Thursday, October 27, 2011

Occupy Kingston..the canary in the coal mine?

It was a cold rainy night last night, as Josh, Jesse and I sat in the encampment known as Occupy Kingston, Ontario Canada talking about who these young men are and why they are doing what they are doing.
One large tarpaulin encloses several smaller 'tents', one for medical supplies procured and donated by a medical student, one for food and refrigeration, and three or four for sleeping. There is a single electric outlet to which they have access, in their "winter" location in Confederation Park, immediately across from City Hall. A couple of propane heaters also provide minimal heat. The local fire department has provided fire alarms; a couple of strings of minature coloured lights, requiring little electricity, provide some light inside.
The city council has assigned a councillor, Jim Neill, from Williamsburg ward, to liaise between the Occupiers and the city, and has informed the group that, while they are welcome for the winter, come Spring, they will be expected to move to a different area in the city.
The "head" of the group, if there is one, is Matt, an experienced street medic, and someone who knows how to organize, find resources and lead such a movement. At 28, he is oldest of the current occupiers, while Josh (23) and Jesse are a little younger. Josh currently attends St. Lawrence College, as a Wind Turbine Technology student, while Jesse graduated from St. Lawrence's Computer Network program in 2008. However, after finding work, Jesse became disillusioned with the way his employers were supervising him and his co-workers, especially in the restaurant sector, and now is unemployed.
Focussing on developing programs, the Kingston Occupiers provide meals for the homeless who drop in, from donations made available by supporters who donate.They also plan to give training sessions in such skills as "street medics." Every Friday night is the People's Movie Night when they show a movie supporting their cause; every Wednesday is the People's Performance Night, with an open mic, when they invite people to come and read or sing or show off their art. They have also
 developed a website,
 on which they outline both their activities and their perspective.
You can also follow them on twitter:
Quoting from their brochure:
If you think you're not being robbed, you're just not paying attention.
and this: Enough is enough.
We are the 99% of Canada that has lived with political, economic, social and environmental injustice for too long. We will no longer stay silent about the massive transfer of wealth from the majority of Canada to the 1% who have used their economic power to usurp our democracy. We will rise up and with one voice say NO!
Inspired by the the Good Neighbour Policy of Occupy Wall Street at Zucotti Park in New York city, they list the following rules and guidelines:
Occupy Kingston has zero tolerance for alcohol or drug use in the People's Tent or the People's Park
Occupy Kingston has zero tolerance for violence or verbal abuse towards anyone
Occupy Kingston has zerio tolerance for abuse of personal or public property
Occupy Kingston encourages all participants to respect health, sanitation and safety, and will direct al participants to respectfully utilize off-site sanitary facilities
Occupy Kingston will display signage and have community relations and work shops in the People's Park or Tent in order to raise awareness of and respect for our guidelines and Good Neighbour Policy
These young, courageous and determined young men plan to remain in their encampment through the winter, although they do express some concern about just how cold it is going to get. "The hardest thing about the project," says Josh, "is waking up in the cold in the morning, in time to get to school."
Clearly, there is a high degree of networking among various local groups including those working among the homeless, the hungry, the working poor and the Occupy Kingston cadre of volunteers and while we were there, a few "grey-beards" were engaged in conversation outside the actual encampment, about mutual concerns over the widening gap in incomes in Canada and elsewhere.
"Is there anything you need?"
"Well," Josh says, "I'm vegan, and while we have lots of meat for the others I would love some vegan food!"

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