A group calling themselves Occupy Vancouver launched protests on Oct 15, 2011 from a base at the Vancouver Art Gallery in the heart of Vancouver, British Columbia. Occupy Vancouver sees itself as part of the loose network of protesters following the much publicized Occupy Wall St protests that started mid September 2011.
The Occupy Vancouver group is a motley collection of activists with a huge laundry list of pet agendas. Hand made protest signs littering the Art Gallery grounds ranged from promoting, "we are the 99%", 9-11 conspiracy theories, arrest Bush, Bush is a war criminal, support for organic farming, anti-NATO, anti-Harper, anti-big business and more. Kraft paper rolled out on the surrounding sidewalks bear slogans like "I told you not to give the Conservatives a majority!", anti-Capitalism slogans, and "Have a nice day!". Slogans written on duct tape could be found stuck on steps, cobblestones and trees. The twin stone lions on the building were blinded with red paper hearts making them look comical. Slogans were also drawn on Art Gallery signs in an act of vandalism against a non-profit organization.
The organizers, or just self-appointed people with ideas, set up a Kids Zone, water station, communal cooking and eating area, temporary washrooms and a first aid tent. A few shelters are setup as booths promoting various causes. A few dozen tents also sprung up for sleeping in, while some people decided to sleep under tables and cardboard boxes.
The Occupy Vancouver crowd declares itself leaderless. No one speaks for anyone else, people only speak for themselves. The group holds committee meetings and a General Assembly where they attempt to reach consensus on all issues. One organizing committee meeting observed spent 20 minutes trying to agree on whether to meet at 9:00, 9:30 or 10:00 the next morning. They see this as participatory democracy.
The Occupy Vancouver group has a website, with discussion forum, and a Facebook group to facilitate discussion and organization. A wide variety of ideas are expressed in these discussion forums. One woman asks if the protest will be safe for kids. Another poster suggests a education/reading area to which someone else says that any books by Dick Chaney can go straight to the warming fire. Others plead for cell phones for the legal team (they are expecting arrests evidently). According to the site no one will rent tables and chairs to the protestors so hopefully someone will donate some.
Challenges of the Occupy Protests
Without leaders, no group will get far. While they see themselves as democratic, all great democracies have a system of choosing and empowering representatives to act as the leaders and decision makers. Only a group filled with people who have no productive purpose in life has time to make ever mundane decision as a group.
Global TV reported that the protestors are having problems with deciding what to do next, holding meetings on how to hold meetings. While there are officially no leaders, a small group of easily identified people are leading the meetings. Some protesters note in interviews that new people entering the protest every day makes consensus building difficult.
In some cities, the Occupy Protests have turned into violent mobs. Police in Rome had to deal with rioters breaking windows, overturning cars and burning buses. In spite of some protesters calling for nonviolent protest, clearly the anti-government nature of the protests makes the potential for violence very real.
The Vancouver Art Gallery is not a campground and the protest camp is unsightly. This issue has brought conflict in other cities as officials try to enforce camping bans and laws that prohibit use of parks overnight. The City of Vancouver and Vancouver Police are observing the protest 24/7.
The protest lacks defined goals and protestors talk about staying until they effect change. If there is no definition of what needs to be changed, how will they know when change has happened? How will anyone know when to go home?
It seems that all these problems can only result in a violent and destructive end to the Occupy Vancouver protests. More radical individuals will congregate and take control of Occupy Vancouver as the weekend hobby protesters head back to their regular lives. The protesters will never be satisfied and the community will only put up with the protest for a limited amount of time before there will be the political will to clean up the site and end the disruption in the downtown Vancouver core.