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Occupy Newfoundland: One Week Later

10/26/2011

The group that had marched out of Harbourside Park less than an hour before was late.

There were thirteen of us, and as we’d walked along Water Street and New Gower Street, we’d shouted our minds to St. John’s.

“Show me what democracy looks like!” someone would yell from the front.

This is what democracy looks like!” the rest of us replied, shaking our signs.

But when we’d arrived at the bottom of Barters Hill and stared up at it, we elected to save our breath for the long trek uphill–and for the demonstration that awaited us in front of the Confederation Building.

But that trek took longer than we expected, and now we were speed-walking along Mayor Avenue. Someone on their way to the demonstration stopped his truck long enough for five people to jump in. The rest of us decided to start running. We didn’t want to miss a thing.

***

When I visited Harbourside Park on Saturday, one week after the protests began, I was stunned by what I found. Several new faces were standing by the road holding signs, and every second car beeped its support. The number of tents had quadrupled. There was now a sound system set up on a stage near the water, where musicians sang and played guitar. And there was WiFi.

WiFi!

Balloons hung from lamp posts and tarp strings and railings. A couple people juggled. Someone was reading poetry. The Park had acquired an atmosphere of celebration.

I talked a while with the guy reading poetry, and I mentioned that I was planning to write a blog post about how much progress Occupy Newfoundland has made in its first week. When I told him the name of my blog and explained the idea behind it, he insisted I have one of his books (which he’d lined up nearby for anyone to take): Madness & Civilization by Foucault.

He then recited, from memory, “The Hollow Men” by T. S. Eliot and “The Unknown Citizen” by W. H. Auden. In different ways, both poems resonate with the Occupy movement.

The mainstream media has continually represented the movement’s demands as undefined. For this reason, Occupy Newfoundland is carefully formulating its objectives. “Only fools rush in,” organizer Thomas Jordan told me. “Right now, we’re cutting our teeth and practising democracy.”

The local movement’s core group of regulars has grown steadily. A General Assembly is held every night at 8 PM, and as of Saturday its largest turnout was 75 people. Several committees have also been struck, including the Steering Committee, the Communications Committee, the Public Outreach Committee and the Affordable Housing Committee. Anyone is welcome to participate in the Assembly or join the committees, and debate is encouraged. “We want people to come and disagree with us,” organizer [redacted] told me.

Jordan has made contact with Laura Love, a former roommate now living in Corner Brook, whom he encouraged to initiate protests there. That movement, too, has quickly picked up steam.

I also spoke with a 2nd-year Memorial University student who’s helping stimulate conversation about the Occupy protests around campus.

I asked another organizer, who wishes to remain unnamed, how he thought the local movement would handle the approaching winter. He said he envisions protesters huddled in the middle of a blizzard, enduring even the wind and snow to get the message out. “There’s talk of insulating the tents.”

“Everyone’s here to occupy something,” he continued. “And we need to occupy our time wisely.”

[Redacted] sees the Occupy movement as necessarily a localized one–that is, it’s the duty of each group to engage with issues particular to both its region and its country. For instance, he takes issue with the Canadian government forcing Canada Post employees back to work by declaring the postal service an essential one. Several members of Occupy Newfoundland think back-to-work legislation bears scrutiny, and there’s been talk of addressing that during General Assembly.

Opposition to the Canadian Conservatives’ omnibus crime bill, C-10, has also coalesced, and an Occupy Newfoundland-created Facebook page is now up, calling for nationwide demonstrations outside courthouses and judiciaries on November 4th to stop the legislation.

[Redacted] told me that a group in Alaska has succeeded in forming a committee that regulates corporations locally, something that is being tried elsewhere as well. During Occupy Newfoundland’s General Assembly, interest in trying this approach in St. John’s has been evident. “We’re pro-government,” [Redacted] said. “We aren’t anarchists. We’re simply calling for separation of corporation and state, just as church and state have been separated.”

And, of course, Occupy Newfoundland has been protesting the provincial government’s decision not to open the House of Assembly until the spring sitting, which will leave the legislature inactive for a total of 10 months.

***

The remaining eight marchers ran to where Bonaventure Avenue intersects with Elizabeth Avenue, and to our relief, the guy in the truck reappeared to pick up more of us. I hopped aboard with four others. The other three told us they’d see us at the demonstration, and continued hoofing it.

The driver dropped us off on the side of Prince Phillip Drive, downhill from the Confederation Building. Farther down, we saw a large group approaching from the direction of MUN, waving and cheering and marching toward us. We raised our signs and cheered back.

In five minutes, everyone was gathered on the Confederation Building’s front lawn. We numbered at least 120.

A woman shouted into a red bullhorn: “Open!”

We shouted back: “Our house!”

“Occupy!” she said.

Our house!”

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Wadland permalink
    10/26/2011 3:10 PM

    Well I don’t think we are 100% pro government as it’s their fault corporations have the power they do. But once they are out of the picture and the governement truly represents the interests of the people, how could you be against government?

    • 10/27/2011 1:31 AM

      Well put. The current system is at fault for letting corporations unduly influence our country’s future. But maybe it can be refashioned.

  2. 10/26/2011 5:55 PM

    Great article :)
    Check out Occupy Newfoundland’s official website, http://www.OccupyNL.ca

  3. 10/26/2011 7:43 PM

    Wow, that is amazing and wonderful. How exciting! I am so glad your movement is picking up steam, and 120 people is a lot considering! How cold is it there? I am afraid that some other occupations are facing cold weather challenges and may be losing steam as a result. It is below freezing every night now here…

    • 10/27/2011 1:35 AM

      Thanks, Sherry!

      I don’t much mind the cold–an adolescence spent freezing at the bottom of my road waiting for the school bus might have something to do with that. Anyway, Alberta’s winters get a lot colder than ours, I gather.

      The biggest problem right now is wetness. We’re currently in the midst of a rainy spell that’s supposed to last several days. I haven’t been to the protests since Monday, so I’m not sure how they’re faring. Maybe someone could give us an update in the comments?

  4. Christine permalink
    10/26/2011 9:20 PM

    It’s so great to hear what is going on at Occupy St John’s, thanks for that update – and keep ’em coming!

  5. John Erickson permalink
    10/26/2011 9:26 PM

    If you plan on winter camping, corrugated cardboard is a must on the inside of the tent. Straw/grass/hay works great. Kerosene lamps put out light AND heat – use the ultra-pure lamp oil so you don’t choke. Lotsa socks – socks for your hands, feet, they even work as scarves and … um … male protrusion warmers. And gather snow up around the tents – snow is a great insulator.
    (The preceding tips brought to you by a former World War 2 re-enactor who froze his BUTT off during a “Russian” winter scenario at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. :D )

  6. 10/26/2011 10:14 PM

    Ha! “Male Protrusion warmers” as in, Cod-pieces??? Welcome to Newfoundland, luh!

    The General Assemblies (before, during and after discussion) are looking into the “Prepare for Winter” aspects, I can assure you. Thanks for the suggestions!

    • John Erickson permalink
      10/26/2011 10:55 PM

      That comes from an old US Army chant, as portrayed in “Band Of Brothers”. “Hands, feet, neck, balls/ Extra socks warms them all!”. And no matter what you do, keep your water supplies ON you – as in inside your clothing. I had a (metal) canteen in the sleeping bag with me, but outside my clothing. It froze solid. Check out various military surplus places – you can get neat little portable “stoves”, actually little metal gizmos about the size of a deck of playing cards, that folds out to hold a cup or small bowl, and hold trioxane tablets for cooking. US Army MREs have actually gotten pretty edible, and are pretty much immune to anything.
      I’ll try to think of more over the next few days. I’m kinda sorry we had to get rid of our US Army GP Small tent – it’d hold a dozen of you guys in toasty warmth. Wal-Mart, BTW, is a great place for the kerosene lamps and lamp oil. Oh, and Hanukkah candles for easy-to-transport light. They’re very hard wax, and burn VERY long.
      Keep those matches dry! :D

      • 10/27/2011 1:39 AM

        Awesome ideas, John. I’m planning to attend a General Assembly soon–I think I’ll make a list of your suggestions and bring them along!

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