The 99% march in Occupy Saskatoon
More than 400 protesters in Saskatoon marched from the University Bridge to Friendship Park in a show of solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement on Oct. 15.
This “Day of Global Action” saw groups in 1,445 cities around the world join the movement that began in New York City on Sept. 17.
Protesters in Saskatoon chanted, “We are the 99 per cent,” and “Whose streets? Our streets!”
Their signs were evidence of the diversity and tone of the protest. While “We are the 99%” is a feature of Occupy protests around the world, others addressed more local issues.
One said, “Saskatchewan is not for sale!” While others read, “Stop the Tar Sands,” and, “I care about you! No Nuclear Waste.”
The evening’s open mic gave a platform to a singer-songwriter, the Committee for Future Generations, stopgormley.ca, Saskatoon Anti-Poverty Coalition, the Postal Workers’ Union and farmers expressing concern over the dissolution of the Canadian Wheat Board.
With a kitchen, porta-potties and tents, about 60 protesters came equipped to spend the night in Friendship Park. And as of now, the plan is to occupy the park indefinitely.
The Occupy movement has been criticized for having no focused message, but it is this same feature that allows the conversation to continue.
“A lot of protests are anti-something or trying to shut something down,” said occupier Barb Fornssler. “This is trying to grow something. But what we’re growing, I think, will be emergent to each local context.”
The most recurrent message across the movement — now its slogan — is “We are the 99 per cent.” This refers to the growing economic gap between the richest one per cent and the rest.
It also points to the populist nature of the movement. It suggests the movement’s desire to represent the concerns of the majority of the population.
Organizer Jeh Custerra called the movement an example of “direct democracy.”
While the 99 per cent slogan connects Occupy Saskatoon to the global phenomenon, there are specific local issues being discussed in Friendship Park.
Mary Jean Hande is an occupier concerned with the corporate influence at the University of Saskatchewan.
The Day of Global Action coincided with a meeting of the University Senate. Some of the Occupy protesters attended the meeting before the march.
Hande is an elected senator and member of the group USSWORD.
Hande presented three motions at Saturday’s Senate meeting. One alleged a conflict of interest for Nancy Hopkins, chair of the Board of Governors and board member of Cameco Corporation.
She said she was disappointed with the defeat of her motions.
“The Senate is supposed to be the opportunity for the University to reach out into the community and for the community to provide input,” she said. “But the amount of intimidation that we’ve received even for discussing these things really discourages people from asking these questions.”
Asked how the Senate meeting relates to the Occupy movement, Hande responded, “One of our local actions is to restore democracy to these types of institutions.”
Each of the occupiers expressed concern over having the movement misrepresented by the media. No individual purports to speak for the entire group.
Group statements, arrived at by consensus, can be found on Occupy Saskatoon’s Facebook page, where they also post daily events.
Occupiers hope the movement will continue to grow and that Saskatonians will visit Friendship Park and add to the ongoing conversation. The general assembly occurs daily at 5:30 p.m.
99 Percent: A reference to growing income inequality between 99 percent of the population and the top 1 percent of earners, who have amassed approximately one-third of national wealth in the United States. It has become the slogan of the Occupy movement, and originates in a tumblr blog of the same name. In Canada, the top one per cent earn about 14 per cent of national income.
Mic Check: What speakers at general assemblies say to announce that they want to start speaking and have their words repeated throughout a crowd.
Twinkling: Wiggling one’s fingers to signal agreement with what’s being said. It moves along conversation without drowning out the speaker with applause.