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NEWS: Grewal speaks on Occupy at packed forum in Vancouver

The Vancouver Observer reports, “More than 300 people packed a hall at the Vancouver Public Library downtown Friday night to discuss the future of Occupy Vancouver – insisting the ‘organic’ movement will continue impacting politics without a physical encampment.”

“Speakers on the ‘Who are the 99%?: The Occupy Together Movement’ panel, included some of Vancouver’s most prominent activist organizers – Occupy Vancouver organizer Richard Porteous, veteran anti-poverty organizer Jean Swanson (coordinator of the Carnegie Community Action Project, and author of Poor Bashing), Seth Klein (B.C. director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives), Harjap Grewal (regional organizer for the Council of Canadians and member of No One Is Illegal), Glen Coulthard (assistant professor at the University of British Columbia), and Lorene Oikawa (vice-president of the B.C. Government Employees Union).”

“In a format unique for a panel discussion, participants divided into small break-out groups midway through the evening to further discuss issues raised about the Occupy movement – an approach commonly employed during Occupy Vancouver’s consensus-based General Assemblies to encourage wider participation. Although panelists followed the traditional panel format with a microphone and podium, several switched to the trademark-Occupy ‘mic check’, inviting the audience to repeat after each phrase.”

“Harjap Grewal, regional organizer with the citizen advocacy group Council of Canadians, joked that he was embarrassed to switch formats to a ‘mic check’ in the middle of his address, and after faltering for a moment, encouraged the audience to recite a quote from Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things and An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire: ‘Radical change cannot and will not be negotiated by governments – it can only be enforced by people,’ he quoted.” More fully Roy says, “Radical change cannot and will not be negotiated by governments; it can only be enforced by people. By the public. A public that can link hands across national borders. A public that disagrees with the very concept of empire. A public that has set itself against the governments and institutions that support and service empire. Empire has a range of calling cards. It uses different weapons to break open different markets. There’s no country on God’s earth that isn’t caught in the crosshairs of the US cruise missile and the IMF cheque book.”

“While Occupy Vancouver had been criticized for its encampment and refusal to apply for city permits for its protest, Grewal argued that the goal of Occupy should be to model new ways of political engagement – and challenge the jurisdiction of authorities over social change movements. He encouraged the audience – and the wide array of organizations represented in it – to heed international calls for Occupy to shut down West Coast ports in protest of the widening crackdown on the encampments. On November 2, more than 5,000 anti-Wall Street activists shut down operations at the massive Port of Oakland (in northern California) in demonstrations against economic inequality and police brutality. ‘Let’s stop appealing to the systems,’ he said. ‘Let’s start challenging their jurisdictions. In the end, if we’re fighting for self-determination, ultimately we’re not dancing to the tune of their drummer. Let’s stop fighting for permits, and let’s start fighting for our freedom.’ Grewal and fellow panelist Glen Coulthard argued that the Occupy movement should align itself with Indigenous peoples’ struggles, because both share a common enemy in the economic system.”

“Considering this week’s displacement of Occupy Vancouver from the art gallery and courthouse, the mood in the crowded room was buoyant, with many laughing and cheering during the speeches, and small-group discussions animated. Many in the audience expressed hope that Occupy continue in a new form in Vancouver.”

The forum was endorsed by the Council of Canadians, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Rabble.ca, No One Is Illegal, Check Your Head, Streams of Justice, the Citywide Housing Coalition, and Calamites.