"What are these people protesting? What do they want to accomplish? I think that these people need to stop occupying and instead get occupations." This was what a good friend of mine said to me as I called him from St.James park to tell him about the protest taking place. While I gave him a well deserved chuckle for his wit, I also took note that his understanding of the protest was obviously quite poor. I'm not one to get out and join a protest. I've always found that there are other ways for me to express my discontent, like through writing for example. That is not to say that I don't sympathize or understand those who choose to join mass protests. The feeling of solidarity and connectedness that a positive protest promotes is unparalleled, and for many that feeling is the whole purpose. I still remember vividly the protests that I witnessed in Honduras as a human rights observer. People were protesting against a coup government, an illegal and false election, and a terrifying state of repression where activists were disappearing and ending up dead. The final protest that I witnessed was a caravan through the hilly streets of the city of Tegulcigalpa where people came out in thousands raising their fingers in the air to show that they had no stamp, meaning they chose to boycott the elections. It was a movement that stirred something inside of me, that forever left me with an appreciation for different forms of dissent. Yet as the Occupy Wall Street protest arrived in Toronto, I found myself searching for answers to those questions that my friend asked me. What is the point? What do you want to accomplish? I can't say I have a definitive answer, I don't think anyone can. But just because such answers are elusive does not mean the protest is a failure. On the contrary, the fact that such questions are being asked is a clear sign of success.
Simply put, everyone has their own reasons for protesting, and with experience comes perspective. Many of my friends who have good jobs and who have always lived pretty comfortably can't understand why people are protesting. There is this idea amongst many middle class North Americans that somehow everyone has it great in this country, that no one has a right to protest against our system because it provides so much. Well it is true that compared to poor countries, one like Honduras for example, we do have it pretty good, but should relative prosperity on a global scale condemn us to a state of inactivity? Should we not always strive for something better? I grew up in a middle class family and I know that I have a good life - that I am lucky. But I've also witnessed the way we create class distinctions and inequalities within this very system that we call fair. I spent the last six months doing manual labour, working in one of the most physically demanding positions there is, yet for minimal remuneration. I provided a service that this society requires in order to function, yet the very people that we helped often looked down upon us, because our occupation implied that we were at the lowest of classes. I worked with people who had no other options, and who struggled from week to week to provide for their families even though they were working harder than most people. All because this great system that we call fair has deemed their labour as unskilled and therefore undeserving of fair remuneration.
It is these personal circumstances of different people that have fueled the fire of these protests, and regardless of whether the discontent will bring about a change in our system is irrelevant. They will bring about awareness and discussion, and they will cause people who don't think about such things, like my witty friend, to do so.