Occupy Victoria: ‘We all have a stake in this’

Five days after thousands of feet drummed Victoria pavement, dozens of residents are still occupying Centennial Square.

Over 1,000 rallied in Centennial Square in Victoria on Saturday, Oct. 15, as part of the Occupy Together movement. The cause has people excited and asking: where do we go from here?

Five days after thousands of feet drummed Victoria pavement in a day of solidarity, dozens of residents are still occupying Centennial Square — in fact, the occupation could just be starting. Over 1,000 people gathered on Saturday, Oct. 15, wheeling out strollers, families, pets and petition signs to take part in the Occupy Together movement in Victoria — one of the largest rallies the city has ever seen.

A small crowd arrived on the legislature lawn in the morning, but by noon hundreds collected in Centennial Square, culminating in a march that led people to “Bank Row” (at Fort and Douglas) where the group sat down for 20 minutes before marching to the legislature and back to the square again.

While the mass excitement has since quieted, five days into occupation, the movement is far from over.

“This is one of the most inspiring events I’ve ever had the opportunity to be part of, and it seems like that’s where all the energy in the world is right now,” says Mandy Leith, who spent the night in Centennial Square after the rally and woke up Sunday to 200 to 300 people still occupying the square. “In fact, it’s hard to concentrate on anything else.”

Leith, 48, is an independent documentary filmmaker and social media consultant with Victoria’s Open Cinema and other groups. While she’s used to pulling 40 to 60-hour work weeks, she adjusted her schedule to take part in the Occupy events and has dedicated her time to the cause. Leith has followed the movement since the get-go, from Wall Street to Victoria, and started the Twitter account “Occupy the Media.”

“There’s something that’s so different about this, like we’ve all reached some critical mass where we can’t just keep doing the same thing and it feels like a real change is about to happen,” says Leith, who drove through the “Battle of Seattle” in 1999. “This is the most hopeful, exciting and widespread movement of my lifetime.”

One of the most miraculous parts of the movement has been the support, says Leith, adding that mass donations have come in from Salt Spring Island, local artists and business persons — even Cabin 12 has offered restrooms and free breakfasts, based on incoming community donations.

Each day, the Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria (Occupy Victoria) hosts a field kitchen lunch at noon and dinner at 6 p.m., with meetings following each day from 12 to 2 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. All community members — street-entrenched or housed — are encouraged to attend, though all are required to follow the sobriety policy: no drugs, alcohol, or rowdy behaviour will be tolerated.

Now, Leith says, the movement’s continued success will be based on people who keep showing up — even if it’s just for a few hours.

“The whole point of the Occupy movement is that we are all so valuable and that together we do make a difference — but it’s about everyone showing up to do their little part,” she says. “Now, the group needs your help more than ever.”

On Saturday, the fervor ran throughout the crowd, with children, seniors and hundreds in between holding signs that promoted a barrage of messages: “Robin Hood was right,” “I’m here for you,” “Down with Smart Meters,” “Start with Earth,” “Disobey,” “People united will never be defeated” and “WTF?”

Sarien LaPhan, 18, didn’t know about the day of solidarity, but was travelling up from California and stumbled upon the movement.

“I don’t know a lot about Wall Street, but I know that the world isn’t right at the moment, and that money is overwhelming everyone,” LaPhan says. “I’ve been living without [money] for a month now, and have travelled through trade and barter. The idea is that if you have faith in yourself you can manifest a positive destiny.”

LaPhan says that while there have been many historic “first steps” to change, like Woodstock and anti-war rallies, she hopes this will be the final first step.

“I just turned 18 three days ago, and now I can vote, which is where the real change happens,” she says. “We all grow up with different values, and I don’t blame those who make up the corporate mindset — they’re just people like us. Hopefully they stop for a minute, though, and see what’s right.”

But while the message behind the movement seems elusive to some, even naysayers showed up to see what was happening.

“I don’t normally come to protests because they seem so self-serving, and I take exception to the mob mentality and the extremist emotional chants,” says Chris Hein, 37, who attended the rally on Oct. 15. “Still, there might be space left in this conversation for something good to come from it. At least this gets things started.”

Police were present throughout the event and the “snake march” that took place through the streets, which resulted in temporary road closures and minor traffic delays. Still, all has remained peaceful, and police have struck a middle ground with the Occupy group — even around the city’s tenting bylaw.

“VicPD is trying to strike a balance between people’s right to protest and the local bylaw,” VicPD Media Spokesperson Cst. Mike Russell stated in a release, adding that there had been no incidents to report as of press time. “The Occupy movement is a global event and VicPD is trying to accommodate Victoria citizens’ participation.”

While community members have donated couches, tables, tents, blankets, even a propane campfire — thrown in from Leith herself — the group does have a wish list: a giant chalkboard for daily announcements, mattresses and wooden pallets, cold-weather gear, including socks and latex gloves for food safety.

And while the group isn’t ready to consider the indefinite end of the movement any time soon, Leith says these donations will be passed on to others who need them in the future.

“A lot of people are asking, ‘what now,’ but if you agree with the movement, or you have questions, or you don’t understand it — or you just want free lunch — head down to Centennial Square and help decide what the ‘what now’ will be,” says Leith. “We all have a stake in this. And, as people were chanting at the rally, we are a creative people. We can find a new way.” M

To find out more, check out occupyvictoria.ca, or leave your computer and visit the occupation at Centennial Square.

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