Victoria: now otherwise occupied

Local group follows international lead, but with a new name

It was a long evening of democracy for the Occupy Victoria group during their first meeting.

Local group follows international lead, but with a new name

Camping, sitting, eating, playing, working and bathrooming in Centennial Square for days on end might not sound like a picnic for all, but throw in the bonus of proving a point, and you’d be surprised how many jump on board.

It’s only the starting point for Occupy Victoria, a movement that’s following in the cross-continent footsteps of Occupy Together, but hundreds of thousands of individuals throughout the nations are gathering in world-wide occupations — from protests, to sit-ins, to live-ins — in locations throughout Canada, the U.S., Europe, Australia and Asia.

“We have to enter this future together, but some people are hesitant and upset about what we’re really inheriting here,” says Jesse Ambler, who started the Occupy Victoria twitter feed a little over a week ago, and worked with others to create the Facebook page and further movement.

The Occupy rallies began with the call for a movement last July in AdBusters Magazine. It took off Sept. 17, however, when people collected in Occupy Wall Street, causing a rupture in the day-to-day business investors and residents had lulled themselves into. From there, all-ages Occupies have sprouted up in over 160 locations around the world so far, even with offshoots like Occupy The Media, which launched from Victoria this week.

On Monday, Oct. 3, organizers held their first open gathering, inviting all members of the public to come out and voice how they think the occupied space should go down. With the impending date of Oct. 15 for a universal day of solidarity, the organizers had a lot of logistics to work through — but didn’t get far.

Nearly 100 people showed up to Monday’s gathering, age 6 to 78. But by an hour into what turned into a four-hour session, the first order of business was still being debated: whether or not to call the mission Occupy Victoria, in respect to the First Nations group that already occupy the land. The group finally decided on some version of the Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, with the original name bracketed.

“Democracy can be extremely frustrating, because you see people butting heads and arguing over one-word phrasing for an hour, but anything done well takes time,” says Ambler. “It’s wrong to try to simplify change, but it’s important that people realize we’re starting now, and to get them used to the climate of direct democracy.”

Ambler says already he’s witnessed people across the country taking the movement in their own directions. However, just as stigmas tag along with red-and-black anarchist movements, Ambler says the Victoria group has already vowed to make their actions peaceful, and settle for nothing less.

“One of the things that was so astounding about the [2011] Vancouver hockey riots, was that all these citizens just stood back and watched while a handful of people destroyed their city,” he says. “We’ve already said we won’t stand for this. If anyone tries to evoke violence we’ll stop them, or let police take them.”

Ambler admits to being green to the movement. While he says he’s got an active community background in political engagement, he’s never been part of anything like this before. In fact, the 23-year-old University of Victoria English/Greek and Roman Studies major says all he saw was a void that needed filling.

“I never saw myself as a leader in this area,” he says. “But I think that’s kind of the point: we’re trying to get this into the hands of the people and see it catch fire. It’s an ever-evolving process, and a new kind of movement, but I think a lot of good will come of this.”

So far, Ambler and the team have not figured out all the logistics, like how the occupiers will balance work, school, family and life demands along with managing to hold down the fort at all hours in Centennial Square, but he’s not worried. Ambler says whether the movement lasts for one day, one month, or one year, the point will be made.

“I think what people are finding most challenging is that we’re not walking in there with one message, saying ‘here, change this one thing,’” he says. “That is the message — that we all have our own ideas about what needs to change, but that things aren’t right in the world right now, and that we’re not going to stand for it anymore. We want an alternative.”

Ambler is quick to speak to the idea that much of the young generation has been tagged as a group with a sense of entitlement. He says, we’re a generation misunderstood.

“I grew up with teachers telling me, ‘What’s wrong with your generation? Back in my day, we used to stand up for what we believed in,’” says Ambler. “Well, it took us a little time, but we’re standing up now. And people are calling us entitled hippies.”

Generations aside, Ambler encourages literally everyone to attend the assemblies and get involved — in more ways than just on the computer.

“It’s hard to connect to a crowd that is used to being fed information over the computer, and it’s hard to wake up people who don’t want to be woken up,” he says. “But it’s a lot easier to tune out than move forward. I think we’re finally seeing people starting to tune back in.”

The group will meet every day at 7 p.m. at Centennial Square for planning sessions, until the occupation takes place on Oct. 15. For more info, check out their Facebook page or Twitter feed. M

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