Occupy the Shuswap

December 16, 2011

It is likely that only a minority of Shuswap residents empathizes or even fully understands the Occupy Wall Street movement, and this is understandable given that the protests have primarily been focused on the increasing amount of greed, corruption and inequality in the United States. However, Canada like most other countries is not immune to the problems created largely by the one percent who control the biggest corporations and strongly influence government policies. Recently, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released the latest economic data that shows how inequality has increased significantly in Canada in the last few years. The ratio of income by the top 10 percent compared to the bottom 10 percent has increased from 8 to 1 in the 1990s to 10 to 1 now.

Despite the fact that the tent encampments are now gone from most of the cities across the world, the leaderless movement is continuing to operate using donated office space and social media. While the mainstream media has largely dismissed the movement as being too vague, there are, in fact, numerous demands that are sensible and would help solve the growing number of economic and environmental problems.

But what does this movement mean for small, rural communities like the Shuswap? What can those of us who agree that efforts are needed to address inequality actually do to make a difference?  The first step of course would be to learn more about the issues and the movement by reading at least some of the information on the countless alternative news and occupy websites. By doing so, it would become apparent that there are many professors, labour groups, economists, journalists and well known public figures like Michael Moore who all provide insightful analysis and thoughtful strategies for where the movement needs to go to actually produce changes to a system that no longer works for the majority.

It is easy for us to feel isolated from the Wall Street titans who have created the problems that have sparked the protests. The Shuswap is a long way from the financial towers of Toronto and New York, but the tentacles of power do reach us in ways that are not always easy to grasp.  As the worldwide economic downturn shows few signs of recovery, here in the Shuswap we are now witnessing the closing of once successful businesses; including a building supply company, a restaurant and a computer store. As well, the local sawmill remains shuttered and foodbanks are stressed to the max.

Meanwhile, the city has approved a massive shopping centre to be built on a sensitive floodplain, which means the rental profits would flow to a one-percenter, Canada’s sixth-wealthiest tycoon. The alternative, which fits clearly with the Occupy movement’s game plan, would have been to have a smaller shopping centre built on the Jackson property, with the rental profits flowing to improving education for Shuswap students. If the proposed judicial review stalls or scuttles the floodplain development, perhaps the Jackson development could get the green light and thus benefits could flow to the 99 percent rather than the one percent.

One of the ways that mainstream media maligns the Occupy movement is with the term “class warfare,” which they hope will dissuade support from the majority of citizens who are too busy earning a living to get involved. Yet, the truth is, over the last few decades more and more governments and citizens are raking up higher and higher debts, while those at the top are managing to continually increase their share of the pie. Here in the Shuswap, any strategy that cuts into the take for the one percent can only help reduce inequality in the long term.

Thus the mantra of shopping locally and supporting local food producers makes even more sense now. A dollar spent at a locally owned store or business re-circulates in our community far better than a dollar spent in a big-box store. An even better way to consume during the holiday season would be to purchase goods, crafts or art produced locally, even if these products cost more than what comes from China. And one should consider the overall environmental consequences of consumer choices, such as durability, packaging, reparability, and whether it is made from renewable resources.

Another way to reverse the inequality equation is to wean oneself from the onslaught of mass consumer advertising by simply turning off or better yet, getting rid of the television set. Imagine all the hours that many people spend on this mental wasteland that merely promotes the continuation of consumerism that feeds more profits to the one percent, while promoting an unhealthy lifestyle.

Perhaps the best strategy to promote the goals of the Occupy movement over the holiday season is to focus on spending less on gifts that may not be appreciated or desired and use some of the savings to donate to a local cause that will help those in need. After all, isn’t this what the religious basis behind the holiday season is really about?

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