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Why they protest 

Against all odds, the Occupy Nova Scotia group is demonstrating values that we’ll all need to find justice.

click to enlarge GRAHAM PILSWORTH

Judging by my Twitter feed, the Occupy Nova Scotia demonstrators are annoying some people. "Canada didn't have American-type financial deregulation, so the protests are misplaced," is a typical tweet dismissing the group camped out in Grand Parade (and who mayor Peter Kelly is threatening to evict).

It's true that Canada didn't follow the insane deregulation route charted out by the US, but that wasn't because Canadian banks are somehow more virtuous than their American brethren. Indeed, if you go back and read the business press of the 1990s, you'll see Canadian bankers and their political supporters, including Stephen Harper, were demanding that Canada deregulate the industry, and it was only the stalwart opposition of Jean Chrétien that prevented that from happening.

More to the point, while Canadian banks weren't able to directly join the $620 trillion global trade in derivatives---that's 10 times the actual money supply in all the world--- Canada was making many other policy decisions that contributed to what journalist Chris Hedges calls the "corporate coup." And in terms of shifting wealth from working people to the wealthiest one percent over the past two decades, Canada is third, after only the US and Australia---see a detailed analysis of Canada's horrid economic record via

While the richest are doing just fine, Canadian workers' pension funds have been gutted, students graduating with huge debt loads face bleak employment opportunities and those lucky enough to have jobs rightly fret about the future as the federal government attacks unions at every turn. And on the bottom edge of society sits a growing number of the completely dispossessed, some of whom are camped out in Grand Parade.

Critics of the occupation condemn the demonstrators for lacking detailed explanations of their position and understandings of the world of global finance, but since when do people need to be certified with a PhD in economics or political science before they are given the right to protest? And let's remember that most of our economic and political elite actually created the problem in the first place, breaking the global economy. Why should we trust anyone with such credentials?

To be sure, along with an incredibly knowledgeable and dedicated core, the Occupy NS group includes street kids, some homeless people and a very few people with mental health issues. It's not likely everyone on Grand Parade can maneuver through an academic debate on economic policy issues, but so what? Their very presence is giving testimony that's better than a thousand textbooks: We matter, damn it, and our society has failed us.

Having spent some time at Occupy NS, I've come away with profound respect for the enterprise. Even the most disenfranchised of the group, who have legitimate reason to be most angry, have committed themselves to non-violence and are working through the process of understanding the consensus decision-making process. With little outside help and a lot working against them, and using only their own resourcefulness and sense of justice, they've created a workable community that provides basic health care and a decent meal for all, that takes a responsibility for its most vulnerable, that has shared purpose. They're demonstrating values that are eluding the larger society; they should be proud of themselves.

And what about the rest of us: Are we proud of ourselves? Are we doing the best we can to object and stand up for ourselves in a broken economy? Or do we just put up with it, getting along to get along with an unjust system?

I met an engaging young woman involved with Occupy NS who had parked herself in Granville Mall to do outreach to NSCAD students, stressing the need for solidarity in the face of a common struggle. She's right, of course, and the rest of us can learn from her---we're in this together. The powerless have thrown down the gauntlet: How do we do right by each other?

The one percent has succeeded in coming to the trough time and again, demanding that the 99 percent bail out their false economy with ever deeper austerity, raided retirement funds and broken wage contracts. We could keep acquiescing, or we could learn from the Occupy folks and say enough is enough.

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