Skip to content

Occupying the middle

The Occupy Canada movement has a bitter irony to it

The Occupy movement spreading across the world this past week has been nothing less than incredible.

Politicians often like to refer to “grassroots” movements or support when they get out to a party barbecue and rub shoulders with a farmer. This, however, has truly been a grassroots movement. It was borne out of ordinary people who, to paraphrase Peter Finch in Network, are “mad as hell.”

What are they mad at? The great divide. The old cliché of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. With everything seeming to move at exponential rates these days, the gulf between the haves and have-nots seems to be widening.

It’s ironic that we here in this country talk about the unbounded economic opportunities provided the burgeoning middle class in the world’s two most populous countries – China and India – while at the same time eroding our own middle class.

Yes we need the rich elite in the world to build our society. But, real prosperity and political stability come from having a solid middle class. The U.S. led the world after the Second World War because it built a solid middle class. China and India are now looking to supplant the U.S. at the top of the heap on the strength of their middle class.

It’s a lesson that we somehow, haven’t learned.

If there is a message from the Occupy movements is that more and more people, rightly or wrongly, are feeling that governments aren’t working on their behalf, but on the behalf of big business. Here in B.C. we need to only look at the 10 years of the Gordon Campbell government, which quite obviously felt its duty was to the corporate world first and its citizenry second.

When governments lose touch with their citizens or, more aptly, when the citizens feel alienated from their ruling class, revolutions are spawned.

It’s interesting to see the Occupy movements move into Canada though. We in Canada, due to banking laws that were put in place long before Stephen Harper emerged on the scene but who will take credit for it, have not been as hard by the financial crisis as many other parts of the world. The anger in the U.S. must be palpable after seeing those who were largely responsible for the financial crisis being looked to as the funding vehicle for recovery. The now-famous one per cent.

With more of us on the brink of poverty, it’s hard to take excess thrown in your face. Hence the movement.

Will the Occupy movements change much? Probably not, and certainly not immediately. However, while some political leaders sneer at the movement, astute ones will take heed. There is an appetite for a change and those willing to deliver it will be held in higher favour.

There is an interesting irony in all of this. The Occupy movements have relied heavily on social media, particularly Facebook, to get the word out and to organize.

I would think Facebook founder and co-owner Mark Zuckerberg would easily be classed as part of the “one per cent” that everyone else is mad at. I suppose the argument could also be made that people drive to the rallies, thereby putting money in oil company shareholders’ pockets and auto makers etc. Which is true, so perhaps this is the evolution of Facebook into a commonplace societal tool. Or, in another irony, could Facebook be enabling its own demise?