When a toddler is exasperated, he will hurl himself on his back and kick his feet up in the air. The action rarely wins him the coveted extra cookie or forbidden toy of mystery, but incapable of more advanced reasoning techniques, the child becomes subservient to his own uncontrollable desires. Eventually, this child will learn that he might acquire an extra Oreo by sweet-talking mom or taking on additional chores. He’ll come to realize that flailing and shouting may win him a feeling of persuasiveness, even though he’s actually just hurting his cause.
Trouble is, this youngster will regress again when he hits that tumultuous stage of young adulthood. Armed with terrible rhyming couplets about capitalism and a ‘Twitter for iPhone’ app (oblivious to the irony), he’ll march with his comrades, protesting for a vague, better tomorrow free of corporate greed.
Such men and women have taken to the streets of New York over the past few weeks, ostensibly with the aim of achieving some sort of goal. I say “ostensibly,” of course, because protesters have yet to put together a coherent, unified explanation of what they hope to accomplish by taking over the Brooklyn Bridge and releasing rainbow balloons into the air. A prettier skyline, perhaps?
The protesters have said they are against corporate greed, climate change, occupation of Indigenous land (uh… perhaps ‘Occupy Wall Street’ was a naming oversight), corruption, militarism, and whatever else will fit on the press release. Might I suggest Sarah Jessica Parker romantic comedies and ubiquitous displays of public affection as well?
We lucky Canucks are not immune, poised to receive our first demonstrations October 15 in Toronto and Vancouver. The “Occupy Toronto” movement is, as of yet, just as poorly focused, if not more. Spokesperson and college student Bryan Batty told the Toronto Star that we, too, have many issues that merit sitting in the street, including youth unemployment, growing debt, environmental destruction, and the increasingly illustrious issue of corporate greed. The Vancouver protest will happen at the Vancouver Art Gallery for some reason—down with Emily Carr paintings!
The movement is unfocused, but that’s nothing new. Conflicting messages clouded the G20 protests in Toronto last summer, the unfortunate havoc that greeted the end of Vancouver’s NHL season this year, and the recent rioting in Britain where protesters were divided in their quests for social change and free sneakers. These sorts of demonstrations, void of any remnant of pragmatism, inevitably turn to clashes between protesters and police.
Those truly enslaved by the inequities of “corporate greed” don’t have the luxury of taking the day off work to protest, and the police, confronted with hoards of unpredictable demonstrators, usually react with an inappropriate amount of force.
So if we know it tends to end badly, if we know it’s not going to compel social and economic reform, why do so many people paint posters and hit the streets anyway?
Well, for the same reason that rogue senate page Brigette DePape donned a “Stop Harper” sign in the House of Commons last June, and why our lustful little toddlers kick their feet up in the air when they want a cookie. Because it makes us feel good. It makes us feel as though we’re making a difference. Brigette wasn’t going to “stop Harper” with her sign, and Occupy Toronto protesters aren’t going to stop corporate greed with their catchy rhymes. But occupying a street, or throwing a temper tantrum for a cookie, is a much more cathartic, immediately gratifying expression of discontent than working to reform legislation, which is what actually leads to change in democracies.
Canadians are fortunate in that they have the freedom to work within the system to compel social and economic reform—however slowly. Yet we so often opt to stage demonstrations in the name of “awareness,” and revert back to our lives when our voices become hoarse. Children eventually learn the key to cookie autonomy is to change the wafer power dynamic through negotiation or economic independence. If they can retire their temper tactics, we youth may find a better way too.