Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Occupation

Occupy Dunedin

This all started after a brief correspondence with my friend Andrew Read, a Professor at Penn State. Andrew mentioned the students were close to rioting over  the tragic situation over there regarding football coaches and allegations of sexual assaults. It made me think.  I'm not that much of a rioter but I think the worst thing you can do is to ignore some stuff, especially when it's in your neighbourhood.  After a couple of weeks of being pretty dismissive about our local branch of the Occupy movement, I decided I owed it to myself to go down to the Octagon and talk to people there, so I could at least be entitled to my opinion. And of course, I could take my camera.

Occupy Dunedin

Occupy Dunedin      Occupy Dunedin      Occupy Dunedin

My uninformed position was that here were a bunch of people jumping on a bandwagon, protesting against a whole bunch of social ills - wanting financial and political reform, but perhaps not being the ones directly affected by all of those problems. After all, there's a lot of nice camping equipment, smart phones and laptops in that campsite. It looks like a bit of a lark.

I had short chats with Michelle above, and with Kieran and Anton.

Occupy Dunedin

Occupy Dunedin

OK the lark part was the first thing I was wrong about. Nobody's having that much fun. I can't conceive of camping without some beers and a barbecue any more. Chuck in the sleepless nights in the open, noisy city centre, the occasional bit of abuse, hassle from the City Council, and being away from the comforts of home. It's a little like something a family member said about the notion that being Gay was an unwise lifestyle choice: "With all the crap we go through, why do you think anyone would choose this?"

Occupy Dunedin

So what's their point?  What do they want and when will they be satisfied to pack up and move on? That's hard to answer. The financial reform agenda of the original Occupy Wall St event has attracted a whole bunch of people with different issues to voice. What they do agree on is that in the current political and financial state of affairs, our democracy isn't working as well as it should. They feel that dissenting views on a whole range of issues - from deep sea oil drilling to fluoride in the water and the cost of our new stadium - aren't being given a fair hearing. What they all agree that they want is a better dialog between ordinary people and those who represent them.  Who can argue with that?

Occupy DunedinOccupy DunedinOccupy DunedinOccupy Dunedin
Aaron, Jesse and Miche

Sure, there are plenty of young people here, but this isn't a crowd of benefit bludgers and bleeding hearts. There's a fair smattering of ordinary people who have put aside their own businesses for a while, taken time out from their jobs, or leave home and family for a few hours a day to lend weight to the message that they'd like to start a discussion. I also presumed that a lot of the Octagon business owners would be putting the heat on the city council to move them on, but while I was there, a few local business people were sending over food and messages of support.

Occupy Dunedin

I'm no journo. I'd really like to see our local media get inside this story a lot more than they have. So far the coverage of this event seems to focus on how these peaceful protesters are disrupting events in the Octagon and when the DCC will harden up and find a way to evict them. The official police line is that they have a right to peaceful protest and they're not in favour of a forceful eviction. When will this all end? I guess when these guys feel they're being listened to in a meaningful way. When will that happen? I really don't know. But at least I have a better idea of what they want. A better public conversation.

Is that a bad thing to stand up and ask for?

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