Is This Progress? This Is Progress.

What Is Kaputall?

Oxford defines Kaput as "broken and useless; no longer working or effective" - similar to our unbalanced economic system. This is a page dedicated to the intersection of capitalism and social, political, and environmental problems.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Reflections on Occupy Ottawa II

During the past week there have been some significant changes within the movement and I am struggling with whether or not I can justify staying on.

The most salient concern I've been having is with many people considering the camp an unsafe space. There have been recent actions taken by small groups of individuals that have led many committed occupiers to abandon the movement. Making people uncomfortable who identify as LGBTQ is intolerable and must be dealt with. Moreover, any attack on any individual is not justifiable. Many women, first nations, communists, and others have decided that the movement no longer welcomes them. It is truly sad to see people who fight socioeconomic equality engage in behaviour that breeds inequality. Fundamentally, we have to judge this movement, just as we famously judge a society, by how it treats the people in the most vulnerable positions. And while one of my compatriots noted that "no community is impervious from conflict", I would like to point out that every community has the responsibility to find a way to minimise it.

The so-called "problem" has been traced back to those in the camp who are using substances. At a meeting for Security and Safety that I decided (thankfully) to attend, most agreed that we need to adopt a zero-tolerance policy for these activities in the park. After it was clear that the group was achieving consensus on this issue, I reminded them that these policies are extremely ineffective and gave them a brief explanation of Ontario's zero tolerance policy in schools, instituted in the 1990s. I warned the group that there are three key issues here:

1) that intolerance will not solve the problem;
2) that we cannot act actually remove anyone from the land we are illegally occupying;
3) that not following through on the process undermines it entirely

So there are severe pitfalls to harsh treatment, and the only positive that we can see coming out of it is that it makes decisions "easier" because we are bound to a set principle. Thankfully I was able to defuse the situation, but when emotions are running high it is difficult to take a step back and find appropriate ways to deal with things. Although we still do not have a policy, at least we don't have a zero-tolerance one.

All this ties into a perceived notion of requiring leadership - an idea that is rapidly gaining ground at virtually all Occupy locations. Many feel that with these growing safety concerns we must find a way of strengthening a core group that will be leaders. While leader is a term that was avoided purposefully, the positions that were being advocated would cement more concentration of power in individuals. While there are already some informal structures that create hierarchy to a degree, they are very decentralised and thus make a minimal impact. The effects of heavily central power and the formalisation of roles (whether liaison on representative) will only serve to privilege certain people, often who are already quite privileged.

In response to a growing impression that leadership was on the way, there was a meeting last Monday where a small group of us designed an alternative model. We agreed that the atmosphere was becoming more toxic and that the best way to deal with the situation would be to invest time and energy into running camp-wide workshops on self-reflection before general assemblies.

The idea is relatively simple: people are coming to this movement and mentally and physically becoming very tired. Moreover, many in the movement are not applying their critical thinking skills that they devote to the 1 per cent to the 99 per cent. This is terribly problematic, especially when we are in a process of building a community. While we agreed on the idea and announced it throughout the week, it didn't catch on as people seemed dismissive of it. This is going to have some serious long-term consequences.

And now for my final thought: messages. Occupy has been criticised by the media everywhere for failing to have answers. This line of thinking has penetrated Ottawa's camp and is now taking over the discourse. This, of course, despite the purpose of Occupy to merely bring attention to the gross inequalities in our system. I fully oppose presenting a platform or list of demands. This movement, as one of my professors eloquently put it, is about "changing the channel". This resounded with me and made me think of this picture from Occupy San Diego.

I don't know where this movement is going in the short term, but I intend to stay involved and help keep this movement from slipping into hierarchy, exclusion, and ultimately failure. Stay tuned.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Reflections on Occupy Ottawa

Yesterday was the first day since the movement started on Saturday that I did not participate. Occupy Ottawa is part of the Occupy Together Movement, which started in New York, and has drawn more than 500 people to the park daily.

Having been very involved in the protest for the past week, I would like to offer some insights into my experiences - just a simple reflection, if you will.

To start off, I think it would be worthwhile dispelling some of the unfortunate propaganda that's been flying around in the media. For the most part, the movement was ignored. Although the protests in the United States started in September, it was nearly three weeks later that coverage made it into television newscasts, radio announcements, or the newspapers.

Social networking sites were the main source of information, though there was certainly interference collaboratively from Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, and the police, attempting to censor information both at its origin (on the streets of New York) and its distribution (on the internet). Overwhelmingly, this was photographs and video. There are thousands of pictures of protesters having their cameras snatched from them (often by force). Similarly, Facebook has made certainly pictures just disappear. Thankfully, a critical mass of support was reaches in early October, and now instead of ignoring the movement, the media had to at least address it.

With the rise in awareness came the spread of the movement internationally. This past Saturday, 15 September, similar movements sprouted across the globe. There are now more than 600 locations located in more than 80 countries. That is absolutely phenomenal.

As for the aims of the movement itself: this has been a source of real controversy. Broadly, it is about the growing disparity between the so-called "haves" and the "have-nots". In the movement, this has been framed by the 1 per cent and the 99 per cent. This has, naturally, garnered some significant criticism, not the least of which is that by virtue of living in North America you are definitely not living in abject poverty. Nevertheless, this movement attempts to raise awareness of a collusion of social, political, economic, and environmental factors that have devastating effects for everyone in our communities, whether regional, national, or international.

It's important, then, to look at just who is participating. It's truly a cross-section of societies. Homeless, environmentalists, LGBTQ persons, women, socialists, communists, veterans,  immigrants, students, elderly, unemployed, underemployed, professors, politicians, writers, artists, and the list goes on literally forever..... because it includes everyone. At the General Assembly meeting on Wednesday at Occupy Ottawa, we agreed that even Stephen Harper would have a voice if he were to drop by.

As someone who has participated not only in the decisionmaking processes (I attend the General Assembly meetings in addition to being someone involved in the Education Committee and the Non-Violent Direct Action Committee) but also in the day-to-day affairs of the movement, I can say that it is both thoroughly engaging, and very empowering. While there are agonising hours spent building consensus, it is at the same time inspiring to see true direct democracy that is not a tyranny of the majority or the minority. This movement is often criticised for not standing for something - and that claim is ludicrous. Occupy Together is about working collaboratively and making the decisionmaking process open to everyone and totally transparent. If you don't think that's the case, drop by a protest near you and tell me differently!

All I want to accomplish in writing this is that I hope that after reading my post, you will question what you see in the media. What are they telling you? What are they not representing? What images are being shown? Remember, the 1 per cent are disproportionately represented in government and in the media, and it is in their best interests to portray this movement as illegitimate, incoherent, or immoral. We must fight this labelling!

Here are some interesting links with pictures or video to check out:

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Better to Lie?

I recently saw this ad for Andes Beer posted on a friend's wall. I was surprised not so much at the content (I mean, really, it is a pretty standard dialogue in modern society) but by the person posting it. I don't want to out the individual who posted it, but I will mention that he is someone dedicated to tearing down barriers in our society against race, religion, sex, class, and more. Even more interesting is that he had just posted the clip going around for Miss Representation. To his credit though, the video is no longer on his wall!

So let's take a look at the video. The first thing that comes to mind is this dichotomy of men as oppressed victims and women as possessive and overbearing. It really is ridiculous to see this, given how the reverse is so true (and has been throughout history). Watching the video really made me want to comment on it saying something sarcastic like: "finally, someone is stepping up for the rights of men who are unable to go to the bar!".

Seriously though. Maybe I just don't understand this culture very well. I may well be in the target audience for the beer commercial, but as someone who doesn't particularly enjoy the bar, I think that it's lost on me. I mean, I thought that going out to the club was to pick up, not to just have a friendly drink. So what's the subtext here? Are women limiting their partners' sexual activities? That's entirely laughable when we consider the effort being made throughout the world to control female sexuality.

What's really interesting in this commercial, and there are certainly other elements that I would like to talk about if you comment below, is how international this culture is. Keep in mind that this commercial was produced for Andes, an Argentinian brewery. Notice how similar (or perhaps how "western") this representation of Argentinian culture is? With many people from across the political spectrum declaring that feminism is dead or that sexism doesn't exist anymore, it's really important to understand where the spaces for inequality still exist.

Many people determine inequality based on law. In many jurisdictions in the world, women and men, at least on paper, have the same rights. However, that just means that capital, social relations, various media, and religion are now spaces where women are unequal. Think about these examples:

What good does having equal access to the courts mean if a woman is unemployed and can't afford to go to court?

What good does the right to have an abortion do when a woman's family will not support the decision?

What good does the right to run for office mean when a woman is belittled for her clothing or hairstyle in the evening news?

What good does equality do when a woman is told by her congregation that her role is centred on the family?

I hope you will thoroughly consider these - especially the ties that are made back to the particular media I have highlighted in this post. I want to quickly point out one more thing, though.

My partner showed my the Everything I Do Is Wrong campaign as well, which again paints women as irrational and oppressive, and men as victims and in need of banding together to protect their interests. Thankfully, due to much public pressure, the California Milk Board pulled the advertisements, though not without a ridiculous controversy and claiming that "some people found it funny". It was a weak apology. My hope is that together we can stop making beer commercials about ridiculous premises such as the oppression of men by women. And maybe get a good apology while we are at it?

Saturday, 8 October 2011


Recently, I came across this really interesting game, Spent. It was posted on a site that my partner and I love to check out, called I really encourage you to take a few minutes to sit down and try to play this game. The most important part of it is to be honest with your answers and make it as realistic as possible.

The premise of the game is remarkably simple - it's a flash-based interface that asks you some challenging questions about how to avoid running out of money. You are a single parent who has just lost their job. You have to take a job working in either the service industry, a factory, or as a temp, all for minimum wage, while trying to stay afloat.

Poverty in North America is a tough road. I really can't explain in text how awful it is, and I'm exceptionally lucky to be where I am in life, a professional student of eight years, and still not be in debt. But the reality for a growing number of Americans and Canadians is that they cannot make ends meet.

The corrosion of great public programmes for basics (such as social housing) is devastating to the collective well-being of our society. When combined with more competition for lower waged work, particularly in the wake of the recession, life becomes unlivable for many. As the game highlights, those in poverty are more likely to be unhealthy, depressed, unable to access medical care or legal help, living in fear of losing their homes or their jobs, using illegal substances or alcohol, and often suffering alone or in silence.

Fighting poverty is one of the most basic social justice needs out there. It's a straightforward cause in and of itself, but what's more: it's intimately connected to a variety of other social issues. Poverty is far more likely to strike ethnic minorities, women, single parents, people with disabilities, people with poor mental health, or LGBTQ North Americans.

As such, combating poverty requires some reeducation on how unjust our modern capitalist society is. Again, since I'm a teacher and a strong advocate of publicly owned and operated infrastructure, I see this as the prerogative and the great responsibility of the state. Ontario, and many other provinces, have curricula that emphasise social justice and critical analysis of modern society. However, it is always up to the discretion of the individual teacher - many of whom don't have the skills needed to be fair and critical. It's time for some change here....

Something that has been in the news a lot in the Ontario Election was the issue of teacher training being extended to become a two-year programme. I wholeheartedly support the shift to spending more of an effort preparing our future teachers to be able to be effective in the classroom. But the issue is not having teachers get more experience, it's about spending more of an effort training them how to think critically. As a graduate of York University, I am fully aware of just how central the inclusive teaching practices are to being a great teacher. It's what education needs to be to keep Ontario at the top of the best education systems in North America.

I find it hard to find a better purpose in life than to make the word a fairer, greener, and more prosperous place. Let's put people before profits and fight for a tomorrow worth living in. Fight inequality by opening your mind and realising that living in poverty is not a choice or that people deserve it. Poverty happens because our system is designed to make it happen. That needs to change.