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All power, no purpose

I’m sure you’ve all heard of Occupy Wall Street by now, whether on the news, online or through Facebook babble. You’ve probably also formed your own opinions about its potential influence, credibility and motivation. I’m not going to try to change those opinions, only highlight a couple issues that I find a little troubling about the movement.



By Paul Esau (The Cascade) – Email

Date Posted: October 13, 2011
Print Edition: October 12, 2011

I’m sure you’ve all heard of Occupy Wall Street by now, whether on the news, online or through Facebook babble. You’ve probably also formed your own opinions about its potential influence, credibility and motivation.  I’m not going to try to change those opinions, only highlight a couple issues that I find a little troubling about the movement.

1. Voices outside and within the Occupy Wall Street movement have been categorizing it as the American version of the “Arab Spring.” This is balderdash. The Arab Spring was characterized by a series of political revolutions whereas Occupy Wall Street is, at best, a protest. Both can be considered mass movements, yet the political aims and scope are entirely dissimilar. The Wallstreeters aren’t trying to overthrow the present political system, they are instead attempting to “engage in dialogue” with the system and its villainous overlords (the filthy rich).

2. “We are the 99 per cent,” is the rallying call echoing across New York’s Zucotti Park where the protest is based, yet no initiative has been taken to translate this new-found identity into positive action. A document entitled “Principles of Solidarity-working draft” can be found on the website of Occupy Wall Street’s General Assembly, yet it is little more than a self-congratulating summary of the origins of the movement. A stated principle to “engage in direct and transparent participatory democracy” is wonderful rhetoric, but it’s also a principle that the U.S. has been constitutionally-bound to embody for more than 200 years. Consequently, it’s hardly new material, and a difficult principle to practically pursue while chanting proverbs in a public park.

3. A small, but important grievance that I have with the protests (most especially the recent Occupy Boston offshoot) is their pervasive and continuing claims that they have been brutalized by police officers. This is not to imply that police officers haven’t occasionally violated their responsibilities in respect to supervising and controlling the demonstrations, only that these supposed violations need to be evaluated in the correct perspective. The line between peaceful protest and violent demonstration is often fluid, and from the shaky videos I’ve seen of alleged instances of brutality, difficult to ascertain. A mob of advancing, shouting protestors engaging in civil disobedience presents an extremely delicate situation for any police officer, whose mandate, it must be remembered, does allow them to arrest people who “breach the peace.” I’m tired of watching videos (on the Occupy Wall Street website) of officers arresting protestors in alleged acts of “brutality,” as if the mere experience of being cuffed was a violation of their (the protestor’s) personal sanctity.

4. It seems to me that the main motivation behind much of Occupy Wall Street is disgust with the rich.“Why should 1 per cent have so much?” is the resounding question, “when we have so (comparably) little?” The righteous indignation of this stance is mildly ironic when the same question is applied on the global scale, leaving many of the protesters in the (comparably) affluent (and therefore guilty) camp.  Perspective can be a harsh mistress.

Yet, despite everything, I feel cautiously optimistic about Occupy Wall Street and its affiliates across the country.  Such voices need to be heard, even if they have yet to ascertain the most effective avenue for expression. I admit that I won’t be attending Occupy Vancouver, yet I feel that the movement has tapped a popular source of discontent that should be heeded by those we’ve elected.

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  1. colleen

    October 19, 2011 at 11:06 am

    The idea of being the 99% has nothing to do with being upset that other people are rich. It has everything to do with the fact that the large majority (upwards of 80%) of the wealth is distributed among only 1% of the people. You don’t think that’s a problem?
    Funding has been slashed to organizations that work with marginalized people in our society (refugees, homeless populations, single mothers etc), yet somehow our politicians are still making not only a profit, but an exponential one at that.
    Regardless of your own personal, bourgeois agenda, can’t you see that a movement is starting? Is it perfect? No. The purpose at this point in time is to show the 1% that we’ve had enough.
    Also, another large part of this protest and this movement is to stand in solidarity with all those exploited by greed. That means children in sweat shops, smuggled immigrants, individuals made diseased by toxic dumping… the list goes on.
    Although you’ve pointed out your obvious distaste for the Occupy movement, you’ve done little to contribute to offering a solution. Congratulations, you’ve just become a part of the problem.

  2. William Brooke

    November 2, 2011 at 10:14 am

    The fact that you don’t understand the purpose of the Occupy movement (this, by the way, is not up for debate — your editorial is among the most ignorant pieces of trash I’ve read in years) does not give you license to suggest that the entire Occupy movement is similarly ignorant of any purpose. This is a university newspaper, and you’re the editor. Act like it.

  3. Sean

    November 3, 2011 at 10:06 am

    The Protestors themselves have admitted they don’t really have a cohesive purpose or set goals. Maybe they could figure that out before they pitch their tents? I am tired of watching these people waste my tax dollars (Occupy Vancouver)so they can camp out and stick it to the man–who apparently is responsible for everything that is wrong in the world–economy, environment, social justice, etc, etc. It seems to me that if you have any sort of issue you are welcome to come down to the occupy camp and whine.

    I thought Paul gave a balanced and fair appraisal of the situation–to call it an “ignorant piece of trash” is laughable. I thought you occupy-ers were all about tolerance?

  4. Jack Brown

    November 3, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    Hi there,

    I just wanted to point out that the Cascade published Occupy Vancouver’s working statement of principles in the same edition of the paper that this editorial appeared in. Although I cannot seem to find it on the website, the statement (as taken from is as follows:

    “We, the Ninety-Nine Percent, come together with our diverse experiences to transform the unequal, unfair, and growing disparity in the distribution of power and wealth in our city and around the globe. We challenge corporate greed, corruption, and the collusion between corporate power and government. We oppose systemic inequality, militarization, environmental destruction, and the erosion of civil liberties and human rights. We seek economic security, genuine equality, and the protection of the environment for all.

    We are inspired and in solidarity with global movements including those across the Middle East, Europe, and the Occupy Wall Street / Occupy Together movement in over 1000 cities in North America. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.

    We humbly acknowledge that Occupy Vancouver is taking place on unceded Coast Salish territories.

    We are committed to an inclusive and welcoming space, to addressing issues of oppression and discrimination, and to creating an environment where all the 99% can be heard and can meaningfully participate. We are also committed to safeguarding our collective well-being – including safety from interpersonal violence and any potential police violence.”

    I find the first paragraph to be especially informative when it comes to assessing whether or not these protestors have demands.


  5. Sean

    November 4, 2011 at 9:58 am

    Okay…They want to stop: Greed, Corruption, Environmental Damage, Inequality, Militarization…wow. Quite a list.

    I would like to see those things gone too. But, doesn’t it seem just a little bit broad? When are they going to pack up? When greed is abolished? Maybe they could protest for something a little more concrete, something specific. With such a broad list of demands, they accomplish nothing and there will always be some element of their movement that is unsatisfied. I’m fine with protest, just not with this tent city that will apparently be around until perfection is attained.

    Maybe if you want change you can do something about it. Run for office, plant a tree, start a company that will practice fair trade and hire lots of people, write a book, get a job doing something that helps people, send a letter to your MP, volunteer with inner-city kids, feed the homeless…Just do something.

    Its time to pack up the tents. The message has been sent–we’re all aware that things are wrong. The camp-out has spread the message, but its effectiveness is pretty much exhausted.

  6. William Brooke

    November 5, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    Re: “These people” and their “social justice, etc. etc.”

    Good Afternoon,

    You say: “The Protestors themselves have admitted they don’t really have a cohesive purpose or set goals.”

    As I wrote to Paul: the fact that some protesters are unable to clearly articulate purposes or goals is not proof that all protesters have no purpose or goals. Furthermore, the fact that you fail to identify with or participate in the purposes or activities of the protesters is, similarly, not proof that their purposes or activities are unreasonable.

    You say: “I thought you occupy-ers were all about tolerance?”

    Just to be clear, I am not personally involved in any of the ‘Occupy’ activities in any way, although I am truly flattered to be mistakenly associated with such a motivated group of people. Next: being tolerant of ignorance doesn’t qualify as a good thing. It is worth noting that tolerance discourse of most kinds usually means that, at best, one group of people is willing ‘to put up with’ another group of people; i.e., tolerance is often, at core, about intolerance.

    You say that it seems as though people who have “any sort of issue” are welcome to visit “the occupy camp and whine.” You then say that Occupy protesters, if left to their designs, are going to hang around and persist in their ‘whining’ until “perfection is attained.” You characterize the concerns of the Occupy protesters using the vocabulary of a negotiator who is dealing with a group of terrorists, and describe their “list of demands” as being too “broad” to ever be satisfied.

    In response: no. To characterize all Occupy protesters as hopeless idealists who are whining about random problems is wrong. While there are all kinds of random problems that people suffer from, the Occupy protests address problems of a repetitive and structured nature. They encourage millions of people who suffer from and who are familiar with such problems to stand together, speak up, be seen, and be heard by those who hold greater sway regarding the operation of society. They are not people who won’t stop until they attain, as you say, “perfection.” They are not starting with a list of idealistic demands; they are starting with uncontroversial yet generally ignored facts that living conditions are unsatisfactory for millions, and then trying, however possible, to make improvements. Thus, Occupy protesters – “these people,” as you call them – are more properly situated on the realist side of the spectrum. Addressing problems is realistic; continuing to ignore them is idealistic, naïve, dangerous, and unsustainable.

    You say: “Paul gave a balanced and fair appraisal of the situation,” and that “to call it an ‘ignorant piece of trash’ is laughable.”

    Balanced and fair? For who? Whose fairness? Which sense of balance? ‘Balanced’ and ‘fair’ for the millions of people who suffer social injustices? Or ‘balanced’ and ‘fair’ for those who know little or nothing about the plight of others?

    If Paul used his editorial to speak to the sustained and systematic social inequalities that plague millions, that would be one thing. But his editorial was about himself, and his view, as it were, from his own armchair. Paul talks about the comparative affluence of North Americans with reference to the undeveloped world, but I’ll wait for him to get back to me after he’s visited inner-city Detroit, and had a taste of what social inequality in North America is all about. Given the fact that neither Paul or yourself make an effort to seriously reference these problems (“social justice, etc, etc.,” as you so derisively put it), it is fair, and not at all laughable, to say that Paul’s editorial is ignorant trash, and that your comments are, too.

    In fact, your comments are even worse. They go beyond the merely ignorant, and enter into the realm of the potentially pernicious. If you actually value Paul as a human being — and not just as a member of your own social clique — you’d try to encourage him to broaden his horizons, and get him to recognize that there are patterns of sustained social inequalities that make life worse for everyone (and not, as many think, just those who suffer the most). It takes serious efforts to break cycles of ignorance: perhaps you’re aware that, after WWII, the German government required German primary school students to read Anne Frank’s diary. For those who care about de facto and not simply de dicto democracy, your corroboration of Paul’s ignorance is ignorant, and pernicious, trash.


    William Brooke

  7. colleen

    November 5, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    william brooke. you are my hero.

  8. Sean

    November 5, 2011 at 11:43 pm

    1. I never denied that the protest lacks “purposes or goals”. In fact, I argued the opposite. The protesters have too many purposes and too many goals. The key word that I used was cohesive—that is to say, a tight, unified, set of objective–something that the movement lacks

    2. I do not fail to identify with the grievances of the protesters (for the most part). I do hope that you did not take my list of their demands as some how disregarding their validity. I do agree that there is something wrong with our society and the current distribution of wealth. Where I primarily disagree with the protesters is in their methodologies.

    3. I stand by the argument that anyone is able to go down to the occupy movement and whine—and quite ignorantly, I might add. Just the other day I read about protesters in Vancouver who were jumping on the counters at TD bank, shouting “They got bailed out, we got sold out”…Last time I checked, TD never got bailed out. In fact, Canadian banks are doing quite well, all things considered.

    4. I called it balanced and fair in that he touched on both the positive and negative aspects of the movement, and nothing he said was not backed up by reasonable arguements. And by the way, an editorial is an opinion, and Paul is entitled to it—no matter how ignorant you keep saying it is.

    5. My comments are not pernicious (congrats on the purchase of your new thesaurus?). Paul is well informed. And to some how draw the comparison to the Nazis in baffling. My main critique is on the method of the protest, not on the validity of their complaints.

  9. William Brooke

    November 6, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    Thanks for clarifying your position a little bit in #1 and #2. But the problem is (and this applies to your #3, too) that many people can’t read, or access/understand reliable information (often as a result of social conditions which are no fault of their own). So, it is true, for example, that raising a voice in discontent against financial institutions everywhere is less specific than raising a voice against, say, Bear Stearns. But to expect disadvantaged people to be specific about such matters is to continue to be ignorant of the conditions of their lives. Suppose I tell an illiterate person: “you can launch a formal complaint to ask for help with the undeniably deplorable conditions in which you live, but only if you are able to correctly fill out these 17 pages of forms.” Where is the fairness? Where is the equality? Democracy, only in name? “I’ll remove these shackles from your wrists and ankles, but only if you can correctly guess the name of the bank that put them on you.”

    As for #4 and #5, I’ll stand by my earlier comments that Paul’s editorial is ignorant trash, and that your own comments are ignorant and pernicious trash. Perhaps you’re not an anti-social, Xenophobic, cave-dwelling Grinch. But your comments really don’t offer any indication of genuine concern with social ills. This was the case with Paul’s view of the Occupy protests, too. By endorsing Paul’s view — by saying his view is OK, despite the fact that it takes no pause to seriously engage with the plight of millions — you are contributing to a kind of social closure. In response, I pipe up – I try to explain that your heads are buried in sand. In response, you say that to bury one’s head in the sand is perfectly valid: “and by the way, an editorial is an opinion, and Paul is entitled to it—no matter how ignorant you keep saying it is” (as if my thesaurus and I didn’t know what an editorial was). The problem is that by publishing such material in a university newspaper, you run the real risk of encouraging your readers to bury their heads in the sand along with you.

    Also, I didn’t mention Nazis. I said that post-WWII German schools required children to read Anne Frank’s diary. Their rationale was to try to ensure that children of the incoming generation would be exposed to information about the conditions of suffering endured by others. So I’m not comparing you with a Nazi – I’m saying that your position appears to be identical with that of someone who says that the failure to seriously engage with the suffering of others is OK.

  10. Man With A Job

    November 7, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    My views on the Occupy Movement are as follows:

    Those that demand the redistribution of wealth equally among people should realize that what they are advocating is the base of Communism. Surely these people aren’t actually demanding we abandon democracy and revert to Communism. That’s opening another can of worms and you really don’t want me to go there.

    This brings me to another point. Why should people be handed anything? Why should people who lack the motivation to get a job or be productive get a cut of the tax dollars I pay with my hard earned money.

    Guess what? You don’t like being among the poor? You don’t like living below the poverty line? GET OUT THERE AND CHANGE IT!!! Standing around waving a sign and chanting nonsense won’t change things.

    Here’s a short anecdote to illustrate my point:

    From 2007 – 2009, I worked in a mediocre job, making low wages. I lived with my parents. I was in a rut, not going anywhere. I was unhappy with my lot in life. One day, I woke up motivated. I went to trade school. I moved away from family, friends and everything I knew as home. I now work in the Alberta oil field. I make more money in a week than most 22 year old people make in a month, and my wage will only increase over the next couple years. In fact, I’ll be buying a nearly brand new pickup truck in the next month.

    My point here is not to brag. My point is that instead of demanding a handout from those better off than me, I went out and changed my life for the better. Now I’m one of those “rich”, “well off”, “financially secure” people that the Occupy Protestors don’t like. They don’t seem to realize they could get the advantages in life that they want if only they put in a little effort.

    I have been tempted to illustrate the fallacy of these protests by going to one, then walking around and demanding each person give me $10. I bet you 99% of them wouldn’t do it. Why? Because they would think I didn’t deserve the $10 because I hadn’t done anything to earn it. But they want the people who have worked their way to wealth to hand out their hard earned money for nothing? Nonsense says I.

    William Brooke mentions the fact that the the illiterate and disadvantaged people have no voice other than to protest. I say “Nay, Nay!”. Why? Because there is no excuse for illiteracy in North America. Education is free, at least the education you need to be able to read. Got a learning disability or another disadvantage? There is help available. In today’s world, there’s no excuse not to better oneself. The argument that the illiterate are voiceless may have held weight as little as 60 – 100 years ago, but in 2011 it’s invalid. If an illiterate person feels that put out by people better off than him/her, they can go learn to read, write and better themselves. Oh wait, it’s easier to camp out in a park, make a mess and chant nonsense.

    I understand the desire to end the corruption of governments, banks and corporations. Unfortunately, no matter what we do, there will always be corruption. Much of the dissatisfaction in the USA is caused by rampant unemployment, which is indeed in large the fault of the big banks. A significant part however, is due to people over extending themselves and living beyond their means.

    However, there is still work, and people can still make a decent living. I’m acquainted with more than a few hard working Americans who have barely felt the impact of the “depression”, save for saving some serious money while buying boats and other toys off of people who over extended their finances and can no longer afford them.

    Ending militarization I disagree with, but then I’m a right wing Conservative who appreciates what our Armed Forces have done, and continue to do for us. Let’s not start that argument, especially so close to Remembrance Day.

    As for their little “We are the 99%” chant…they couldn’t be more wrong. Maybe the 9%. Maybe the 19%. Sure as heck not the 99%. If they really were the 99%, there wouldn’t be so many people calling for the protestors to shut the hell up and go home.

    As a side observation, I have noticed that those that support or claim to understand the protestors are in general Liberals and Socialists. Those that oppose the protests are generally Conservatives. I have also noticed in my limited experience that those that tend to leech off the government system and want free this, free that…are generally Liberals and Socialists. Those that work hard for what they have are usually Conservatives.

    Why the difference? If a Liberal doesn’t like something, they stamp their feet and demand someone else do the work so they don’t have to. If a Conservative doesn’t like something, they go out and change it themselves.

  11. William Brooke

    November 9, 2011 at 10:39 am

    Well, I don’t think that the illiterate and disadvantaged people have no voice other than to protest. I actually think that there are many ways in which disadvantaged people could make their voices heard. But the question is not what I know. The question is what disadvantaged people know. And, very often, disadvantaged people are not aware of the ways in which they can make their voices heard. Very often, disadvantaged people are not aware of the opportunities by which they may better themselves.

    I agree with you that people should go out and “learn to read, write, and better themselves.” I agree wholeheartedly. I think it would be just great if everybody made good life choices. But to say that such positive changes are simply one decision away for disadvantaged people is not constructive. The actual conditions in which people are born, raised, and in which they live plays a tremendous role in the kinds of choices that are made available to them.

    It is important that we avoid judging the choices that others make on the basis of the choices that have been available to ourselves. A black man living in a poorly developed area of Atlanta is unlikely to know anybody who can connect him with a job on a rig in Alberta. An illiterate person who works three unskilled labor jobs at minimum wage just to put food on the table probably doesn’t see how she could find time in her schedule to make it to an upgrading class in order to find out how to read. And to make things worse, many people are born into such deplorable conditions. Is it their fault, then, that they make poor choices, when they have no way of knowing what a good choice is? It is my opinion that governments need to be actively involved in ensuring that persons have access to good opportunities. It sounds like your view is that governments should stay out of the way, and let those who want to better themselves do so. So, I guess we have a difference of opinion, there.

    Either way, I actually think that the right way to go about making changes is to ensure that disadvantaged people have their concerns represented in legislature and parliament. Camping “out in a park”, making a “mess”, and “chanting nonsense,” as you say, may be effective when it comes to getting the attention of the media, business owners, and government representatives, but such protests usually don’t achieve long-term policy changes.

    The problem is, however, as follows: political representatives are not elected by the poor and disadvantaged people among us. Rather it is the rich and wealthy, being able to afford hefty donations to political campaigns of their choice, who are able to ensure that their own interests are represented in the makings of laws and policies (this is especially the case in the USA). So it is important that, at least at this time, disadvantaged people are able to find another way to gain attention. Many political voices, businesspeople, and media outlets try to push dramatic inequalities out of the spotlight. I think it is important to bring these inequalities back into view. The occupy movement resonates with me for this reason, and I guess it does not, for you. Again, we have a difference of opinions, there. I’m glad to see that you put forward a strong voice, though.

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