Occupy Bay Street... because it makes you feel good! - Macleans.ca

Occupy Bay Street… because it makes you feel good!

Tantrum tactics don’t lead to social change: Urback


Photo by j.dubb on Flickr

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.


Occupy Bay Street… because it makes you feel good!

  1. You know, Robyn, this strikes me as a pretty lazy column, representative of the standard media trope in response to the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon. Approach (1) is to ignore it–completely freeze it out of the news cycle. That has certainly worked before in various demonstrations, but the persistence of these people and the inappropriate police response have rendered that not viable. Therefore, approach (2) is unveiled: let’s make some snide remarks about a bunch of privileged kids with no concrete goals other than a desire to feel indignation. Had you done your research, you would have learned that they do have a number of important and clearly articulated goals, and one of the main ones is already paying off: bring attention to the ongoing class war that has led to mass foreclosures and stagnation of income for all but the very richest. Your snark about the “real” slaves of corporate greed is especially tone-deaf, as many of these protesters are young people who have racked up tens of thousands of dollars in college debt and cannot find a job in the present economic climate, or people who have recently lost their homes.

    I encourage you, and your readers, to actually learn a bit more about the people who have devoted themselves to this difficult work for more than two weeks. A good starting point is this entry in Charles Pierce’s blog at Esquire

    • THANK. YOU.

  2. moral of the story: NEVER PROTEST EVER

  3. They are just voicing there concerns, and bringing awareness to a problem. (which there is)
    Once people are aware, people fix it.

    Currently, you dont see any problems, and just doing your job as a writer.
    However, if you saw a problem, you would of wrote a different article.

    Anyway, good luck. I hope you see our side soon

  4. What a surprise, not a single useful suggestion offered. How about you park that easy cynicism and take some real action Ms Urback?

    Where are you on:
    • More than 25 million North Americans unsuccessfully looking for full-time work
    • In excess of 50 million in mortgage foreclosure
    • An all-time high of 46 percent living in poverty, including 22 percent of all children
    • The median pay for top corporate executives has quadrupled since the 1970s, and the pay of non-supervisory workers has declined by more than 10 percent

    Here’s the message you are too busy belittling your fellow citizens to hear: those who have generated and benefitted from the growing economic gap and will continue to prosper outrageously have to be accountable for how and why, and they have to be accountable NOW.

    Ms Urback, where have you been while power and greed have gone unchecked, while thieves in suits are stealing democracy and freedom? And more importantly, what do you actually propose be done about the mess? Put away your shameful name-calling and join us down here in real life.

  5. Robyn is a ivory tower zombie.

  6. What a slanted view, thanks for the insight

  7. So throwing a hissy fit over an extra cookie is equivalent to hoping to make a decent living? I guess when you’ve already got a nice cushy job *cough writing for mcleans cough* you don’t need to worry about things like having enough food and a roof over your head.

  8. If even Ben Bernanke (Chairman of the Federal Reserve) can see the validity in these protests, your column is contrarian to the point of being completely irrelevant. Maybe reading or listening a little more will help.

  9. Yes, yes, the cocaine addled crooks who crashed the world economy are our doting but dare-to-discipline parents. Citizens who come out in droves to highlight and resist their evils are toddlers looking for things akin to chocolates and frosting. You know, things like jobs, honest and transparent government, education, equal representation, fair and just monitoring to prevent corruption. Please, momma Robyn, don’t spank us. We’ve been bad and will become more compliant straightway. Assuming your application to Fox News is in the mail.

  10. It is really easy to sit on a shelf and spout off pre-scripted drivel handed down to you by the other Main Stream Media outlets. I hate to break it to you, but we all saw the New York Times run this article 2 weeks ago. You just tweaked their ideas and made it about the Canadian protests… *yawn*

    It is difficult to focus in on exactly one issue because they are numerous and pervasive, but very much interrelated. Our world economy needs drastic reform that is sustainable for the world’s ever-growing population. Right now we’re playing Russian roulette with our environment, and our government seems ever determined to tip the scales in favor of having our heads all blown off. Canada needs to stop being American’s lap dog. Ten years before you posted this flippant, self-congratulating piece of garbage Canada entered a war in Afghanistan based on ideals of American imperialism and we are still there today, at the expense of Joe Tax payer and numerous Canadian lives. We suspend Charter Rights and make the biggest mass arrest in Toronto ever, but we never question what went on at the G20 Summit (What did go on was an agreement to cut social spending and bow down to the banks, and a complete failure to agree on lowering C02 emissions, despite the fact that leaders of the 3rd world are BEGGING us to reconsider our actions).

    I vote. However, we protest because 1) That is all we feel we can do when the system itself is broken and 2) because contrary to your apparent lack of knowledge of history and recent world events, peaceful resistance has worked and will work again.

    Keep making your lips move with pretty words to make yourself feel smarter. It doesn’t change the fact that the only thing that comes out of your mouth

  11. This almost made me laugh. Rogers-owned Macleans saying something negative about a protest against massive corporate greed. Corporate media is going to be on the wrong side of this movement. They already look so out of touch.

  12. What the author correctly points out is that the protesters have not identified a goal, or a solution.

    Rather than dismiss it on those grounds, it should be recognized for what it is. A frustration of epic proportion, as a result of growing disparity of wealth in Canada and the US, and the fact that while the government sits by while millions are in poverty, we’re all asked to pass the hat around, once the big businesses are in trouble.

    This is growing energy and passion, which if harnessed correctly could result in transformational change to our government and our countries.

    In case no one has noticed, our standard of living is getting worse not better, as nations all compete to have the lowest tax rates thereby leaving massive funding shortages at all levels of government.

  13. I’d like to note the irony in being labeled spoiled by the generation that raised us..