On Global Day of Action, Occupy Ottawa flexes underrated muscle
Even as the threat of eviction from Confederation Park looms larger, the Occupy Ottawa movement is getting stronger, says Arun Smith.
Yesterday, the movement held simultaneous marches before four key Ottawa landmarks: the Canadian Human Rights Monument, US embassy, Novotel hotel and the Sparks Street Mall.
Before leaving the park, the protesters observed a minute of silence to honor Occupy movements facing eviction and police brutality across the world.
“It’s a pivotal day for Occupy Ottawa,” said Smith, one of the organizers of the marches. “The protest before the Human Rights Monument reminded Canadians that the Occupy Movement was built on an unequivocal commitment to human rights. And these rights include the rights of aboriginal peoples, women, workers, persons of color, LGBTQ, and other oppressed peoples everywhere. Occupy Ottawa is a movement against all forms of oppression.”
The protesters targeted the US embassy to honor the Occupy Movement’s beginnings on Wall Street, and to express solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement, which currently faces eviction and police brutality.
The protesters marched on Novotel to show solidarity with the hotel’s workers. They claim that hotel authorities are stifling the workers’ rights to unionize.
The Sparks Street Mall is a corporate and media hub. The Occupiers targeted the mall especially to restate its stance against corporate greedy and growing economic inequalities. They put up protest signs on the windows of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC).
Smith wants the wants the media to report responsibly and truthfully on the Movement. “We want to recognize that no longer will we allow the Occupy movement to be considered by the media to be directionless,” he said. “We have direction. We have issues. We have important things to discuss. Let that discussion begin.”
Will the authorities heed the call to dialogue? In the last 48 hours, New York police arrested more than 300 Occupy Wall Street protesters celebrating the movement’s second month. Across Canada, authorities have torpedoed Occupy moments in Halifax, Saskatoon and London, Ontario. Protesters in Regina, Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria have been served with marching orders.
Smith was part of the satellite group that marched from Confederation Park, through the Rideau Centre and ByWard Market, to the American Embassy on Sussex Drive. The group chanted slogans reaffirming solidarity with Canadian and international Occupy movements that have been ejected from their camps.
One example: “Occupy Toronto under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back!”
As the protesters marched through the Rideau Centre, they chanted:
To everyone working in these stores today
I ask you a simple question
Do your bosses treat you fairly?
Do your bosses treat you right?
Do they respect your rights?
Do they respect the law?
If not, join us!
Let your voices sound out!
There are many categories of oppression
You’re the economically oppressed
And people who earn the lowest possible wage
Who do not make enough to make ends meet
Need to know that there are people who fight for them
There are people who fight with them
Let our voices ring out
Because we’re the 99%
The protesters’ ranks swelled as dozens of shoppers and store workers followed them to listen to their message.
Around noon, the group reached the US embassy where three officers from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and several embassy security, stood waiting for them. The group peacefully occupied half of the intersection at Sussex Drive and York Street, directly opposite the entrance to the embassy’s parking garage and delivered speeches using the people’s mic.
Within minutes, about eight Ottawa police officers parked motorcycles alongside the protesters and directed traffic. Vehicles traveling eastbound on Sussex Drive and those merging from York Street passed through without disruption.
As the time wore on, however, more Ottawa police officers arrived and one officer ordered the protesters to leave or risk arrest. In an act of peaceful resistance that seemed to suggest Occupy Ottawa’s likely reaction to eviction from the occupied space on Confederation Park, the protesters stood their ground. They inked arms, sat down and continued with their speeches.
The threat of arrest multiplied as more police vehicles, including a van, arrived. Still, the protesters stood their ground. The most poignant moment came when they started a five minute countdown to their scheduled departure at 2.45pm. As the clock struck 2.45pm without an arrest, the protesters erupted in triumphant celebration.
“This moment showed our resolve in the face of disproportionate police and political force against peaceful Occupiers across the world,” said a relieved protester who wished to remain anonymous. “And yet, it’s ironic that officers from the Ottawa Police and RCMP are protecting the US from peaceful Canadian protesters.”
“We took back power,” Smith added.
Around three pm, the protesters congregated before Parliament. One speaker after speaker “addressed Parliament”, articulating experiences and the movement’s grievances. The speeches were inspired, inspiring, electric and personal.
A representative of the Canadian Wheat Board implored the protesters to support the organization in its ongoing fight against the Harper government’s Bill C-18, which seeks dismantle the Board by Christmas, 2011.
“It’s a decision that could be the beginning of the end for many family farms that form the backbone of Canadian agriculture, and a Canadian way of life,” he said.
A majority of the protesters reiterated their resolve to stay on Confederation Park through the winter. But their fate will depend on the final decision of the National Capital Commission (NCC), the federal government body responsible for the park. In the last two weeks, the NCC has repeatedly hinted that the protesters will be evicted to make way for Winterlude. Although the capital’s main winter festival is in February, preparations start in December.
In the event of eviction, the protesters can count on the support of Canada’s Official Opposition. Earlier on during the march, Paul Dewar, NDP MP for Ottawa Centre, who met up with the U.S. Embassy group at Elgin and Albert on his way to take part in the Novotel protest, told the protesters that the NDP would support them if the NCC issued an eviction order.
“We’ll support people wherever they are demonstrating in a way that is reasonable and according to their constitutional rights,” he said in response to a question from Smith.
From Parliament Hill, the occupiers returned to Confederation Park for a celebratory feast.
We can expect more direct action from Occupy Ottawa in the near future. The movement is planning to protest the Harper government’s omnibus crime Bill C10 on November 26.
Obert Madondo is the founder and editor of the Canadian Progressive World (CPW) blog. He is a writer, social/political activist, survivor, progressive and global citizen. He’s part of the Occupy Ottawa movement and currently edits its website.
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