My Occupy (a job) movement

Why I’ve been feeling a bit alienated from the pro-Occupy demographic you’d think would be my peers

by Emma Teitel

My occupy (a job) movement

Mark Blinch/Reuters

I’ve avoided writing about the Occupy movement for the following reasons: 1. Until last week I thought Warren Buffett sang Margaritaville. 2. I’m young and I have a job—a fortuitous, albeit awkward combination, as working for a major corporation isn’t exactly popular in most (drum) circles these days. In other words, it’s not the best time to be a liberal arts grad turned corporate lackey. As a result, I’ve been feeling a bit alienated from the pro-Occupy demographic you’d think would be my natural constituency, my peers. My Occupy contemporaries wear clothing made of plants and live in yurts. I just bought a coat with a genuine rabbit collar and I live in a building made of brick. One friend of mine who shall remain nameless appeared in a Toronto Star photo of the St. James Park encampment, beating a bongo drum to apparent oblivion. Another friend who doesn’t mind being named, Jen Anderson, states on her Facebook page that she believes in “energy” and that “we are creatures of the sun / no worries, no wishes / . . . the sun rises to greet us / we spin to meet the sun / There is always more than one truth.”

As disaffected as I sometimes felt from the Occupy movement, its detractors have left me even colder. Both sides have co-opted the supposedly free discourse with claims that strike me as unfounded. But, absent a side on the issue I can fervently embrace—and I suspect I’m not alone here—there are some truths I do stand by:

1. Less is more. Most people would take one good lie over multiple depressing truths. Most people are tired, busy and ignorant, and you don’t Occupy when you’re preoccupied. I love Jen Anderson, but as far as I can see, she doesn’t represent the 99 per cent. I do. Every time I read a story in the newspaper about the Canadian Occupy movement, I feel as though I just opened a book halfway through and I don’t know the plot.

I get why people are sleeping in tents in the United States, but when I see the pictures of the camp in Toronto, I’m not sure why they’re there. Should I join them? Should I watch Modern Family? I don’t know enough to know for sure. My impulse, like most middle-class 99 per centers, is to go to Indigo and pick up The Shock Doctrine or Freakonomics; like most middle-class 99 per centers, I go to Indigo and leave with The Help.

2. Communists rub me the wrong way. It may be a big jump to go from bongo banging to full-out Marxism, but there it is: in an ideological sense, I’ve never liked sharing. In a more personal way, everyone who hit on my girlfriend in university was a Marxist. Again, I don’t like sharing.

3. I like people with a sense of humour and irony, and political activists tend to be lacking in both. Humour humanizes both parties in an argument; it’s the only way to really understand your opponent. As F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” (Or, as Jen Anderson says, “There’s always more than one truth.”) The lack of irony is why I veered from an activist career myself. In high school, I was the Occupying type: president of the students’ council and delegate at many a leadership conference. Eventually, all the ideological affectation got to me, and I was soured by one too many unsolicited hugs. Not long ago, I was riding in a cab on my way home from a nightclub and the cab driver, who had emigrated 10 years ago from Namibia, was telling me his life story. His foreign education—he has a degree in computer science—couldn’t get him a job in Toronto, which is why he was driving a cab. At one point we passed St. James Park, which was at the height of its occupation. I asked him what he thought about the tent city, assuming he’d be sympathetic. “Looks like a bunch of bulls–t to me,” he said.

I don’t happen to think it’s a bunch of bulls–t. But the movement’s unwillingness to mobilize around one voice—or one leader—has destroyed any credibility it might have otherwise had with people like my cabbie; people whose impatience with the Occupiers springs from the fact that they are working crappy jobs. If the Occupiers truly represented people like my cabbie, they wouldn’t have had the time to Occupy at all. And refusing to get organized to spite the organizations in power is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. All it proves is that you hate your enemies more than you love your neighbours.

And that’s no way for anyone to occupy their time.




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My Occupy (a job) movement

  1. What Occupy movement? Are you referring to the group of homeless people living in the park illegally?

  2. I don’t know enough to know for sure.

    And yet you decided to write about it. Awesome journalism, kiddo.

  3. Apparently the author is young … so she says. But old enough to suffer
    brain death and advise it for the rest of us. Thanks.

  4. Wow, those comments are unnecessarily bleak.  I’m thinking that those drive-by comments didn’t exactly get the point of the article.  Come on now people, for a young writer to assess the situation from her own perspective and to do so while being funny is a rare gift, and she appears to have it in spades.  Some of the brightest people I know have come out of King’s college in Halifax. After reading this article, young Ms. Emma will certainly be on my watch list for Canadian commentary.  A few years under Wells’ guidance might be just the thing.  Well done and keep up the good writing.

  5. The befuddling point of the occupy crowd is they want to have a redistribution of wealth but not necessarily by means of accomplishment but rather entitlement. While I think that there are certain professions that are irregularly compensated for their “work”. In the end I still, as I imagine many others of the 99% hold out for, that a good career will provide.
    People make choices; some will benefit more than others; that’s life; deal with it.
    ( Until a shift in values and beliefs occur over work, the disparity will remain. Occupying will not change this.)

  6. You have totally missed the point of the Occupy movement.  It’s all about people, one at a time, not about REPRESENTATION.  My government, at all levels, is supposed to represent me and it doesn’t.  I’m looking for me to make a difference.  Is that so hard to understand, is that to difficult to support???

  7. I wish she would stop occupying a Maclean’s column so that they could hire a better writer. Every other column is just drek.

    • So very uncalled for.  As a young person myself who has friends on the left yet is employed and doesn’t consider myself a sellout, her article resonates with my own thinking and state of being.  How about some applause for a young writer who can dissect a complex issue as she sees it.  For Maclean’s to be giving some ink space to a bright, young and talented up and comer shows they are going to remain relevant.  Good for them and good for her.  

  8. Although I don’t agree with every comment made in the Opinion piece, it is just that, an Opinion piece. Just because she’s young does not mean she doesn’t have the right to an opinion. I agree with her overall assessment of the Occupy Movement in Canada. As a Canadian living abroad I find it hilarious that Canadians think they have any of the grievances of people in other nations. Not saying Canadians don’t have a right to have their voice heard (although I’m still waiting to hear what the ‘voice’ of the occupy movement is) but I see it as a slap in the face to other occupy movements that Canadians have co-opted the movement for themselves. I think the Canadian Occupy Movement has put the cart before the horse, you have things pretty good and if you used your legal rights to form a political movement (or hold a rally) you could still have your voice heard. Occupying a public space that then prevents the rest of the public from using it just alienates you further from the 99%. And, I’m sorry, but 99% of the population of working age is either doing just that (working) or working hard to find work, not gathering illegally in parks and on sidewalks with no clear agenda. Where I’ve been living recently any kind of gathering could get you shot by security forces.

  9. The problem with Occupy is their message is unclear and no practical solutions are offered.

    It’s like having a hunger strike for ‘world peace’… but more vague.

    The homeless tent cities popping up served to alienate the average person rather than compel him or her to join the movement.

    Insightful article. Should be more like this.

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