Occupy Toronto: We joined the world but now what?
Activists make their way past the KPMG building in downtown Toronto on Saturday.
By Michael Gregory
A carnival of political activists converged on a downtown park Saturday, as Toronto joined the global sit-in movement against, well, everything.
Missing in action were the black hoods last seen at the G20 protests. Even police chose their bicycles over riot gear, perhaps sensing the ‘occupiers’ were willing to go about their business peacefully.
The energized group, led by Occupy Toronto organizers wearing armbands made of floppy orange fabric, chanted catchy slogans and flexed their banners and signs
"We are the 99 per cent. . . . They set cutbacks we say fight back,” they shouted.
The eventual destination for the march was St. James Park, just east of Adelaide St. and Church St., and right next door to St. James Cathedral. Police would later say more than 2,000 people were at the event.
Theresa Boyle, Jayme Poisson, Josh Tapper and I -- The Star’s live blog team -- were part of the media swarm on scene to capture it all.
Snap a picture, Tweet it, repeat.
As activists paraded into the park, the hand-holding organizers who had led them there, disappeared. Leaderless, the crowds almost collectively sighed as if to say "now what ? "
Photo by Michael Gregory
This musical duo kept crowds entertained at St. James Park.
Luckily, someone had ordered up the musical entertainment as an acoustic duo took over, playing for the masses who gathered around an old tree.
“Where did the money go? “ they belted out. Many encores ensued.
All the while, on the outskirts of the park the first remnants of a true tent city were beginning to pop up. A medical station, stocked with donated supplies and more than a dozen volunteers was ready for any minor emergencies.
“We’re expecting a lot of cases of hypothermia,” said a volunteer medic.
Nearby, people gathered around the Occupy Toronto legal committee as they ran through mock police-activist scenarios to better educate participants on their rights.
Stopping to talk with people setting up their tents, I asked the obvious question: How long are you going to stay ?
"I would be ready to leave when the government came out and talked to us . . . I'm a student . . . I'm a minority . . . I'm part of that 99 per cent,” said one woman.
A girl named Sundus made her way through the crowd with her mother and sister carrying a sign that read “Look around . . . It is possible.”
“People all over the world have been fighting for their rights and this is finally our chance to come together,” she said.
Photo by Michael Gregory
Several people turned out wearing a Guy Fawke mask.
Among those carrying banners touting their cause, no one group stood out among the rest. Everyone mingled with each other, listening and sharing views with one another.On the park’s south side, a large crowd formed a circle around a microphone, as individuals lined up in orderly fashion to expound their reasons for being there.
“Brookfield stole our pensions,” said one former employee over the loudspeaker.
Other shared stories of lost jobs, the tough economic times, and a need for political change.
The people were mobilized, out-spoken, and as donations began to pour in it was clear they could very well be semi-permanent.
The food tent wasn’t showing any shortages, and a shaggy-haired young man named Dustin moved happily through the crowd offering free peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Donated porto-poties and sanitation sinks sprang up later in the afternoon, at least solving the cleanliness issue for the time being. The Occupy Toronto media committee even happened to get their hands on a generator to provide a live 24-hour stream through their website.
As dusk and wind rolled in, organizers re-appeared for a general assembly at 5 p.m. Several hundreds listened to instructions that the ensuing days would be “respectful...inclusive...and horizontal in thinking.” All this drew approving “twinkling” hands from listeners.
Now, many will watch to see how long, and to what end, Occupy Toronto activists will go.
Perhaps old man winter will have the answer for these urban campers.
. . .
Michael Gregory is a Toronto Star intern who works in the radio room. You can find him on twitter.