Above: St. James Park from overhead during the Occupy Toronto Occupation. Image from blogto.com
In the most recent issue of Maisonneuve, Occupy Toronto insider Paul Gettlich offers an adept history of the temporary micro-society which famously fomented in St. James Park during OT’s month-long occupation. The feature, entitled “Anatomy of an Occupation,” recaptures the unique atmosphere of chaos and political exuberance that characterized life in the OT encampment, focusing in particular on the challenge of self-regulation faced by OT activists. As the encampment increasingly became home to society’s most marginal elements, including the homeless and the mentally ill, it became plagued by substance abuse and occasional fits of violence.
“Occupy Wall Street had taken root in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park a month earlier, but it quickly spread across the globe, with some one thousand tent cities flowering from Halifax to Hong Kong. Each protest site is plagued by a slew of external and internal pests. Riot cops. Infiltrators. Mass arrests. Rubber bullets. Groupthink. Infighting. Truthers. Tasers. The movement—which claims to represent 99 percent of society—has one particularly great challenge. It occupies spaces that are often already occupied: city parks where the homeless, the mentally ill and the addicted congregate. Over two hundred tents quickly pockmark St. James Park, and both groups—protesters and drifters alike—must learn to coexist. In a city where Mayor Rob Ford was elected, a year earlier, on a platform of privatizing social services, a petri dish of dystopia evolves at the Occupy encampment. But so does the group’s ability to internally adapt, to govern and police the wide array of problems it faces.
Some volunteers, referred to as marshals, are originally trained to guide marches and supervise protests. But as more problems arise, their role changes into something resembling a non-violent security detail. Many of them disappear when the temperature drops and more malcontents arrive. In the third week of October, the hardcore marshals—who camp in the park or live in the area—organize into two groups. The Street Team deals with the homeless and drug users. The Greeting Committee identifies potential troublemakers when they first arrive and explains how things work in the park: no violence. Easier said than done; after all, no one in the 99 percent is excluded. That week, as if on cue, more and more self-proclaimed prophets, meth heads, crack peddlers and alcoholics embed themselves in the camp. Fights start erupting. A late October cold snap is about to break.”
Whereas Paul Gettlich’s approach is narrative and historical, retelling the event of encampment from start to finish, Noah Gataveckas, over at Civilized Discontent, returns to St. James Park six months after the eviction and details, in ideological terms, the city’s official effort to deny the park its history, to re-sod the grass, and to eradicate all traces of the occupation, leaving behind the message that nothing interesting ever happened there.
“The homeless who filled this park … embodied capitalism’s stain: they gave presence to its contradictions, its inherent failings in a verifiable, concrete way. All someone had to do was take a walk through the park and they would see the 21st century new norm of neo-feudalism: the castles of finance capital had suddenly been surrounded by the lumpen rabble, such that no one could pretend any longer that the good old days of late 20th century capitalism were still in effect. We had entered the Age of Austerity, a retro throwback to the Great Depression. On the outside, people walked around, repressing well and acting like Clinton was still in office or some shit. Meanwhile, inside the perimeter of the zone, souls were getting a sneak peak at what’s to come, which is what has already arrived for millions around the world in the form of new social relations that are bound through the ties of destitution, unemployment, and poverty.”
Both articles are well worth a read. Check out Paul Gettlich’s “Anatomy of an Occupation” over at Maisonneuve, and “Recalling the St. James Occupy at 6 Months” by Noah Gataveckas at Civilized Discontent.
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