with just bits and pieces of information.

It was early Monday afternoon, and I had just finished a meeting and location inspection for my next art exhibition. The venue I had been checking out just happened to be a 5-minute walk away from St. James park. I couldn’t be that close to the action and not go see it first hand.

I had read several online new articles and blog posts about the event, and I was still a little confused. There were questions raised over the point of Occupy Toronto. Politics in Canada aren’t as corrupt as the American system, and income equality isn’t as bad as it is down South. The general consensus on the blogosphere was that Occupy Toronto is primarily a display of solidarity for our friends at Occupy Wall Street in New York. This is the world’s way of telling the citizens of America “It’s ok, we got your back; we’re in this together”.

I don’t know Toronto’s South-East end very well, so I wasn’t absolutely sure what I was looking for, but the police and media presence made it easy to locate the park from the street I was walking down. Vans from each major news broadcasting network were sitting outside the park, and pairs of police officers were patrolling the parks perimeter. A few of the officers had an expression of boredom on their faces, but most were just having friendly conversations with each other.

I entered the park and was met with a sea of tents.

Many people are camped out in the park, apparently they have been living there full-time since Saturday, when the event began. It was a friendly crowd. The smell of marijuana in the air was far more faint than I would have expected, and the number of hippies and career activists appeared lower than what I have experienced at rallies and protests in the past.

A number of hand-made signs were set up on display along a hill, expressing a wide range of opinions. This movement has been criticized by some as being disorganized and vague; not having a clear goal and objective. While it is true that there is no single list of demands, what was clear and consistent throughout the diverse set of opinions was a sense of outrage towards the corrupting influence of money and greed in politics. People aren’t mad at any one thing. They are mad at the entire system. Topics ranged from the the destruction of the environment to corporate greed. Political complains ranged from how citizens are treated like nothing more than a source of government income, to our political system that allows a Prime Minister unchecked power even though 60% of the population voted against him.

It seems like my timing was perfect, I had 10 minutes to walk around and get a feel for the place, shoot some footage, and read some signs, then people started being asked to assemble and sit down for some discussions. Three leaders stood up and began speaking in brief snippets. The entire crowd would repeat what had been said. Rather than using an electronic sound system, they were using human microphones.

The human microphone concept was interesting at first, but rather difficult to listen to after a while. It really slowed down the pace of the delivery, and like any game of broken telephone, the farther away a participant was from the centre, the more errors were introduced into the message.

Part of the message was about further rallies that would be taking place Tuesday morning on Bay Street. The point that was being hammered into the crowd was the importance of civility. People were reminded to be respectful, not use violence or foul language, not to be disruptive or get in anyone’s way, but to win by being better behaved than expected, and making their voices heard.

When the presentation ended, people were asked to break into groups and discuss ideas. It was very open-ended discussion, just general idea-generation at this point. It seems really important to this crowd that everyone has their voice heard.

I had a long walk ahead of me and a bunch of work to do when I got back home, so I shot a bit more footage and left the park with a slightly clearer image of what the Occupy Toronto movement was about.

I also shot this footage:

I have released this video under a creative-commons attribution license. That means you are free to use this footage for whatever you want, so long as credit is given. Typing out “Video: Kyle Clements. http://kyleclements.com” would do nicely. And if you do use this video for something, please come back and post a link to your content in the comments. I’d love to check it out.

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Kyle Clements

Kyle Clements is a Toronto-based artist and nerd. During his thesis at the Ontario College of Art and Design, Kyle began working on his Urban Landscapes series, a body of work that aims to capture the energy and excitement of life in the fast-paced urban environment. After graduating from OCAD in 2006, Kyle spent a year living in Asia to gather source material and experience in a different kind or urban environment. His work is vibrant and colourful. Whether painting the harsh Northern landscape, or capturing the overwhelming buzz of life in the city, his acrylic paintings hover between representation and abstraction.