Toronto’s piece of the fight

Protests, Marches and Occupation

By: Elena Maystruk
Photo: Teal Johannson-Knox

Are they still there?

It’s a question sometimes posed to those who still follow the wave of activism that enveloped in Toronto last year. After the initial upheaval during Occupy Bay Street, the news on activists in Toronto revolved around evictions and isolated incidents of protesters clashing with Toronto police. But where are the people who stirred up the citizenry in Toronto last year? The answer lies in two factors: winter and timing.

Movements such as Occupy and SlutWalk were prominent news in Canada last year, but their time in the public spotlight was wracked with misunderstandings.

While in places such as Egypt, protesters moved forward from occupation of Tahrir Square, to expressing dissent and indignation through guerrilla street art, Canadian activists are facing their own challenges.

“We’ve faced every criticism you can think of,” says SlutWalk co-founder and organizer, Heather Jarvis. If self-appointed critics choose to “blame and shame” she says, it is difficult to respond in a constructive way. If the demands are reasonable, there must be a dialogue.

So what is in store for the Walk? “Its a bit of a scary question” Jarvis admits. Toronto’s branch of the SlutWalk initiative received disapproval in the past. Some women’s groups issued complaints of the movement. This is an excerpt from “A Sincere Letter From Black Women to SlutWalk, Sept. 23, 2011”:

“As black women and girls we find no space in SlutWalk, no space for participation and to unequivocally denounce rape and sexual assault as we have experienced it. We are perplexed by the use of the term “slut” and by any implication that this word, much like the word “Ho” or the “N” word should be re-appropriated.” On a global scale, this movement has taken a back seat when it comes to presenting a unified international effort.

“We couldn’t keep up with other SlutWalk cities,” Jarvis says. She identifies fragmentation and lack of dialogue as shortcomings. Though she says the SlutWalk was never meant to be sustainable, there may be plans going forward for another event.

No Vacancy for Toronto Occupiers
With Slutwalk experiencing division among its followers, and Occupy Toronto campers sent home earlier this year, activists say they are biding their time. “A lot of people are getting disillusioned,” says Occupy supporter and documentary filmmaker, Nadim Fetaih. “Everyone knows it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. People hit the streets when they have nothing to lose.”

Occupy Toronto activists have been attempting to consolidate with other movements around the world. The Occupy Toronto website has a packed events calendar listing. With a continuous growth of diversity in activist movements, protestors and supporters are disgruntled at their portrayal in the media.

In the past, mainstream news outlets depicted protestors as ragged and flustered in photos. When the cold weather arrived last November, CTV News published a story saying negative media portrayal of occupiers “may have caused the crackdown by authorities on the movement.”

The reality of activism in Toronto today has broadened to encompass more than just displaced occupiers. The original initiatives of last year triggered activist actions within a number of cultural groups. Community leaders have reached out to their counterparts in other countries to create consolidated, global protests.

The Congolese Movement
On a grey, damp day last February, members of the Congolese community in Toronto, along with a few Occupy supporters, gathered in the hundreds at Queen’s Park in solidarity with other Congolese around the world. There was no fragmentation here, with communication via telephone and e-mail, showing unity in a fight against political corruption, and exploitation of the country’s people and resources. “Corporations are getting richer! Why?” asked Congolese community spokesman Freddy Kabongo.

He is passionate and loud, as were many of the protestors. He talked about why the community came out, about how Canadian officials needed to admit their role in the exploitation of Third World countries by not putting economic pressure on dictators and corrupt foreign politicians. The shivering, chanting group was one example of how last winter’s activist movements continue to express themselves. And there was an increasing number of groups within Toronto coming together to voice issues specific to them.

Winter challenged activists but did not still them. There is a boiling brook of plans to continue the revolutionary wave into the summer.

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