In this week’s edition, our editor-in-chief, Lauren Strapagiel, defended the complex messages coming out of the Occupy Toronto protest, and encouraged protesters to use the media to communicate those messages.
Second-year photography student Callan Field offers another voice. He says while he thinks the problems the protesters are targeting are important, that a vague public protest won’t really make a difference.
By Callan Field
A few weeks ago amid the chaos of media about Occupy Wall Street, I began to hear rumours about a similar protest to take place in Toronto on October 15. That was today. And happen it did.
I decided to go. My original motivation was to photograph and document the event. That was the excuse I had prepared. But really I’ve been trying to understand the social movements that are starting to sweep North America. What started in New York is not an isolated event…
So this morning I packed a bag of camera gear, a voice recorder and some warm clothes and headed out on my road bike. When I hit the street I realized just how cold it was. Low thick clouds blotted out the sun and strong winds blew through the urban canyons of downtown. I headed south on Bay Street, looking for the crowd. A group of bike-mounted police officers were headed south as well and led me to protest. I found the crowd turning onto Richmond Street: they were headed East. Where the mob was going, I didn’t know. I locked up my bike and followed.
I’ve never gone to any kind of protest before and I wasn’t sure what to expect. What a strange sight. Some people wore costumes. Others had signs, many following the “We are the 99%” theme. But what most people were carrying and had in their hands were cameras. Everywhere shutters where firing and people being recorded. Photographers and filmmakers climbed onto mailboxes, chairs and absolutely anything vertical to raise themselves above the crowd. If anything, there were almost more documenters then protestors. It made the whole thing a spectacle.
The crowd continued to move east along Adelaide. People where chanting. “Health care, childcare, no more warfare…” “The people. United. We’ll never be defeated.” “We are the 99 percent.” “This is what democracy looks like!” “Oh, where did the money go?”
I walked along, following on the sidewalk. Observing. Thinking. Feeling. The protest crossed Church street, and that was when I began to feel unsettled. This march, one meant to be an expression of democracy and freedom of speech didn’t feel that way to me. Instead, I felt like a sheep, being blindly led to some destination. Not to mention, it wasn’t clear what was being protested. Slogans of solidarity and humbling facts about the current economic situation were thrown around, but I never heard a suggestion on how to change it. Not one.
We soon reached St. James Park at the corner of Adelaide and Jarvis. The professional media was waiting. CityTV, Global, CP24… All of them. Interviews began to happen as several hundred people streamed into the park. Soon tents, tarps and lawn chairs began to appear as people began to setup. I wandered around and continued to photograph. Sometimes I made images of the protestors, but mostly it was of the media and the people, who like myself, were there to bear witness to the show that I found interesting. Now, back home, I can’t help but question my purpose in the day’s events. Have I done anything else than partake in the media bandwagon?
Since I’d met up with the protest, something felt strange but I hadn’t been able to put my finger on it. The thought came to me as I walked by a bench upon which a women was standing taking a photograph from an iPad. The iPad’s case was stuffed full of notes, plans and pages. I assumed she was one of the event’s organizers. And then it hit me. Almost everyone at the rally look well to do. High tech cell phones, cameras and technology was everywhere. Most people wore good looking jackets and hoodies. Few people looked down on their luck. This was a rally of the middle class.
While I moved about I began to feel nauseous. At first I thought the cold weather and dehydration was getting to me. Nope. I began to feel stressed out by the event. The mass of people. The slogans being yelled from loudspeakers. Constant video recording and cameras continually firing. Not too long after I began to feel nauseated, I left. The amount of tension was increasing and I couldn’t handle it. The walk back to my bike wasn’t much better. I could feel the stress of the event as if I was still there. However, a few blocks away it was as if nothing had happened. People went about their Saturday morning activities. When I got home I had lunch and then I began to write. I felt compelled to write this down.
Now I might be wrong, but what I think what I saw was only the tip of the iceberg. That this will only get bigger. And I really hope that we handle this well. Because otherwise people are going to get hurt. Good people. However, I want to make the following crystal clear. I am in full support of our rights to free speech and protest. Furthermore, I believe that the issues presented today by these people are serious. The cost of ignoring them is too high. But I don’t know if these protests are the right path.