On Saturday Oct. 15, 2011, participants of Occupy Calgary hit Banker’s Hall on Stephen Avenue to begin the noble movement. I was given the opportunity to speak following the smudge ceremony that started the event. The following words are the script of the speech itself.
Right now, we are saying to our parliament, to the media, to corporate interests, to the world, that we are here to participate in a conversation of change.
“Our politics caught up with who we are,” were the words of our new premier, Alison Redford, touting her election victory. While it is certainly momentous that a woman has finally come to power here in Alberta, it is incredibly embarrassing to hear politicians and media alike believe and announce that our present politics have in any way, shape or form caught up with who we are. In contrast with Redford’s remark, I find myself sympathetic to sociologist Jean Baudrillard’s astute observation that “today, power itself is an embarrassment and there is no one to assume it truly.”
Our political sphere continues to survive on the fiction that it represents we the people, and not neoliberal interests. In our globalized world held hostage by corporate forces the need to subvert the system and bring about serious and legitimate change has necessarily gone viral. We stand at a juncture in history where through participation in this grand act of enthusiastic emancipation we can become the terminal illness that brings an end to a system that has long propagated massive global injustices.
The Arab Spring, Tahrir Square in Cairo, the acampada in Spain, protests in Greece, London, Iceland and Portugal, the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Occupy movements across America and across Canada, and we here in Calgary are all united in the desire to open up new social, economic and political dialogues, avenues, and opportunities.
When the Arab Spring ignited the stations of politics and media were caught off guard. They struggled to make sense of what was happening, what it meant and what brought it about. Observing the mainstream media sources’ coverage of the events past and event present reveals, on their part, a severe lack of understanding. Only three days ago the Herald ran an article written by Ric Mciver that called this movement a “gang,” the flavor of the month,” “wannabe Barak Obamas” and “Socialists.” Ric Mciver doesn’t want to understand. The world of media and politics have shown themselves to be utterly disgusted and confused by the idea of regular people expressing their autonomy by camping out on public property to participate in an attempt to create an altruistic, alternative space wherein a dialogue for serious change can be conceived and incubated.
When the mainstream media speaks about the Occupy movements you will hear them say “this movement doesn’t know what it wants” … “it has no real plan” … “it has no serious goals.” What we want — our goal — is straightforward: emancipate ourselves, our economy, our society and our politics from the crushing grip of corporate control. Our plan, to echo Naomi Klein, is to allow people to speak for themselves — rather than having corporations speak for them as they presently do — because we believe that people, when given the opportunity, are smart enough, and capable enough, to make decisions that are the best for them.
Many of our fellow citizens, our brothers and sisters across the province, across this country, often revert to the ‘Canadian’s are calm’ card. You hear platitudes about how easygoing and peaceful we are, as if our very genetics somehow expressed a desire for non-confrontation. This is a mask too easily worn. A mask that blinds us from the very real and pressing concerns that surrounds us all.
Calgary is a colonial outpost of the corporate network in a literal sense.
The ground we stand on right now is Blackfoot land. The Blackfoot people were barriers to the interests of the few and were removed accordingly. And I assure you the injustices did not end there. Crowfoot was a great chief and the Peigan were a people before we assimilated them into roads. In the past few weeks alone, the Harper government has tabled an omnibus crime bill that is determined to enhance the extreme prejudice — the overt racism — contained in Canada’s justice system, where 70 per cent of inmates are aboriginal peoples. To say that Canada, through residential schools, the reserve system and eugenics board, merely has a legacy of racism against its indigenous populations suggests that that racism has been acknowledged and is being corrected as best as possible. Well that is bullshit, brothers and sisters. Racism is as alive as ever here in Canada — aboriginal peoples, having been violently divorced from their lands and their heritage are no longer blockades of the ‘free market’ and make great serf labor for industrial expansion. I implore you to remember that we stand on Native land. Please do not forget it.
Alberta’s economy, while providing many of us a degree of stability, is, in fact, not much of an economy. All of our resources, whether it be oil and gas, wheat, cattle, timber or people –as we too are seen as commodities — are crudely extracted without due care to the environment, are refined for transport, and are sent south to the benefit of the ultra-wealthy abroad. Our natural wealth is exploited by the wealthy. When regular Albertans attempt to speak for themselves and develop legitimate larger industry to their own benefit, and not corporate benefit elsewhere, they are promptly shut down. Borders of supposedly ‘free trade’ conveniently close. Loans are refused on the grounds that our province lacks the real capacity and manpower to develop much beyond primary and secondary industries. The oil refineries, meat and food processors and lumber mills are not in Alberta and are not owned by regular Albertans — we have absolutely not say in any of it. The economic destiny of our province is in the hands of the wealthy who do own those industries, and who extract and exploit our natural wealth at their own leisure and our detriment.
Our brothers and sisters who have camped, are camped and will stay camped in the plazas of Madrid, parks across America and Canada, central squares of Arab cities and the streets of Greece believe that now is the time to start the conversation. Revolutions of the past doomed themselves to the repetition of history through traditional modes of coercion, incomplete methods of representation and a tendency towards violence. We can change that too. The injustices we face — locally and globally — propagated by the behemoth of corporatist hegemony that enshrouds us can be brought to their ends through encouraging, incubating and realizing the conversation around us.
Maybe by gathering here we will give our brothers and sisters who are stuck in that a malaise of mutual indifference the courage to stand up and speak on their own behalf too. Because here we are, peacefully assembled, declaring our autonomy, and creating a space to conceive and incubate the dialogues and opportunities that will give way to the essential changes needed to set our city, our province, our world down a healthier path.