** This open letter appeared in the Telegram on November 24, 2011 under the title "Making the right decision on the Occupy Movement." If anyone can find the link to it, please leave in comments. **
Dear Mayor O’Keefe,
We write today to express our thanks and congratulations to you and your council on the mature and wise way in which you are handling the Occupy Newfoundland and Labrador camp down at Harbourside Park. We have watched the Occupy movement grow from the first Occupy Wall Street camp in Zuccotti Park in New York in September to hundreds of camps all over the world. They are all different but all express a sense of outrage at the growing inequality in the world, a condemnation at the injustices all around us and a desire to stand in solidarity with the massive majority suffering from a clearly ‘broken’ world system. Of course their goals are ‘unclear’; how could they not be faced with such runaway chaos with complex roots and no clear solutions? But their passion to stand up and say ‘enough’ is clear enough, and their desire to find peaceful and cooperative ways to run their camps is deeply impressive.
Some of us have had the opportunity to visit a number of occupy camps in other cities over the last few weeks. Different in size and character and the problems they face, they all share fundamental values and a desire to demonstrate both a frustration and a determination to find another approach. Their ability to negotiate with authorities and the general public is polite, persistent and formidable; their sense of how to organise the basics – medical tent, library, access to clean water and sanitation, media access and discussions - is efficient. Above all, they have developed effective and inclusive discussions. Anyone who has witnessed the ‘people’s microphone’, where every word a speaker says is relayed by word of mouth to the outer edges of a crowd, however big, will have been inspired by how effective and respectful the process is. All this is happening in St. John’s. Of course, the camp at Harbourside Park is small compared with Toronto or Montreal. But all the essentials are there. Because they are few, it is harder for them to get their message out – and our weather means they have to be extra hardy. But they are there; their messages and practices are genuinely collaborative, peaceful and inclusive. We are proud of them, and want to do all we can to stand alongside them and their cause.
But we have seen, especially over the last few days, an atmosphere of intolerance, backed by police violence, that has broken out across the US and some cities in Canada. We have watched in horror as camps have been dismantled in places like London, Ontario and Halifax. We have shared personal experiences like that of Iain McCurdy (Telegram 19 November 2011) who witnessed the police invasion of Zucotti Park last weekend. And we have watched and admired the quiet and supportive way in which the City of St John’s has treated our own Occupiers. We know that you may not agree with some of the principles expressed by our Occupiers so we find it all the more admirable that you can demonstrate the tolerance that is at the heart of true democracy in allowing Occupy Newfoundland and Labrador to continue, and in doing so ensure their safety and health and the safety and health of those around them. We wish that the media would focus less on the violence and confrontation in places like Oakland and more on the successes of collaboration and tolerance in places like Montreal and St. John’s. We see your current stand as building on our long tradition of toughness, independence, mutual support, compassion and an ability to see the wider picture. We want to build on what we are all learning from the Occupy movement and your support of this movement gives us confidence that something new and strong will emerge here at home in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Marilyn Porter (Professor Emeritus, Memorial University)
John Carrick Greene,