To understand what Occupy Vancouver at the art gallery was about, you had to read the banners, and talk to the people beneath them.
It also helps to know the word kleptocracy: “Government by those who seek chiefly status and personal gain at the expense of the governed.”
Most of the signs reflect this central idea – government ignoring the needs of people while deflecting criticism. The HST implementation, the RCMP’s on-going denial of misconduct, the DFO’s “unholy alliance” with fish farms are recent examples.
Wall Street’s greed and government policies that enable corporations to amass wealth while failing to make life better for the “99” percent is the focus now. To see the diverse ways kleptocracy impacts ordinary folk, look at what they print on their banners.
Like the sign held by a little kid sitting on his dad’s shoulders: “education is a right; not a privilege.”
It used to be. But, under-funding of the educational system has changed that. The issue – as always, but never resolved – is class size and composition. George Abbott’s promise of a little more money to special education won’t do it.
College students face financial hurdles, higher tuition fees, exorbitant textbook prices. In my day, a kid got a bursary just by trying hard at school. There was work in the main library to help make ends meet, summer jobs to pay for next year, opportunity for a career after graduation.
Today, university grads lucky enough to find a job – especially in their chosen field – face inadequate pay and benefits.
A sign held by a member of the B.C. Government Employees Union reads: “Working people should not have to live in poverty.”
Yet, corporate CEOs suck up fat bonuses and lifetime pensions, MLAs steal a 30 percent pay hike. Maple Ridge councillors allot themselves a 15 per cent jump in pay, and claim they deserve it.
But, the 99 per cent gets zero over three years.
Gary Grigg, of Maple Ridge, in uniform, carries a sign protesting pension changes that will add financial hardship to veterans.
I saw a sign that read: “Greed has no place in democracy.
Another banner read: “We can’t feed the poor, but we can fund war.”
Inequities between the needy and the wealthy and powerful weren’t missed by teachers in the crowd, or the Hospital Workers Union member I talked to.
“I believe in the rights of the worker,” he said in the midst of folks dancing to a band playing a tune from the ’70s.
Off to one side, a young woman displayed a sign that read: “Free hugs.”
She was busy.
Another sign: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”
Another said: “Things should stay the same, if we want to exhaust our resources … and die.”
This sentiment was echoed by Jim, an oncologist as he marched with his daughter.
“I’m well off,” the doctor told me, “but I’m one of the 99 per cent. I’m with them.”
“Have you ever taken part in a protest?” I asked.
“Not since Vietnam. But this is important. There’s not reasonable opportunity for people anymore because of corporate greed. Society can’t sustain this situation any longer.”
Another sign: “Don’t hate, meditate.”
On a stretch of lawn facing the art gallery stairs, a circle of people of all ages meditate as mellow-looking police smile down on them. Why not? Earlier, someone at a microphone referred to them as “peace officers.” This crowd wasn’t looking to destroy property, but to advance social causes. I remember thinking, ‘My God, I haven’t even seen anyone smoking, even a cigarette.
Remember when all you had to do was work hard, and do your job to earn a promotion or pay raise? It was part of the unwritten social contract.
Alexis works in servicing and marketing.
“There’s no possibility of advancement or greater earning power in my field,” she said.
Someone nearby waved a sign that describes how many young people feel like Alexis does.
“Debt + B.A.+ Minimum wage = indentured servitude.”
A kleptomaniac is a person who steals for no logical reason. She can’t stop herself. Society has to ban her from shopping until she’s completed treatment.
Kleptocrats are folks in government whose enable the boundless greed of the rich, and always find ways to rationalize the action, excuse a guilty conscience. They won’t cure themselves willingly, and we won’t flush them out at election time, or end corporate greed by flipping CEOs.
The “movement,” –not a protest – of the 99 per cent will work, though, if it lasts. It has to.
As doctor Jim says: “We can’t sustain this situation any longer.”
• On the Ridunkulist: On SkyTrain from New Westminster: “We apologize for delays,” announced the automatic voice. “Track repairs ahead.” The guy next to me knew the real reason. “I wouldn’t put it past TransLink to keep us from getting into Occupy Vancouver.”
Kleptocracy breeds conspiracy theories.
We were sardines in a can. Yet, at every stop more people squeezed in, nearly squished by closing doors.
Finally, I said, loudly: “Car full, get the next one.” Had to. There were no TransLink people on duty, just us, and that soft, automated voice.
Hello, Translink CEO. That’s dangerous, and you’re on my Ridunkulist.
Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.