September 17th marked the third anniversary of the Occupy movement which began in New York City where thousands of citizens protested the fraudulent lending practices that eventually led to the American housing collapse of 2008.
In New Brunswick, individuals from diverse backgrounds also joined the movement and protested eagerly in cities such as Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Edmundston and Miramichi.
Since September of 2011, however, many of these people have begun to acknowledge the problems that have caused many shortfalls within the movement.
Matthew Bertin, a Moncton protester who visited the Occupy encampment in Zuccotti park, says, “in my opinion, the movement’s eventual demise was because of the lack of focus and ambitious all-inclusiveness.”
Many other protesters agreed with this sentiment. Arthur Taylor, a Fredericton protester and director for the organization ecoFredericton, voices his concerns with the movement’s inherent flaws: “Occupy’s major weaknesses seem to have stemmed from features that were initially some of its most attractive features.”
“The Direct Democracy model,” Taylor explains, “was responsible for bringing so many strong and valid concerns to the table, but there were so many slight variations on such concerns that people were rarely able to agree and mobilize effectively.”
Other participants also thought that these variations were troubling. “I found it annoying,” says Dana Hartt, a participant in the Fredericton protests. “There were people who were representative of some pretty ‘out there’ views, like conspiracy theorists, and I had some internal conflict about whether or not their views should be tolerated.”
Along with these issues, there were also various problems regarding the encampment in Phoenix Square in Fredericton. “We had trouble with things like pot,” Hartt notes. “Obviously we had rules, but we also had people didn’t follow them, and they weren’t the best representatives for the cause.”
Andrew Barr, another protester from Occupy Fredericton says “many of the problems we experienced were, for the most part, due to no standing leadership in the encampment. I mean, there were people who were clearly contributing, but there were others who seemed to be there just to be there.”
This ambiguity led to conflict among some of the protesters. Bertin says, “basically, the people who weren’t living in the tents were trying to tell the people living in the tents what to do.”
“Many of the people I met at the tent lacked personal discipline,” notes Kate McKay, a regular supporter who did not stay in the encampment. “This was evidenced by the squalor and filth of the place before it was tore down. A couple of times I played ‘Mother Hen’ and organized a work crew to clean the place up. It was unsanitary and just plain inappropriate for human habitation.”
Dan Keenan, the Deputy Mayor for the City of Fredericton, also commented on what he thought about the movement in retrospect. “There’s ways to do things and there is ways not to do things,” he suggests. “If you have issues and concerns, you need to sit down at a table and you talk and talk and talk. We know there are problems in various communities, but to solve these problems, you need to include everyone in the discussion.”
This principle of all inclusiveness was embedded in the very nature Occupy’s direct democracy model, and some would argue that it has transformed public discourse for the better.
Julian Renaud, a participant in the Fredericton protests, says, “the most important contribution of Occupy to society as a whole, in my view, is that it dramatically changed the nature of our public discourse. A study recently showed that in the United States, reporting about socioeconomic inequality in the media has increased fivefold since the Occupy movement began. The significance of such a transformation is not to be underestimated.”
“Like many of my generation,” McKay suggests, “my politics were best defined by apathy, cynicism and repugnance. Trying to change things was pointless, but Occupy shook me out of my apathy. It called me on my nihilism. It shamed me into getting off the sidelines. What kept echoing through my mind at the time were the words of American civil rights activist John Lewis: If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”
In light of the movements various shortcomings, many people may ask themselves whether the movement was a success or a failure. “Success and failure belong to goal-setting,” answers McKay. “It’s about having measurable, quantifiable goals and timelines that can be used to say ‘yes, this was successful or no, this was a failure’. So to answer the question was it a success or failure depends on the ruler being used.”
Nikita Smith is a fourth year English student at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton and an UNB Arts 3000 intern with the NB Media Co-op.