The Occupy movement should learn from the people who cleaned up their mess

I have with organized religion.  While each has a noble agenda and many good people trying to do good things, they are too often plagued by hypocrisy and infiltrated by rogues who do more harm than good..  When I say this to followers, their response is that this shouldn’t be a deterrent to joining.  So what if some Christian leaders have complete disregard for the teachings of Jesus?  So what if the supposedly anti-capitalist Occupy protesters are drinking Starbucks and wearing Timberlands?  “You have to take the good with the bad,” they claim. “If we only support movements comprising honest, decent people with integrity, nothing will ever get done.”

I suppose there is some validity in that. The civil rights movement and the Arab Spring probably included some of those annoying professional protesters who were just there for the action and didn’t help to advance the agendas but the movements as a whole still had tremendous impact and affected real change.  But, even when I strongly believe in a cause, I just don’t feel comfortable standing side-by-side with people who I know are not really committed and what’s more, are actually making life worse for those they claim to support.  Instead of spending my Saturday hanging out in a soggy downtown park, I’d rather be at home teaching my kids the values of equality.  It seems like it has more of an impact to impart these lessons to a generation of future leaders.  Maybe the 1 % never heard that from their parents and that’s how they ended up destroying the pensions of millions of people while they laughed all the way to the bank.

While I agreed in principle with many of the Occupy movement’s positions, I had to do my own exhaustive research to find out what they were and felt it did a poor job of articulating them or rallying support, especially here in Toronto.  It also irritated me that some of them seemed to be operating on the principle that anyone who didn’t join them was automatically against them. This is not the case.  In fact, most people I spoke to were sympathetic to their cause or at least understood the basis of it.  But for many reasons, none of which they should be forced to justify, they didn’t go downtown and participate.

Rather than shaming the denizens of Bay Street who were safely ensconced a few blocks west, the Occupy Toronto movement took over St. James park and mostly annoyed citizens who live and work near the area, playing bongos at all hours of the night and day and making it hard, if not impossible for nearby families to enjoy the park.  As the protesters seemed to have a lot of free time, many Torontonians wondered if their free time wouldn’t have been better spent volunteering in a soup kitchen or helping the homeless.  When they were finally evicted after 40 days, they left worn tents, clothing, books, signs and bikes mired in 9,000 square metres of mud.  What was once a park was now a quagmire.  The city pegged the cost to clean up and re-sod the park and fix the gazebo at $150,000.  To offset the cost to taxpayers (most of whom are among the 99 % the protesters were supposedly helping), the mayor asked for donations of time and cash to help.

Enter Canadian landscape professionals.  In response to the mayor’s request, an army of volunteer landscapers converged upon the park to ensure that local families will have grass to enjoy in the spring.  Led by Kyle Tobin, founder at LawnSavers Plant Health Care Inc. they acted quickly to harvest 10,000 rolls of sod, truck it to the park on 12 flatbed trucks and work with volunteers to lay 250 cubic yards of soil as a foundation for the sod.  Tobin donated the sod (about $30,000 worth), EarthCo donated $10,000 worth of soil and 200 volunteers donated their time to lay it properly.

So hundreds of Occupy protesters messed up the park in the name of equality and hundreds of volunteers fixed it in the name of just doing what needed to be done.  I’m not suggesting that the protesters intended to destroy the grass but it is the natural consequence of camping out anywhere 24-7 and one of the reasons I would not feel comfortable participating in such a thing.  The clean-up volunteers, many of whom probably don’t live in the surrounding neighbourhood, were motivated by nothing other than the desire to see more green space and for families to have a park to go to when the snow disappears. And you can bet that the vast majority of the volunteers, if not all, are members of the 99 %, not the 1 %.  The semantics are not important to them. They saw a need and they responded without rhetoric, grandstanding or fanfare.  The Occupy protesters could learn a thing or two about actually helping people from them.

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