I visited Occupy Winnipeg today. With nights already dipping below freezing I had one initial question on my mind. The answer is yes. They are preparing for winter. I only spent about hour at the site chatting with a few individuals. After biking away, alone now with my impressions, I came to the confession that it is and would be quite easy to mock this local expression. My conversations were peppered with grasping sentiments about being connected to something larger, vague allusions to support from people with power, comments about getting good press, politically correct placating, bitching against the Man, and some straight-up bullshit.
I would not be surprised if the greatest immediate need this expression fulfills is to have egos rubbed both for people who are valiantly braving the cold in support of justice and also for others who can bring a pot of hot chili and bag of sweaters to feel good about supporting the cause. Why do I say this? Do I say this to discredit them or the expression? I call this a confession simply because it is being honest with my perception and experience. I do not want to create from nothing hopes and notions that do not relate to reality.
And this initial step of confession is important, for myself in any event. It is important because of the presence of another element I encountered. What troubled me reflecting on the ‘spirit’ of the people there were the resources being drawn upon for hope. One person talked about being connected to something epic another sensed the significance of what was happening, others appealed to the power of vague traditions. Some dropped ambiguous allusions to the ‘lawyers and doctors’ connected to their cause. One even said the provincial government ‘supported them’. In fairness, there was also clear acknowledgement that this is, at the local level, starting from scratch. They are not even beginning. They are trying to figure out how to begin. At this point they are gathering. And it is a diverse and motivated gathering. And this I support.
I have struggled with the banner of ‘We are the 99%’. Perhaps it really is the best possible rallying cry to bring these diverse groups together. But I struggle with it because of those who do not even factor into the equation. I am thinking of two experiences I had in the last two days. One was witnessing a person steal three boxes of diapers (no small accomplishment and no doubt accompanied by no small amount of nerve or desperation). The other was seeing a neighbourhood kid I have gotten to know riding around on the sidewalk with a bike that had a flat tire and no seat. Both events stirred that experience of not knowing whether I would laugh or cry if I were to express my emotions. It is almost comedic in its tragedy and definitely tragic in its comedy. It is the refuse and rejection of our society. For me it was encountering the ones that do not have a place holder in the calculation of percentages. In both instances the people involved were First Nations females.
If there was to be some hope that I took from visiting Occupy Winnipeg it was that there were a number a First Nations women present (a relatively high proportion in a small overall number). As I stood there not really instigating any conversation one of them simply poured out her life dramatic fashion. I have experienced enough to call this a dramatic telling not to question whether or not it is factual but to recognize that tragedy has become one of a limited number of modes of communicating that some people seem capable of engaging in. But it appears at this site the unrepresented and uncounted are finding some sort of representation. And that is a good thing. When my church gathers to occupy our sanctuary I have not encountered the drawing out of the unrepresented. This is not such a good thing.