Occupy Kamloops: extinct or evolved?

Allison Declercq, Contributor  Ω

As the stone figures looked on over the downtown Kamloops Library square in their usual silence last October, the quiet was broken as a crowd began to gather and discuss their concerns about social, environmental, and economic issues.

This year, on the anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement, 14 individuals appeared before the statues to once again speak their concerns and show their solidarity with the New York movement. On the anniversary of Kamloops’ own movement, Oct. 15, there was not a sound.

A patch of green across from Spirit Square in the North Shore area of town hosted nine tents and many gatherings last year. This year the area stood empty.

Similarly, in 2011, online social media pages designated to the Occupy Kamloops movement brimmed with discussion, likes, and promises. There was an active Twitter account that tweeted of general assemblies, invitation and solidarity. The Facebook page hosted 168 “likes” right before the movement. A webpage hosting schedules and explanations of various issues appeared online. YouTube videos sprang up.

This year, the Twitter account sent its last tweet March 23. The Facebook page last posted Sept. 27. The webpage is still up — the last meeting notes dated Jan. 25.

But is the spirit of the movement gone? Or has it played its part and evolved: an old-fashioned operator who took the mass of disorganized cords in hand and linked each idea with the appropriate connection¬ — advocates and groups — then left the control board behind?

A protester, an occupier, a supporter and an observer recall their moments in the event and share what they see now — one year later.

Those on the inside look back.

Hugh Jordan, a resident of Kamloops, participant in the gathering and stew supplier to the camp that sprang up afterwards, described his experience as filled with “a lot of informal connecting up.” He compared the Occupy protests in Kamloops and the protests he witnessed around the Vietnam War.
“[I’d] never experienced anything quite like this,” he said. “There [seemed] to be a mobilization of people.” He spoke of the leadership orientation of Vietnam protest marches: leaders organized and people went along. Then he began to describe the Occupy movement. “The way it operates is pretty spontaneous,” he said.

For example, he posts a note on Facebook, like the Don’t Dig it Dance for Oct. 12, a “fundraiser for a public forum on the AJAX mine proposal,” and people respond as they choose. Jordan believes new ways of expression — like the dance — will continue the movement. “It’s organic,” he said speaking of the discussion— spreading like tendrils. “It will be interesting to see what happens.”

Cassie Tremblay, at the time a fourth-year nursing student, spoke of her participation in the movement. She was designated with media work—updating Facebook, for example — as well as dealing with managing and organizing camp affairs. Tremblay said the camp was a spontaneous move, something that evolved from participants, of the parade and assembly downtown, talking for hours and then deciding to stay and continue their discussion.

They “knew it was a tactic to help the movement” and develop discussion, Tremblay said. So they stayed. With two general assemblies a day, one in the morning and one in the evening, Tremblay recalls, “you had people who would have never sat down together, in a circle talking to each other.”

She said it’s good the movement decentralized into smaller focused pockets so that groups of activists in Kamloops who were implementing change before the Occupy movement weren’t drowned out by the movement itself.

“The most important thing that emerged was the network of people willing to engage,” Tremblay said. “The world taught us, in North America, to speak out.”

Brayden Stephenson, a frequent visitor of the camp, said he was comfortable in a supportive role providing camping supplies. “For the first time in my life I felt like I participated in a democracy,” he said.
He had heard of Occupy Kamloops through Facebook. After the parade downtown, he recollects, some decided to set up camp.

He remembers the main complaint thrown at those in the camp was “go get a job,” which was ironic considering his time spent there was between shifts working in the kitchen and doing deliveries for a restaurant downtown.

Apart from outsider criticism the camp experienced a lot of discussion among strangers. “What other place can you talk to homeless, drug addicts, politicians, reporters, passionate citizens and RCMP?”

Stephenson pointed out. “Real people you’ve never met before trying to make a safe environment.”
He came away with a stack of business cards. He said the movement connected people with their interests and contacts for specific issues. It was an example of “co-operative education, learning how to work together,” Stephenson said.

Marvin Beatty, a contributor to The Omega, TRU’s independent student newspaper, wrote on the gathering at the downtown library. He had read about the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Vancouver movements so he was curious to see how big it would get in Kamloops. But when he got there, he found a solitary student bearing a white flag.

“This is it?” Beatty remembers thinking. “There is only one flag.” But it grew. What he saw later was “a real mixed group, a real range of people,” he said. Once the library square filled they started having speakers. Politicians followed. People talked.

Beatty never visited the camp. He said the first day said the most for the movement in Kamloops. The camp didn’t drive the point.

After his article he lost track of Occupy Kamloops except for an instance on TRU campus, “I would describe the TRU Occupation as a one-man show at the time I saw it; consisting of David Graham sitting cross-legged in front of Old Main with a folded sign saying ‘Occupy TRU.’ He was cheerfully handing out brownies to passersby.”

If something had sprung up during the anniversary of the Occupy Kamloops movement, Beatty said, “I would have been very surprised.”

So has the Occupy Movement in Kamloops gone extinct? Or has it evolved into something else?
That depends who you talk to. When asked at random about the Occupy Kamloops event four students responded.

The first, who asked for her name not to be disclosed, simply said, ”I don’t know what you are talking about.”

The second, Mohammad Almisfer, a graduate student, hadn’t heard about it either. He knew about it outside of the city, but “here in Kamloops,” he said, “I didn’t hear about it.” He feels professors should have talked about it to their students.

Najla Alsubaie, a student of four years at TRU, said she hadn’t heard of it either. She knew of the world movement, but didn’t know the details.

Brandon Harris, in his second year at TRU, said he “heard something in the papers,” but didn’t know what it was about.

So maybe it’s safe to say that while the Kamloops movement didn’t turn heads like the Wall Street version of the protest, those involved will continue to spread the ideas of the movement itself in other ways — and the concepts at issue will likely never lack for interest from the public.