Wednesday, November 9, 2011

My Thoughts on Occupy Victoria

I wish I could say that my views on Occupy Victoria were decisive but honestly they’re somewhere in the middle.  Note that most of my thoughts can probably apply to similar Occupy movements happening around the world.

First off, I agree that the problems that Occupy Victoria is pointing out. Obviously some people are way too rich, getting unfair tax cuts, and not contributing back to society enough.  Many have probably dodged the law successfully on a number of occasions.  Corruption is rampant and affecting the environment. Something needs to be done about this.

The question is: are the Occupy movements achieving their goals? If the goal was creating more awareness of issues, I would argue that they have already achieved their goal. Mission accomplished.  However, I would imagine that they, rightly so, want the awareness to translate into action.

Here’s where things get a bit tricky.  There are a lot of issues here: affordable housing, better wealth distribution, environmental controls etc.  It’s hard to figure out what would be a good starting point. I’m not sure that the wealthy is getting a message. I wonder if the movement would have more visible success if it went after one tangible goal at a time.  Tell the government, for example, that they’ll let up, at least for a little bit, if a clear plan for affordable housing is offered.  I’m concerned that the wealthy might be hearing “noise” and not getting a clear sense of what’s being asked of them.  The reality is there are so many issues that you can’t get rid of them in one fell swoop. It’s important to clarify what are the most immediate issues to be addressed.

One question that the movement has raised: is the goal, consciously or unconsciously to overthrow the government?  If so I could understand the occupiers not wanting to say so in so many words. I’m not necessarily against this idea on paper, but I’d want to know that whatever new system they’ve come up is strong enough that the new government would be recognized by other countries and the United Nations.  It can’t just be good intentions; if you want to get rid of the old you have to make sure that the new is sustainable.  And for all we complain about things here, we do have it b3etter here than nin many other countries; it’s important that we don’t replace things with an even worse system.  Note that I’m aware this may be a straw-man argument.   Maybe that’s not the occupiers’ goal at all. But when people are this frustrated (again, rightfully so) with the distribution of wealth, it’s hard not to see this as a possible outcome.

Another issue is the level of inconvenience to the public. People generally won’t feel too out of place with a one-day protest.  But protesting does consume resources (for example, the police have to either add more personnel or leave some areas unpatrolled/less patrolled).   I will say that Centennial Square, at least for now isn’t that bad a location because they’re not blocking traffic that much. Ironically, they probably cause more problems when they go after the banks (which are of course part of the bigger problem) than when they stick to the Square, as they’re not impeding high traffic sidewalks.  Of course as we get closer to Christmas they are more likely going to disrupt festivities that the middle class enjoys, but at this point, they could do a lot worse as a location.

An interesting wrinkle is that their movement is starting to attract the perennial homeless people, who are taking advantage of this to set up their own tents. Many of these types are heavy drug users and do make the tent situation more sketchy, causing concerns for the true Occupy Victoria movement. There’s an interesting paradox here: If Occupy Victoria truly does create a system where wealthy is divvied up more fairly, and housing becomes more affordable, it’s these not entirely welcomed joiners who stand to benefit the most, for they are the poorest financially.  If these people are, at least in part, the people the occupiers are fighting for, warts and all, shouldn’t they be seen in some capacity? How strongly can you fight for people that you wish to avoid yourself?

In summary, I hope that this does create some positive change. It would be a shame if after all this effort this proves to have just been a diversion that will be largely forgotten last year.  So my advice to the occupiers is, be strategic.  Decide what exactly are the most immediate things you wish to accomplish and how can you best use the Occupy movement to accomplish these goals.  What are realistic goals and how do you wish to accomplish your realistic goals? Ask the hard questions of yourself: are you out to help everyone who’s disenfranchised or are you out to help certain people specifically? Don’t let this just be about venting frustrations or just about rah rah. You have the public’s attention; you can change history for the better now. But only if you have a workable plan.

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