During the month of September a very determined group of people, angry about income inequality and greed in America’s financial industry, assembled on New York City’s Wall Street to protest the unjust practices that led the financial industry to collapse. Calling themselves Occupy Wall Street, the initial grassroots movement came together in common purpose to express their resentment for corporate greed, corruption, and the stark level of income inequality seen in America.
When I first heard of the movement I was pleasantly inspired that students and regular folks were finally taking a bold stand against the type of corruption and corporate malfeasance that caused the disaster. But what started as a seemingly independent, grassroots, and apolitical expression of frustration evolved into an exercise of radicalism, hyperbole, and unproductive citizenship. I watched as the footage and reports of the protests showed a shift in message, with movement from realistic and pragmatic views to a much more zealous and radical approach—where anti-capitalist and socialist rhetoric began to permeate the theme. Coupled with the increasing reports of violence, sanitation hazards, and lack of coordination, empathy and legitimacy eroded.
There are now several attempts at replicating this movement in a number of major cities across Canada. Presently the Occupy Toronto protests are leading the charge for Canada as part of the global Occupy movement, with fluctuating levels of turnout and a convoluted agenda to boot. Although organized protest and freedom of assembly are cornerstones to our democracy, the main focus seems to be to disrupt the livelihood of many hardworking Canadians. The protestors do not seem to understand that Canada is not like our southern neighbour and Bay Street is not Wall Street. Unlike much of the US, our banks are much more secure and regulated—but, more importantly, have not received government bailouts with taxpayer dollars. Our tax system is one of the most progressive tax systems in the world and enables our country to fund a slew of social programs that benefit the many while keeping a modest and respectable debt level. The Occupiers of Toronto seem to be more concerned with camping out and invading public spaces, creating unnecessary traffic, and directing anger randomly into a mixed bag of unrelated issues that weaken their overall purpose. They seem to forget the important role financial institutions play in our economy and how important they are to developing and preserving the material well-being of Canadians, rich or poor.
The situation in Toronto is nothing more than a fluctuating cycle of ardent students and working people who are frustrated with the state of the economy and are looking for someone to blame. Instead of lamenting and wallowing in the economic hardships faced by all, I would like to see an Occupy Toronto movement that is invested in fostering competition, hard work, education, and solidarity among fellow Canadians. Taxing the rich more is not the answer to solving a dwindling economy or improving your own economic situation. In capitalism, efficiency trumps equity and creates winners and losers; the government should prevent fraud and abuse, but allow people to keep the fruits of their labour. Occupy Toronto should reflect a message that is positive in reaffirming what makes our country great and focus on raising awareness about corruption, rather than using the US model and a recession as the justification for radical change or aggressive economic justice at the expense of many hardworking families. I fear that if the trajectory of these demonstrations does not change it will be a very long cold winter on Bay Street.