Posted by: kaleidophonic | April 2, 2012

Making Noise: Judy Rebick on the Occupy Movement

This afternoon I had the great pleasure of attending a public talk featuring longtime Canadian feminist/activist icon Judy Rebick. Rebick was at McGill University, here in Montreal, talking about the Occupy Movement, which is the subject of her latest book, Occupy This!

I’ve been familiar with Rebick for a few years now, having been introduced to her via Ian McKay’s “History of the Left in Canada” course which I took at Queen’s. I’m also a fairly avid reader of her alternative newsmedia website, which lives up to its byline: “News for the rest of us.”

Since I’ve blogged about #Occupy and sound-studies before (here, here & here), as well as sound & gender issues (here, here & here), I thought it appropriate to share some of the insights from today’s talk with all my faithful Kaleidolings. 🙂

Rebick began her talk with a general description of the #Occupy movement, which she accurately characterized as a “global uprising against neo-liberalism”. She gave us a bit of context for this uprising, specifically the global economic crisis of 2008 which resulted in “a sort of socialism for the rich”, i.e. a privatization of profit with a socialization of debt, all of which (of course) was for the benefit of the elite classes – the rich rulers of our capitalist society, so neatly dubbed by #Occupy as “the 1%”. Another major contribution to the rise of the protest culture which has become #Occupy is the environmental crisis, to which our ‘leaders’ have responded with staggering callousness. Instead of offering us solutions to the problems of environmental degradation, our elected officials have largely responded by finding yet more ways to make a profit. This makes me think of Stephen Harper’s connections to Enbridge and their ludicrous “ethical oil” campaigns.

Now, many of us here in Canada responded to the 2008 crisis with smug comments about how things here were different. We have banking regulations and at least some social protections such as health care.

But as Rebick reminded us, the Harper government, while trumpeting these differences, are also doing their best to undermine these differences. They want to deregulate banks and business. They want to privatize health care. They want, in short, to make us into America-North. To back up her argument against those smug liberals who feel that economic inequality doesn’t really exist in Canada, Rebick provided a few statistics:

  •  1) The top 1% in Canada controls 1/3 of the wealth here.
  •  2) Canada is rapidly de-industrializing.
  •  3) Canada has the fastest growing gap between rich and poor of all the countries in the OECD.

And all of this is part of a concerted effort by the Federal Government. THEY WANT THIS TO HAPPEN. Scary.

Of course, #Occupy isn’t just a North American phenomenon (despite the fact that many people attribute its origins to Adbusters founder Kalle Lasn). Much of the inspiration for the #Occupy movements here on this continent comes from last years’ events in the Middle East, especially the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egpyt. Somehow the bloody battles in Libya and the ongoing slaughter of civilians in Syria failed to make an appearance in Rebick’s talk, but she did speak to the inspiring actions of the Spanish Occupiers, who have taken their movement directly to the people by going out into the communities. Rebick’s favorite example of the Spanish actions: senior citizens who have occupied their old-age homes. Gotta love them Raging Grannies!

Getting back to Canada, the talk shifted gears a little towards a focus on the values of the #Occupy movement. Rebick praised the courage shown by activists here in Canada, such as Brigette DePape’s silent stand in Parliament and the tenacity and commitment of the student protestors here in Quebec (who, by the way, have been given very little media coverage in the rest of Canada, despite the fact that last week’s protest was quite possibly the largest protest march ever in Canadian history, with over 200,000 people in the streets. I should also mention here that this protest, despite what the Quebec media is saying, is about much more than raising tuition. At its core, the current Quebec student movement is about opposing the assumptions of capitalist neo-liberalism).

Another major theme of the #Occupy movement, as identified by Rebick, is that of love. By this she didn’t necessarily mean romantic or sexual love, but a love of each other, a value I would describe with the words compassion and respect. This movement is concerned about having compassion and respect for all people. Its about loving your neighbour, loving your community, loving each other. This is a core social value that neo-liberalism, with its ethic of ruthless individualism, is doing its best to annihilate.

After this discussion of the core values of the #Occupy movement, Rebick turned to some of the new and novel strategies used by #Occupy activists. We participated in an audience demonstration of the People’s Microphone (Mic check!), and talked about the visual cues for reaching consensus, such as “twinkle fingers” approval and the crossed forearms of objection. She mentioned the role of social networking and technology, such as Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. Rebick also made a point of recognizing the importance of union support in the #Occupy movement, taking a moment to describe the role played by unionists in forming protective picket lines around encampments threatened with dismantlement. Also mentioned was the fact that this movement has been very welcoming of the homeless and the mentally ‘ill’. Rebick also mentioned (although far too briefly for my liking) the criticisms voiced by some of North America’s aboriginal peoples, who object to the term “Occupy”. From their perspective, occupation is nothing new. Their lands have been occupied by white people for over 500 years. I had hoped for more comments on the role of minorities in this movement, which has been criticized (fairly, I think) for being far too white. Until social activists like Rebick give our First Nations sisters and brothers their fair say, movements such as #Occupy will never live up to their own rhetoric.

Judy Rebick concluded her talk at McGill with a few words about how the the #Occupy movement is essentially a movement of refusal – that is, a refusal to accept the underlying assumptions of capitalist-neoliberalism, and a commitment to searching for alternatives to this system. “We don’t want this kind of world,” she said, referring to a world of economic imperialism and social injustice. While I agree with 99% of what she had to say, the fact that this talk was given inside an exclusive and stunning guilt hall at Montréal’s elite Anglophone university made me a little uncomfortable (they had an automatic boot-polishing machine in the coat-room, for crying out loud!). She rightly called out the McGill administration for their harsh treatment of student protestors in recent months, but I thought more could have been said about the fact that most of us in that hall were likely very privileged people. That said, #Occupy is upfront about the fact that they are far from perfect, and are working on issues such as hierarchy and power. Regardless of some of the flaws in the movement’s rhetoric or practice, the fact remains that #Occupy is perhaps one of the most important examples of social activism in a generation. And if Rebick’s talk is any indication, it’s not going to go away any time soon.


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