Last Saturday, some fifty to seventy five people took part in the celebrations Occupy Cortes and Rockupy Cortes (the evening concert) at the Cortes Natural Food Co-op. At the most raucous time, it amounted to twenty five people ignoring a folk singer while calmly discussing the state of the world. Some may argue it was a waste of time. It wasn’t – it was fun and it was also the echo of a much bigger bang.
Last Saturday, millions upon millions of people on this planet were engaged in the same type of activity. With the glaring exception of Rome Italy where some 200,000 people laid waste to a large chunk of the city, it was a global action of which Gandhi would have been proud. With community action in more than 1500 cities in over 80 countries, the peaceful expression of dissatisfaction with “corporate governing” now may be the fastest rising form of “globalization”.
Yet, let us turn our eyes locally. It seems from the questions asked; that a number of people were either deeply saddened or joyfully relieved (depending on their point of view) that violent clashes with police over occupations of places like the Coastal Community Credit Union and Hollyhock never took place. None were ever planned.
As any student of double negatives will tell you, two negatives make a positive. So, while we could have put more energy into decrying what’s truly wrong with the world (not that either of the examples above qualify), here on Cortes we took the short cut of focusing our energy on positively supporting the alternative. The event subtitled “Co-ops not Corporations” was more an invitation to support the fledging co-op restaurant (and all the other co-ops on the island) on that auspicious day than it was a battle cry against anything local.
Thanks to all those who attended, the event made for by far the best day in that wonky little place since the summer. From three to seventy three, all ages turned out. The mood was jovial as frequently people agreed that beyond the ferry prices, there is little to protest on Cortes. While one of the global movement’s central metaphors is about the 1% and the 99%, and while currently I’ve inverted that metaphor, I am hopeful that here we are among the 1% most grateful for what life holds for us. Surely, if one looks at the standards of a healthy environment and an engaged community, most likely we are among the 1% most fortunate on the planet to encourage any such gratitude.
One informed analyst noted that, when considering the size of a global protest to the corresponding size of the metropolis wherein it took place, one roughly could assert that about one half of one percent of the population took part on a global level on Saturday. Here on Cortes that number was at least ten times larger – more than 5%. Before, anyone suggests that this is just a few extremists out for a lark, the latest poll from New York City shows that a majority of the population in that city now support the “occupation”.
Still, this isn’t about New York, or Wall Street, or the United States. The group in New York freely admits that they were inspired by the actions of youth in Egypt who toppled their government earlier this year with the same tactic of a massive prolonged occupation of Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. To me, this movement is as much about evolution as it is about revolution.
Some suggest that what goes on “out there”, in the rest of the world, only has so much relevance here, and that likewise anything done here doesn’t influence the rest of the world in a significant way. I profoundly disagree. I remember a time last summer when a single young woman from Cortes Island went to the front door of the biggest corporation in Canada to find herself suddenly supported by a “flash mob” of local youth. They chanted in the street that day too. The message coincidentally was about 99% and 1% - that more than 99% of the old growth Douglas Fir in BC has already been cut down, and that her home (this island) was not “for sale” in their market.
I’m not so bold as to infer that it was our little girl from Cortes who inspired all this fuss by herself. I don’t see life nearly that linearly. There are many influences at play. Still, that protest from Cortes was recorded and made it way onto television in more than 80 countries worldwide to an estimated 40 million youth, many of whom are now in the streets. So remember, when you see the ripples on the pond, often it is too late to see the pebble that caused them. At that level, life remains a mystery.
As for that biggest of big corporations, Brookfield Asset Management (formally Brascan), the parent company of Island Timberlands, they are still involved too. They “own” the public park in which the Occupy Wall Street protest is centered. Last week, they tried to end the protest
through their claim of ownership, perhaps in an attempt to defuse what was coming on Saturday. They failed, and in doing so inspired many to find their courage to speak out.
Their claim on public parks in big cities and undisturbed wilderness on small islands is a little less firm today. More and more people understand that space is held by those who are there, and that distant claims are only the tools of the greedy few, not the peaceful majority. To the seniors who already have explored their civil rights at their monthly tea, and the children who made “Ents” this summer in solidarity, to all those in between who plan to act assertively and peacefully should they need to defend the wild places here from distant exploitation, please keep holding that space. The world is showing you now the power that comes with that action.
In retrospect, there was little need to “Occupy Cortes”. From those who are too busy to look up from their frantic lives, to those who already are prepared to act decisively should they need to - Cortes Island is completely preoccupied.