'Occupy Toronto'

The Canadian version of "Occupy Wall Street" turns into tragic-comedy.

They wanted to change the world, but first they had to change the location of their demonstration.

Billed as "Occupy Toronto," the Canadian version of America’s "Occupy Wall Street" ran into a problem not long after their protest began in cold, rainy weather last Saturday on Bay Street in downtown Toronto, Canada’s largest city. Bay Street was the natural location for such an event that would include a large number of anti-capitalist participants. Like Wall Street in America, the corner of Bay and King Streets is Canada’s financial heart where the Toronto Stock Exchange and the country’s largest banks are located.

But because the annual Toronto Marathon, scheduled for Sunday, was to have its finish line at this intersection, workers were there setting up barriers, causing the protesters to move to a cathedral park about a ten-minute walk away. They did, however, considerately leave one lone individual behind, holding a hastily-manufactured cardboard sign with an arrow on it, indicating to any perplexed late arrivals that the demonstration went thataway. Maybe this person’s lonely vigil and sign will eventually serve as the metaphor for the whole "Occupy Toronto" movement when all is said and done.

Arriving in the park, the first thing one noticed among the several hundred people present were the signs the demonstrators were holding and the rather unusual things written on them. One of the more memorable ones read: "Quit buying stuff." Which makes one wonder: how does this person suggest people feed and clothe themselves? And wouldn’t a lot of workers, who anti-capitalists say they support, be unemployed if people didn’t?

Other signs were more explicitly anti-capitalist, such as: "This Revolution Will Not Be Privatized," "Separation of Corporations and Politics," and "Capitalists: You’re Fired." These messages create a lot of confusion, since they leave one wondering how these presumably well thought-out statements are to be carried out in practice.

But the confusion dissipated somewhat for this writer when a sign was spotted that read: "1984 was an instruction manual." So, everything was now clear – at least momentarily. All a person had to do to understand how all these weighty thoughts were going to be implemented was to read George Orwell’s classic novel. But, then, upon further reflection, it could occur to one that perhaps this sign was directed at the capitalists and their evil machinations.

My confusion continued despite talking to some of the individuals involved in the protest. Darren (he would not give his last name), who was selling a socialist newspaper, said he belonged to the Canadian Peace Alliance and was affiliated with several socialist groups. Darren accounted for his presence in the park by saying he was against government austerity measures and the war in Afghanistan.

“I don’t like the way our government is prioritizing its expenditures on the military,” Darren said. “We’re going to Afghanistan and killing innocent civilians when we have problems at home.”

Darren summed up the Canadian government’s bad behavior with his own, rather catchy, homemade slogan: “Peace and prosperity out; war and austerity in,” of which he appeared to be quite proud. But as to how he and the other people involved in the "Occupy Toronto" movement were going to reverse this and what was to happen after Saturday, he was unable to say.

“That’s the big question,” he said. “It’s totally up in the air at the moment.”

Zack Morgenstern, a student and member of the Canadian Communist Party, was more optimistic as well as good enough to educate me about the fact that “capitalism is a doomed movement.” He believes that if these demonstrations, like the Wall Street ones, last long enough, the movement can get “broad support."

“We want to rally people around a revolutionary movement, around mass consent, and bring down ultimately the capitalist state,” said Morgenstern of his and his party’s goals, apparently having missed the history of world events between 1917 and 1991.

Fortunately for the capitalists, unlike his communist predecessors, Morgenstern, who was carrying a red flag, does not advocate violence, at least for the moment. The captains of Canadian industry will be understandably relieved at this revelation. Morgenstern referred to Lenin’s work Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder as to when this tactic, so instrumental in communists’ gaining and maintaining power, should be used.

“Use violence when it can be productive; right now violence couldn’t be productive. People would turn against us,” he said.

I was tempted to ask Morgenstern when and where communism has actually ever worked and about its accompanying genocides but I restrained myself not to ruin his enthusiasm for the demonstration and the second coming of the Marxist-Leninist world order.

Unlike last year’s G-20 in Toronto, there was no violence at Saturday’s "Occupy Toronto" protest. The atmosphere and the crowd were strikingly peaceful, as the absence of a large police presence attested to. Another pleasant and noticeable aspect of the protest was that there were hardly any anti-Israeli demonstrators; this writer encountering only one.

The bike-riding gentleman in question said he was looking at different causes 20 years ago and decided to take up this one when he saw the “war crimes” Israel was committing. Wearing a T-shirt that said “Terror, Genocide, War Crimes, Israel,” he caused my confusion to return when he said he truly believes “world peace begins in Palestine.” Again, as with Morgenstern, I had to restrain myself from asking an obvious question regarding how an Israeli-Palestinian settlement would end, for example, the war in Afghanistan or Somalia, or even closer to home, the Libyan war and the killings in Syria. Perhaps now I’ll never know.

The surprising lack of anti-Israel bias at the protest also exhibited itself when someone with a loudspeaker yelled, “Free Palestine!” This prompted a person, who was kind enough to remember the renowned leftist quality of "inclusion," to instantly yell back, “Free everyone!” Whether that included rapists, murderers and child molesters in maximum security prisons was left unsaid.

The environmentalists also had a strong contingent present, of which some were quite impressive in their sincerity for their cause. And not all were anti-free enterprise. One of these, a young female student, even said there “is a lot of hope in this system we have,” but believes, environmentally, “we are killing ourselves.” She viewed the demonstration as “an alternative trajectory to the status quo and we need that.”

Not surprisingly, the young lady was the most articulate person I interviewed on Saturday. But perhaps I am biased in this judgment, since she gave me a tasty banana walnut muffin she had baked herself and considerately brought to the demonstration in a bag with others. Her baking skills, though, did help lift my spirits about the terrible capitalist society I was apparently living in.

The only other demonstrator who could have helped with this creeping feeling of despondency after several hours spent at the protest was the pretty young woman who was holding the only sign that read: “Free Hugs.” Whether this was an expression of her personal, anti-capitalist sentiment by not charging for her services remains unknown. But she was unfortunately too busy with possibly worse cases than me, so I left it for another time. The anti-capitalist demonstrators should, however, learn a lesson from my pro-hug predicament. Like in all socialist societies, past and current, where there is no competition, there will always be shortages.