What are you protesting?
This is a question that I have heard quite often since Occupy Montreal began on the 15th of October 2011. Due to the myriad voices that sprang out that day, almost each protester shouting a slogan of her or his own, the general public was lost as to what we where (and still are) protesting. From Tunisia to Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Israel, Spain, Greece, France, China, India, Russia, Germany, Chili, Brazil, Mexico, the USA, Canada, and many more countries, our main goal was (is) to protest the system of inequality that the greedy few (be they corporations, despots, or filthy rich individuals) have imposed on the majority of the World population. please mind the use of the word World with a capital W, as this is not an issue that touches folks merely on a local and isolated level. This is an issue, that now, in a globally connected world, touches every living soul on the face of this planet. All 7 billion plus of the earth’s human population (and also that of other species from bacteria to animals and plants) are in one way or another affected by the greedy few and their lust for wealth and power, and in the process of creating the capitalist dream of false equality they have managed to make sheep out of us all. This is exhibited in the incredibly unbelievable line-ups of people every time there is a new release of an insignificant gadget like the i-phone or i-pad. True that these « marvels » of technology make life easier for us all in some ways, but they remain insignificant while much of the world still lives in absolute poverty.
For those of you who see numbers as more significant than human values here is the run down; 1.7 billion human beings (over 20% of the world population) live on less than $1.25 per day.
Over 50% of the world population (or more than 3 billion human beings) live on less than $3 per-day.
80% of the world population lives on $10 or less per-day.
In contrast the richest 1% of of the world population own 40% of global assets while the bottom half of the world population owns 1% of the global wealth.
Poverty is not the only issue that has made so many of us indignant. There is also the worsening environmental situation, with yet many people who truly believe that climate change is a myth, nuclear energy is safe (even after Fukushima and with Chernobyl forgotten in people’s minds). The business of war and profits from the sale of weapons (including crowd control non lethal weapons) to despots and oppressive regimes which have in many documented cases been used against a civilian population. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have generated much misery amongst families of soldiers, wars that have worsened the situation of the local civilian population weather at home or abroad. The exploitation of entire peoples by corporations, all in the name of economic progress and growth that somehow always makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. Governments that have failed in their duty to provide the tax payers a sound return on their collective contribution towards the improvement of the larger community in which they live in.
All these issues are intricately connected on one level or another; the environment is deteriorating because we keep on consuming its resources that are not renewable, all in the name of economic growth. Vast oxygen making forests are cut down, several species have gone extinct in just the last 20 years, the world climate has indeed changed drastically over the last few years (unless you consider the opening of the north west passage a « natural » phenomenon) as a result of our ever increasing dependency on fossil fuels. Our hunger for more energy has lead us to build nuclear powered plants that produce radioactive waste that cannot be disposed of safely for thousands of years. The sales of weapons to despots, tyrants, and oppressive regimes like Saudi Arabia, Syria, African, and Asian countries has fulled the deterioration of human living standards across the world, all in the name of increasing profits for the industrialized nations’ weapons makers and weapon brokers and smugglers. Those who make profits off the backs of the tortured, the hungry, the miserable, live a royally comfortable life void of conscious. The problems of Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and other poor countries, for instance, are artificially created by the leaders of those countries who prefer to purchase expensive weapons form the USA, Europe, Russia, and others, while their people can’t even get access to fresh water, let alone use an infrastructure that would help them fight against famine, drought, and deplorable health conditions. As a result, the people of poor nations live a life of misery so that their leaders and the world corporate weapon makers may live a life of extreme luxury.
Yet all of these issues, at first glance at least, seem far removed from wealthy countries like the the USA, Canada, and Europe. People I talk to in North America cannot fathom why the collective “we” should bother with the troubles and misery of “those on the other side of the world” when « we have it so much better ». I wish I had a penny for every time someone said « You can’t compare the situation in the Arab world with us here in North America ». This is a statement that I heard repeated time and time again, which at first glance might seem true, but scratch the surface a little bit and the realities quickly start to emerge with the stark differences suddenly tipping over to reveal a situation, that may be different in scale, but which is the same non the less.
In the Arab world people did not just rise up against tyranny. The people of the Arab world rose up against economic and social injustices. The same kind of injustices that exist here in North America, albeit at a much different scale.
Consider this; In Quebec the average income tax is around 45 percent, we pay around 15 percent sales tax and a varied amount of visible and invisible taxes. in short, we pay the federal and provincial governments a lot of money. in return what do we get? A transport infrastructure that is falling apart and a construction scandal to remind us all why this is so. We also get a health care system that is falling apart at the seems, ever increasing stoical program spending cuts, less and less free public services, increases in tuition fees, increasing numbers of people living in poverty, and an increasing number of homeless people with untended pharmacological conditions. Yet the explanation I get from most people is that « we at least have a healthcare system unlike the USA and our tuition fees are still the lowest in all of North America ».
These kind of replies nauseate me. We are not paying more than half the money we work very hard to earn so that we’d role over and accept the current situation as normal. We are not paying these ridiculous amount of taxes so that we get told that there is a budget deficit while the infrastructure is falling apart. we are not paying through our teethe in order to be told that we also need to buy insurance for our cars, homes, health and whatnot, or to pay extra for roads and bridges that are also paid for with our tax dollars. Why are we paying so much more on top of all the sky high taxes we already pay? We are not paying these nebulous amounts of money to our governments so that they would turn around and tell us that they need to make us pay even more for our children education, pay more for our health, pay more to have the infrastructure fixed, pay more for politicians to come up with laws that further diminish our basic human rights in the name of security while organized crime runs deep and rampant with tentacles intrenched in government and the security forces. Are we (the protesters) the only ones who see that there is something wrong with this picture? I am wide spectrum dyslexic, math is not my forte, yet even I can tell that the numbers just don’t add up. Yet still I get mind-boggling responses to the effect of « that’s the way things are ».
Is this the Quebecois way? is this the Canadian way? To just allow the corporate owned governments to continuously suck us dry of everything we have, and with our own connect to boot? What is wrong with people? Is it necessary to have a major catastrophe for people to realize that their comfort zone is not at all comfortable? That their comfort zone is cheaply and artificially maintained and that it could fall apart on them at a moments notice, without prior warning, and with no recourse, because citizens have all been to sedated by the main stream corporate media that feeds them the pill that they so desperately « need »? I-pods, i-phones, luxury cars, the latest and greatest of everything, online games, and many more distractions.
What has become of people? At what point did they turn into selfish, self-centred, uncaring egotistical creatures? Do they really think that just because they are relatively comfortable compared to others that they will not soon feel the heat? Have people not yet woken up to the stark naked truth that the world has become intricately connected by a web of economic systems that is not that different from the ecological system; if the parts of the ecological web starts to fall apart the rest will follow. likewise, if parts of the world wide economical web starts to fall apart the rest will follow. No one is safe. no one’s zone of comfort is impervious. If they wait until the trouble begins it will be too late (not late for those whom are already poor and homeless and whom have already lost everything). It will be too late for those who think that they “have it all” and choose to remain “comfortable” while everything falls apart. Is it that common in Canada to ignore the proverbial big pink flying elephant in the room? It is as if the economic turbulence of the great depression of 2008 has gone by with those who where lucky enough not to be touched by it be completely oblivious of the amount of misery it created? is this the Quebecois way? Is this the Canadian way? To just simply accept a great injustice against all society as if it was normal? And then people have the temerity to ask why the protesters are so indignantly protesting against corporate greed and the great hibernation of the public morality. I am an indignant human being who will not stand silent anymore.
For decades many of us who originally came form the Arab world have been predicting a pan-Arab revolution because of the socioeconomic situation that prevailed throughout several generations. Many of us where baffled as to why people just kept silent while the boot of oppression was weighing heavily down on their necks. The more one bottles up their indignation the more powerful the eruption of the volcano of outcries will be. Just look at Syria. The Syrians have been quiet for such a long time (more than 40 years) that at the beginning of the Arab spring it was thought very unlikely that they would also rise-up. Yet rise-up they did, peacefully at first, but the illusion of a peaceful resolution in Syria has long since past. This is the outcome of being silent and accepting injustice for too long. keeping ones head in the sand will not make the fast approaching steamroller vanish into thin air. It is time to wake up from your hibernation. Smell the horrible truth and go out there and do something about it, there are many peaceful, nonviolent and democratic ways in which the tide can be turned, but the tied will not turn on its own if it continues being ignored. The fate of the world is in every persons individual and collective hands.