"This is a new dawn, a new beginning and a new way of doing things," explained Billy Lewis, a Mi'kmaq elder who opened the event. "Our way of doing things is going to be very confusing for the Powers That Be."
It's a high-spirited crowd of about 200, but those numbers will probably grow, says Ryan McKenna, one of the organizers. He expects about 50 people to sleep on the grounds. "Every inch of grass will be covered with tents," he says.
The group is highly organized, with a medical tent, a sleeping area, art supplies and provisions for food and entertainment. Today's schedule looks like this:
Noon-2pm Speakers, with an allotted time of five minutes each
2-3pm "Arts and Culture"
3-4pm Teach-ins/workshops, starting with "conflict deescalation"
4-5pm Discussion circles
5-6pm Working groups to plan activities
7pm General Assembly, where decisions are made
Afterwards Putting on activities to join the city-wide Nocturne art celebration
The occupation is open-ended, "from now until whenever," says McKenna.
Even more important, it seems to me, is the upbeat tempo. "This isn't really a protest," says McKenna. "We're filled with hope and optimism."
"Let's have fun!" one of the speakers said to loud cheers, as a beach ball bounced around the crowd.
Even the "People's mic" used to amplify a speaker---the speaker says a line, which is then repeated in unison by everyone in earshot---brought smiles to the crowd as they tripped over Mi'kmaq words and repeated every "um" and "OK."
At its core, the occupation is mostly young people, but I was happy to see some grandmotherly types and a strong union presence, with the CUPE local speaking of the Air Canada labour situation.
Listening to the speakers and talking informally with some of the demonstrators, I'm struck by how informed they are. Not all of them have a deep understanding of the financial shenanigans of recent years, but a lot of them do. And there's no law that says a demonstrator needs a degree in political science or economics before being allowed the right to dissent; it's enough, I think, to simply acknowledge that something is fundamentally wrong with the present economic order. If nothing else, the Occupy movement is making that point loud and clear.
While the local occupation will have its own flavour, it certainly is getting cues from the folks on Wall Street. I haven't seen it reported anywhere else, but the Wall Street people had sent organizers out around the world, including here to Halifax, to help get the local organizations off the ground.
And I wish them the best. Already they are being insulted, discounted, the subject of jokes and ridicule. This is good; it means they're touching something visceral in the public psyche. As Gandhi said, "first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."
I'll drop by the demonstration from time to time for regular updates. Stay tuned.