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Occupy, in the End, Was a Reactionary Movement

The Occupy Movement seems to rise in popularity and attendance not when they decide to do something but rather when an external force lashes out at them. Once the threat passes, numbers dwindle down again. The support for Occupy is entirely reactionary. Is this any true way to incite global change?

We must go alone. Isolation must precede true society.

--Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

The Occupy Movement seems to have three topics that keep it in the press: 1,000-person marches, instances of police brutality, and eviction notices. But from a group that says on one of their Twitter feeds, "Sorry for the inconvenience, we're just trying to change the world," shouldn't one expect more from the supposed movers and shakers of Western civilization as we know it?

Many will argue that this has to do with the "mainstream media" and its lack of "true" coverage. Fine. We'll assume this is true. But how can one not blame the movement itself? They have yet to incite any true form of social change. Repeating "This is what democracy looks like" or "I love you all" at a general assembly does not inspire change. If anything, it hurts the movement; it encourages self-aggrandizement without anything to show for it. And no, Potemkin villages do not count.

Most of the coverage one hears from mass media, or even from the Occupy Movement itself, typically centers around their hardships. Their Twitter feeds, it seems, act as little more than tools for rebuking the claims of their detractors, not for spreading any coherent message. And the argument that the ambiguity of the movement is its greatest strength is proving tiresome. Their openness is a weakness, as hard as that might be to admit in face of the warm-and-fuzzy feeling it incites in protesters. This can be seen in the "human mic" system. Once thought to be ingenious (it was) and an emotionally-fulfilling form of communication, the method is proving to be more of a hindrance than anything. People grow tired of repeating the words. Sometimes, the main speaker is unintelligible and the human mic becomes a game of broken telephone. Some even refuse to repeat the message because they don't agree with it. "This is what democracy looks like," I heard a "facilitator" say, but the fact of the matter is the concept of everyone's voice being heard is an ideal, not a reality.

The Occupy Movement seems to rise in popularity and attendance not when they decide to do something (other than a march), but rather when an external force lashes out at them. Whether it be the police, a city councillor, or the press, the movement's numbers only increase when their encampments are at risk. Once the threat passes, numbers dwindle down again. The supposed support for Occupy is entirely reactionary, an on-demand type of activism. Is this any true way to incite global change?

This past Monday, the Occupy Toronto camp served as a perfect example of this sort of on-demand protest. Once word got out that the protesters would have to evict that evening at the stroke of midnight, Twitter was ablaze with asking people to come down to the park and show their support. But show their support how?

Walking through the park was the equivalent of stepping into the enclave of some exotic tribe. Beating drums, chants, and the occasional wolf call suggested protesters readying themselves for battle, but these were the usual staples of St. James Park. There was a soccer ball being kicked around, people wandering about covered in blankets. The so-called "supporters" that were asked to come were a host of eager on-lookers, iPhones, Blackberries, cameras at the ready to document what they hoped would be G20 Redux, and another shot at that award winning photograph. In short, they came for a show. And when the Man, the main act, failed to show, people began to disperse. Sad, when one considers that police action is the main reason for coming out to a protest whose goal is to change the world.

"The cops aren't coming!" one protester yelled out, "Let's party!"

"Where's the booze?" a homeless man who had asked me for loose change shouted. "I'm down for that!"

But why the party? Why the booze? Was there truly anything to celebrate besides the fact that the police hadn't yet arrived? There was no sense of celebration because of what the movement had achieved, for they achieved nothing. If that night was interpreted as a success, it's because the Occupy Movement, whether realizing it or not, is completely reliant on the actions of others. With the way things are going, they can have no success of their own. They can only celebrate what they believe to be the defeat of their enemy, one in which they've had no one hand in.

I spoke to a protester on Tuesday night. The camp was barren. When I asked him why, he told me it was because people thought nothing would be happening tonight vis-a-vis a police eviction. An announcement had been made it might happen at 4 a.m., but this was a case of the Boy Who Cried Wolf.

As I left the camp on Monday, that same homeless man shouted at me: "Where are you going? Why you leaving? Pussy!"

But there were no cowards on Monday, because there was no tangible enemy, there was no struggle. But Occupy needs there to be. They need the police. They need the police to threaten them with eviction time and time again. Occupy doesn't yet realize that if they continue to operate the way they currently are, the only way they can maintain their existence is via a perpetual war with the police. With no potential eviction to fight, with no instances of police brutality to report, what will Occupy do? How will the exist? To put it bluntly: they won't.

The Big Bad Wolf blew down the tents at St. James Park on Wednesday morning. Regardless of the self-reassurance messages of the movement ("You can't evict an idea," "This is the end of the beginning"), the fact remains that this is the end of Occupy. Its trademark Potemkin villages are gone, and now, all that is left for "occupiers" to do is to protest in the streets, like any other protest. On Wednesday afternoon, after city workers had taken down a great number of tents, and as I wandered through the park amidst chants and drums and guitars, I suddenly forgot I was at Occupy Toronto. It could have been any protest, anywhere. But with its lack of ideological coherence, now mixed with its lack of physical centre, what's to separate this movement with the random ruminations of a man shouting on the street?

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