What if you threw an anniversary party and nobody occupied it? This is likely a question on the minds of some local social activists after a poor turnout for the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the Occupy Vancouver protest.
Around 4,000 to 5,000 people turned out Oct. 15 last year to express solidarity with the original Occupy Wall Street demonstration in Manhattan. A makeshift tent city immediately sprung up outside the Vancouver Art Gallery to decry growing global economic inequality, corporate greed and all that is seemingly going wrong with the world today.
Only a little more than around one per cent of that number braved the intermittent rain in order to mark Occupy Vancouver’s first birthday Monday. Several dozen people representing nearly as many different causes marched from Library Square along Georgia Street back to the original gallery location.
“I’ve got to admit I was expecting a heck of a lot more people than this,” said former Marijuana Party federal candidate Marc Boyer, 60, mid-afternoon. He believes the movement, which also occurred in dozens of cities across North America and was inspired by Vancouver’s Adbusters magazine, was probably doomed from the get-go due to starting too late in the year.
“The one basic problem with the Occupy movement is it started in the fall. The reality is if you read [Sun Tzu’s] The Art of War, it says draw your enemy out just before winter so you can demoralize him, degrade him and then beat him up. That’s exactly what they did.”
Oliver Harwood, who spent several nights camped out at the site last fall, said Occupy Vancouver has left a significant legacy despite no longer having a physical presence.
“I’ve spent much of the past year wondering about what happened,” said the 42-year-old artist. “I think it was an amazing experience because it was just a spontaneous gathering of strangers that all came together and tried to figure out how to work together and how to build a community.”
He says some of the original protesters still meet once a week at the W2 Cafe and the Occupy movement helped provide inspiration for the recent student protests in Quebec and, closer to home, as well as a support network for activists opposed to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project planning on demonstrating in front of the B.C. legislature building Oct. 22.
“I think the biggest thing it accomplished was it created a dialogue,” said Harwood. “In the mainstream media and beyond, it created an awareness that our government and our elected officials are not the real power and we have to look behind that at the corporations that are affecting governments. But then the media all became focused on the tent city and at that point the discussion drifted away from the issues and away from why people came together in the first place and the camp fell apart, as it did in camps all around North America.”
The protest site was a hot-button issue during last November’s civic election, with the NPA’s mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton calling for the immediate dismantling of the camp while incumbent Gregor Robertson took a more sympathetic approach.
Public support began to wane after a number of media outlets ran unsubstantiated reports about rats infesting the site and following the death by overdose of 23-year-old Ashley Gough in one of the tents. The city eventually received a legal injunction to remove the Occupy Vancouver tents, and protesters decamped Nov. 21.