Sunday, October 23, 2011

What’s going on in the park? Occupy Toronto (day 7)

What’s going on in the park?
Occupy Toronto (day 7)

    Day seven of the occupy Toronto movement has me wondering exactly what I want to say about this movement. I could tell you about day to day life in the park, or the marches that have taken place, or what the many people I have talked to have said about why they are part of this world wide show of frustration and displeasure. As for myself I’m seeing red flags and I’m not talking about the communists.
   We are living at what could be a turning point in history and I can’t help but speculate on who’s driving the car? I have spent a few days this week just hanging in the park, observing and talking to many people, all kinds of people, young, old, activists I have known for some time, people I have only met on face book, and lots and lots of people who for them this is their first protest or action.
   The main stream corporate media report that the message is fragmented and the demands of the people are many, they continue to broadcast interviews with protesters who cannot articulate the problems and do not speak for the majority. I find the opposite to be true. Of the many I have spoken with, although they will say it in many different ways, all seem to be on the same page as to what this movement is about. The message I get from them all is corporate greed, the private banking system that has taken control of the creation of our money and the fact that our political system serves these corporations and bankers and not the people who elect them. Every other issue is a symptom of these problems.
    Although this is what the people in the movement are talking about, the people who are in control of the general people’s assembly seem to do nothing but direct the people with their rules of speech and etiquette and hold glorified pep rallies. The Occupy Toronto organization is made up of many volunteers who sit on many committee’s such as medical, food, media and logistics. There is one group however who control the real power of the movement and moderate the general assembly, this small group is the facilitating team. These facilitators are the same people who have taken control of this movement long before the group first came together in the park last Saturday. This group of very elusive people seem to consist of very educated university students and graduates, well trained in psychology and group control dynamics. Armed with reasonable explanations for their methods straight out of a document known as the Quick guide on group dynamics in people’s assemblies which they claim comes from the Occupy movement in Spain. The problem with this is that there has been much speculation that these other Occupy groups are as controlled as the ones in Canada appear to be. I have been hearing the same concerns of outside control from activists known to me across Canada and the United States, I will in this article only be addressing the Toronto group which I have personally been observing.
    One of the most interesting tactics employed by the facilitators in group meetings is something they call “The peoples Microphone” rather than using a sound amplification system or bull horn, they will call out “Mic check” which is an instruction to the crowd to repeat what they say in a loud, almost hypnotic chant supposedly so all can hear the words spoken, they say this method is used so that everyone can feel they are part of the process and to create unity of the group. The truth is this method is also well known to psychologists as Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). (NLP) is an approach to psychotherapy and organizational change based on "a model of interpersonal communication chiefly concerned with the relationship between successful patterns of behavior and the subjective experiences (esp. patterns of thought) underlying them" to change their patterns of mental and emotional behavior. 
   NPL does not seem to be the only psychological tactic in these facilitators tool box. Should anyone raise concerns about content or methods they are quickly encouraged to join one of the volunteer committee’s and see for themselves that nothing sinister is going on. That person is then directed to a job on one of the various committee’s that provide services to the camp or even made a marshal to police the camp activates, but access to the inner core of the facilitating team seems not to be an option that can be attained. In fact it took me much effort and days of being led around the park looking before I was able to nail down one of these “non leaders” for a off camera interview that was cut short because the facilitator was so busy (busy hiding from questions like mine is my guess)
    Her name is Sarah Rotz, (Master of Environmental Studies Candidate, York University, Honour's Bachelor Degree in Environmental Management and Business Management, University of Toronto)  Talking to Sarah was like talking to customer service at the phone company, none of the excitement or passion that I got from others in the park. My first question was her background and experience in activism?  She told me about her work on the Toronto People's Assembly on Climate Justice, another highly suspect group, it appears the Toronto chapter of this international group are the very same people who turned up as facilitators in the Occupy Toronto movement. When I started asking questions about the anonymous donations and allegations of control by CSIS that a young man named Thomas Zaogg had made moments earlier in the park, something interesting happened. A man appeared at her side and started answering the questions for her. When I asked if he was a facilitator as well ? He told me no, nor was he on any of the other committees, just another protester in the park. Well for just another protester in the park this man who identified himself only as Aden seemed to know all the text book answers. The pair dismissed my questions as paranoia and even suggested the drugged up young man named Thomas (who had been thrown under the bus at the pre-Occupy meeting) was himself a CSIS agent. The pair then told me they were busy and quickly disappeared into the crowd in the park. Any other attempts to track down and question facilitators this week have proved futile.
   In the first week of the Occupy Toronto Movement, they have entrenched themselves in St. James park, had a number of protest marches, discussion groups, arranged for food and communications in the park, but have yet to issue a group statement of any kind. Since day one I am also hearing talk of “things that don’t seem right about this whole thing”, but the people camping in the park don’t seem concerned about this at all? I am also hearing the same concerns from other Canadian cities as well. For example when the march came back from city hall this Saturday a general assembly was called and even though someone was going though the crowd taking names for a list of people who wished to speak, the facilitator announced the speakers list was full and they would not be hearing from anyone who was not on the list. What list? I could see the list had not yet been compiled? Although anybody is supposed to be allowed to speak at these controlled meetings that’s not what is happening.
    Now don’t get me wrong here, I believe in the goals and spirit of this movement. Even though I strongly believe that this movement is currently being controlled by what may be government agents in an attempt to control the direction of this popular uprising. The people may yet achieve real change in how we function as a society.  In the end I also believe these attempts at control will fail. It will take more than a bunch of university control freaks with a bag full of psychological tricks to stop what has started in the world. I believe we are at a turning point in history and the people who have been steering the car may well end up as road kill.
Lawrence McCurry
October 23, 2011

Sunday, October 16, 2011


   This will be the first in a series of articles I intend to write on the occupy Toronto movement. I wish to make it clear that although I am attending as much as I can find the time, I do not consider myself to be a part of this movement. Although I do sympathize with the goals and spirit of the movement, I am seeing a lot of the activists and independent alternative media blindly throwing their support behind it even though they freely admit they have problems with the way things are being done, things being said and the transparency.
   The day started for me at 11a.m. at the corner of King and York streets. The protest had been called for King and Bay (one short block away) at 10am but as I was meeting some out of town friends I had to allow time for them to get here. By the time we walked to the corner we were met by about 100 other protesters who were all wondering where everyone else had gone? In one hour the whole protest had disappeared leaving late comers to figure out for themselves where the secret location of the protest had moved to. After some calls to an activist friend we found the group at St. James park a few blocks south of Toronto’s financial district.
    On arriving at the park the first thing that struck me was there was not near as much of a police presence as I expected. In the park the usual factions had set up, the unions, communists, socialists all these familiar groups were using sound equipment to make speeches and the general protesters wandering around with their signs. It all seemed like just another protest in the park. The drummers and the usual kind of things we veterans of protest have seen before. But amongst this large crowd, taking their time setting up more permanent encampments were the people I was interested in, the group who have been organizing the Occupy Toronto movement.
    What’s interesting about the O.T. organizers is they have set up teams and asked for volunteers for these teams. Most of these teams are easy to understand Food, medical, media, but the most interesting group is the facilitating team. This is the team that moderates and controls the group meetings known as the general assembly. Now there are activists that are known to me on many of the teams and even the media team. Everybody tells me there are no leaders and nobody is in charge.
    As the day wore on the regular players and their supporters packed up and dwindled away and went home as the O.T. team’s encampments got larger and organized, the protesters that stuck around were the younger and less experienced protesters, many attending their first protest. Early evening the general assembly had begun. Now this method of holding a meeting seems a bit strange to me. The person speaking makes himself heard by the crowd by having the people in the front repeat what he says in a loud voice so those in the back may hear. That technique strikes me as odd. These people can organize all this but can’t put together a sound system or a $30 bull horn? What’s the advantage of this? In my view it made the meeting much longer, it also took away the tone of the speaker so you may as well have written it down on a large screen everyone could read? No what this did was create a group dynamic, one I had seen used before in cults and religious groups.
   When I got closer and forced myself to listen to the words these people were repeating in a chant like manner I was mildly shocked. These moderators and facilitators were laying out rules for speech and conduct in dealing with each other and others! What was really shocking was no one was objecting at being told what to do? Whoever these people were they were controlling this crowd like seasoned professionals. What I heard was that for all problems that may arise in the process of this general assembly a person should contact a facilitator, so I decided to do just that. I wandered up to the media tent, told them my name and asked to speak to a facilitator. The guy at the table looked up at me and said “You’re Lawrence aren’t you?” My reputation had preceded me. I recognized him as someone who had given the CBC interview the week before. Right away another guy named Josh dropped what he was doing to help me with my concerns. Again I felt like I was dealing with a cult, but how could this be possible? Working at the same table was a well known activist and friend that earlier in the day had assured me nothing funny was going on here.
    I had a long conversation with Josh; I related my concerns about the group think methods I saw and the rumors about anonymous donations that had been made. The fact that although every one claimed there was no leader, somebody had to have started all this organizing and have paid for or arranged for the meeting space they have been using at OSIE the week leading up to this event? Josh threw out some first names but could not give me last names without his phone and the people I really should be talking to were these facilitators who were busy running this meeting somewhere in the middle of this sea of chanting repeaters. He suggested I wait till after the meeting or come back later.
   Well at this rate I could see this general assembly meeting might be going on all night. To his credit Josh did offer to send me organizing documents he had, copies of e-mails and a pdf file that would explain the methods they were using entitled Quick guide on group dynamics in people's assemblies. He also assured me that he would arrange a face to face meeting with a facilitator. Josh seemed like an upfront guy, we exchanged contact information and he was good for his word and by the time I got home the things he said he would send were in my mail box.
    There was one more thing that kind of freaked me out. As I was leaving the media tent I spotted a woman who I recognized from many protests around town, she is a blogger for a popular alternative news site. After introducing myself I asked her if she still wrote for that site and she said she did. I then asked her “as a journalist, are you not concerned with the lack of transparency in this movement?” What happened next made me feel like I was in the body snatchers film. She replied with “Go away, you’re scaring me with your aggressive language, and I don’t wish to talk with you anymore!” What???  I was shocked. Surly this woman had seen me around at other events as I her? How was asking her this question aggressive in any shape or form?  I left the park more disturbed than I have ever been from a day of protest with maybe the exception of the day of the G-20.
    Josh called me back at 1a.m. Sunday morning and assured me that he could arrange a meeting with facilitators when I came back to the park on Monday. Now I’m not saying that anything sinister is going on here. But as an old hand at civil disobedience and protest I’m feeling off balance about this whole thing. For the first time I have questions about motives. Not of the hard working activists and friends that I know and see working in this, but of the people behind the scenes that I have not met and have no idea of who they may be.
   There is rumor of a march on Bay Street on Monday when the greedy bankers and stock traders start their week. I will go downtown and back to the park and try to understand just what is making me feel different about this than anything else I’ve been a part of over the last few years. More to come.

Lawrence McCurry
October 16, 2011 
(Day 2 of Occupy Toronto)