Occupy: One year later

With the anniversary at hand, two STU professors question what the movement accomplished. (Jordan MacDonald/AQ)

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the Occupy movement. Two St. Thomas University professors reflect on the movement, to see where it has been and where it might go.

It seems like it was just yesterday. One year ago, on Sept. 17, a small group of people stood in Foley Square, New York, to protest big corporation’s hold on politics. It quickly spread across the country and across borders. The movement had a brief encampment in Fredericton, which started in October and ended last winter.

Some would call it democratic and leaderless. Tom Bateman, a political science professor at STU, says it was unfocused.

“In which case, it’s not clear to many people what are the actual contours of the movement. Where does it stop? What are the actual issues inside of it versus outside of it? What are the priorities among so many issues that one can select from, that are going to be the priority for this movement?” Bateman said.

“I don’t think there’s been any of that and for political change to take place you need discipline, organization and clear objectives.”
According to Matthew Hayes, a sociology professor at STU, the major issue with the movement wasn’t the lack of focus, it was the actual encampment. The movement’s main image is that of a permanent encampment, often on public property. Hayes says that isn’t what it should be.

He believes that detracted from the message the Fredericton movement was trying to get across.

“On the whole, what is that people think about when they hear about it? Inequality or a tent taken down in the middle of winter?” Hayes said.

He says the goal of the movement was, and still is, raising awareness about the “unequal distribution of wealth.”

Bateman says that may be the reason why there are not as many visible successes in Canada, as there are in the United States.

“But, the spark was Wall Street and it was about stalled financial reform,” he said.

“It turns out that Canada weathered the 2008-9 recession far better than did the states. Part of the reason is that our financial system has been a much more stable financial system than theirs.”

Both professors agree the movement had one major success. As Hayes says, it has “changed the conversation.”

“In Canada there’s a growing concern about inequality. [Although] our economy is stronger than in the states, [there is still an] economic crisis here,” Hayes said.

“If there was to be a recession, then there would definitely be a major outcry. The fact that conversation is there now, makes inequality an issue, and it’s more likely to continue to be one in the future.”

Only one question really remains, where is the movement going to go from here?

Hayes thinks the brand of the Occupy movement isn’t likely to survive, at least in Fredericton. But, the conversation will continue.
On the other hand, Bateman thinks there are already changes happening.

“In Quebec, it does appear that some of those very pointed student protests against tuition hikes in that province have some kind of relationship to the Occupy phenomenon,” he said.

“So there is an outgrowth with a very targeted specific objective, and in some sense it’s worked.”

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