On Saturday, March 31st, the Telegram received a letter from J.F. Martin, accusing the city of having "shirked responsibility" by not evicting the Harbourside Park camp sooner. The letter was read verbatim on the St. John's Morning Show today, followed by an interview with Deputy Mayor Shannie Duff, where she suggested that the movement was nothing more than an “informal camp,” rather than a part of a global movement.
We would like to address some of the confusion surrounding our organization. First of all, OccupyNL is not a camping expedition. OccupyNL is a local manifestation of the global Occupy movement. The encampment at Harbourside park is an important meeting place and symbol for our movement, but it is but a small part of the whole. We are a community of concerned Canadian citizens who are determined to change our society for the better. Our organization seeks to achieve this goal by way of its unique structure: completely horizontal consensus-based decision-making, where everyone has an equal say. Our specific goals are decided upon at our weekly General Assemblies, which are open to the public.
To address the issue of the use of public property, our Occupation is a form of civil disobedience. We have recognized that our society has fundamental problems that need to be addressed, and we're acting in solidarity with the rest of the movement, across Canada and the globe, by taking a stand in a location visible to the public. However, we are not in any way obstructing use of the park itself. Our organization has made every effort to provide services to the downtown St. John's community. We keep the pathways clear of snow; we keep the park free of litter; we provided free wifi to the public all through October to February. We have cooperated with others who wish to use the park, and have made every effort to encourage the public to make use of the space. Even employees of the Port Authority agree that we've been a benefit to the area by deterring vandals and drug dealers who would otherwise frequent the park after hours. The claim that we are getting in the way of the public is simply not true.
We strongly encourage anyone with concerns about our organization to attend one of our public meetings, which we host three times per week. We are more than happy to try to meet the needs of the members of the community; consensus is one of our founding principles after all. Our movement aims to be as inclusive as possible, and our organization consists of people from all walks of life, and all political camps.
Regarding some of the specific accusations in the letter; we do not use electricity paid for by the taxpayers of St. John's. Our camp is 100% off the grid, powered by a solar panel. This is a part of one of our many ongoing initiatives: self-sustainability.
The letter mistakenly suggests that Occupy is composed of only jobless people. In fact, Occupy has a great diversity, from active and retired professors, PhDs, entrepreneurs, students, and business people.The vast majority of our supporters have full-time or part-time jobs, and contribute to the economy just as much (if not more!) as anyone else. From the letter; "just hang out and not have to go to work" is not an accurate description of our activities. Our weekly activities consist mostly of keeping up-to-date what is happening in our society, and hosting discussions on how to improve our community. We have a number of ongoing long-term initiatives as well, focused on topics such as electoral reform, the future of the Newfoundland fishery, affordable housing, and food security. To give a few examples of our past achievements, OccupyNL has done the following since October 15, 2011:
- Organized a widely supported campaign to Open the House of Assembly
- Hosted various rallies and a spearheaded a petition against the C-10 Omnibus Crime Bill (which garnered wide public support with over 400 signatures)
- Rallied for better sidewalk clearing in St. Johns, in conjunction with The Essential Transit Association
- Co-Hosted a series of events for International Human Rights Week (Dec 10-17, with the help of Amnesty International and other organizations)
- Participated in an international day of creative action, Occupy Art, on Feb 12, showcasing local artists, poets and musicians.
- Hosted a well-attended film series, the 99% Film Fest, and a series of workshops dealing with vital political and social issues.
- Hosted a “Family Day” twice in October at Harbourside Park, with various family-related activities and entertainment
- Organized two protest rallies, in conjunction with cities across Canada, calling for a public inquiry into the Robocall electoral fraud
And that's just the beginning. So please, before calling for our camp to be dismantled, take a moment to find out who we are and why we're here. Attend a meeting, tell us your concerns, and we will listen. If you can't attend, a polite email goes a long way. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edit: Here's a short follow-up interview with Terry MacEachern at Harbourside Park, on the St. John's Morning Show today.
And here's follow-up CBC coverage from April 4, 2012.