The protest against big business and big banks this weekend seemed more like a pick-a-grunt-day than anything focused and organized. There were more questions on what it was about than on a central issue with reachable solutions.
The demonstrations became a launching pad for all other perceived grievances – aboriginal rights, health and poverty complaints, labour issues, environmental causes, end national banks, forgive debts, stop global warming and so on..
Cluttering a public demonstration misses an opportunity to get a single, important message out.
Inspired by New York’s Occupy Wall Street movement (which apparently was an idea spawned here in Vancouver by Adbusters magazine) a few weeks ago, the movement spread to 15 cities across Canada as well as around the world when city parks became campgrounds and thousands marched through various financial districts.
The stand against corporate greed in the U.S., where millions are jobless, losing homes and losing hope for any end in sight might make sense. But Canada fared better in the 2008 recession, our banks are better organized and regulated than U.S. banks, and our economy continued to tick over. Stacked against scores of other countries, Canada emerged a pack leader. We can at least boast a decent and attainable health care system, safety and security, housing (outside of the obvious high end locales) and the democratic right to the freedom of speech.
The demonstrators protested against what they see as a corporate system favouring the rich at the expense of the majority – that other 99 per cent. On their website they state that “the ninety-nine per cent come together with our diverse experiences to transform the unequal, unfair, and growing disparity in the distribution of power and wealth in our city and around the globe.”
They argued the system is broken and that wealth distribution is lopsided. Young people can’t get jobs and the middle class is disappearing.
Just how accurate that is debatable but it at least deserves attention. According to a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Canada’s richest 1 per cent (about 246,000 people) took almost one third (32 per cent) of all income growth in the decade from 1997-2007. That’s a greater percentage than ever before. Yet among those wealthy individuals, 67.6 per cent of their income came from working wages just like the rest of Canadians.
A similar report by the Conference Board of Canada highlighted the same trend.
“Canada had the fourth largest income inequality among its peers,” said Anne Golden, President and CEO of the Conference Board in a press release. “Even though the U.S. currently has the largest rich-poor income gap among these countries, the gap in Canada has been rising at a faster rate. As we highlighted in our analysis of Canadian income inequality in July, high inequality both raises a moral question about fairness and can contribute to social tensions. In Canada, the gap between the rich and poor has widened over two decades, especially compared to our peer countries.”
The tension that Golden referred seems to be the focus of the demonstrations. But the success of democracy is built on the ability of those who seize opportunities and build successful companies that offer employment, lead in research and development, profit from expansion, offer further job opportunities and have a stake in the nation’s economy.
Just what the demonstrators want to change isn’t clear. The message, the intent, is muddied and if they want to get politicians, policy makers and corporate leaders to listen, they need to mobilize around a leader of their own with clarity, vision and the ability to structure the problem in such a way that others are willing to sit and listen.