One journalist's musings about the beautiful, bizarre world in which we live
“Whose park? Our park!”
Voices cheered from the small crowd gathered around the St. James Park gazebo in Toronto.
“Equality for all. A system for all,” said a deep voice, rallying protesters through speakers. The voice talked about the need for better access to things like food, education and health care. “We’re fighting against the whole system here, guys. It’s a long battle.”
Protests are not where I usually spend my days, but not having a job means I have a lot of free time.
As such, I spent some of that free time today at Occupy Toronto.
As you may have noticed, there are many opinions circulating about the Occupy movement and its motives (or as some say, the lack thereof). I don’t really have an opinion on the movement in general, its politics or goals.
That said, I think the people involved in Occupy Toronto have created an intricate and interesting little community within the city.
There’s a tent village giving shelter to those with and without homes. There’s a branch of the Toronto Free Library in a yurt-like structure in the centre of the park. There’s even a free “newspaper” put out by Occupy Toronto.
There were free classes available today, with the topics ranging from human rights to mining interests.
For three hours after the classes, an Argentinian woman told her story about being one of a group of women that took back a clothing factory after salaries were lowered to two pesos a week.
There’s the Free Store, full of clothing for those who want it.
There’s a food tent, where a notice board states that more than 1,000 meals are being served there every day. Another board states that yoga classes were held at 10 a.m. this morning.
Police were seen on Queen Street. Several people shouted, “Police are not allowed in the park!”
Alice Shuda is an educator, working at an adult education centre. Although qualified to teach English and science at high school, she says she finds the secondary school environment in Canada restrictive.
She led an hour-long discussion on Cultural Identity and Decolonization this afternoon.
“The reason why I think there’s so much energy in this kind of space is that people are longing for these spaces, and longing for change,” she said. “That’s what I think the Occupy movement has really brought, in all of its diversity, in all of its expressions … People are longing for another reality. Another world.”
Can you think of similar space like this in our society? A place where people of all ages, sizes, races, religions, sexualities and income levels – and every other shade of stripes or polka-dots you can think of – can get together and live, think, talk and listen freely?
A space for anyone to be free to do what they want?
Occupy Toronto’s space is not perfect by any means. This is no utopia. It is a little crowded and a little messy. I was told that after dark, it can get a little violent at times, too.
And it’s not to say that this is a “free” event – there’s no such thing as a free meal, as is often said. A lot of people are working together and paying to make this happen, arranging everything from meal preparation to emptying porta-potties.
And that’s just it. They’re working hard together to make this space possible, trying to make it the best it can be.
They’re rich and poor, drunk and sober, smart and dumb, hard-working and lazy. Some live on the streets, and don’t have any other place to go or much else to do. Others are just taking a break from life in their nearby condo, visiting the protest after putting in hours at work.
As for me, who had no job today but a desire to do interesting things, Occupy Toronto filled my day with two of my favourite pastimes – listening and learning. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to visit.