Protesters hold up signs for the media during the Occupy Newfoundland protest in Harbourside Park in St. John’s Saturday. — Photo by Colin MacLean/The Telegram
Amid spitting rain and gusting winds, three young people attempted to put up a tent in what little green space was available in Harbourside Park in St. John’s Saturday.
Trying their best to shield themselves from the cold and muggy day, the three worked hurriedly to set up their shelter, intent on joining the growing number of people gathered on the nearby Water Street sidewalk.
Travis House, 20, explained what drove him to come downtown and pitch a tent in miserable weather on his day off.
“I wanted to come down, set up a tent and show my support for the ‘occupation’ movement,” said the data management technician from Kilbride.
There’s just something about people camping out in a public space for a cause that raises the awareness level for that movement, he added.
“It really drives home the message. There’s a visual component to actually camping out and occupying a space rather than just showing up for an afternoon and saying your spiel,” he said.
House and his two tent mates were participants in an event dubbed Occupy Newfoundland. The Harbourside Park protest coincided with similar protests/sit-ins across the world Saturday.
Organized mostly online through social media websites, the events espouse any number of grievances with the status quo, but all share the theme of displeasure with the financial uncertainty facing the average citizen and the disparity in the distribution of the world’s wealth.
Protesters involved in the movement regularly tout the statistic of most of the world’s wealth being in the hands of one per cent of the population, so “occupiers” call themselves “the 99 per cent.”
The growing movement was inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protest ongoing in the United States, which was in turn inspired by the Canadian anti-corporation group Adbusters.
The Occupy Wall Street movement has attracted thousands of people from across the U.S., and while Occupy Newfoundland was a smaller affair, its participants were no less enthusiastic than their American counterparts.
Thomas Jordan, 29, of St. John’s was one of the first to sign up for Occupy Newfoundland and helped stir up some of the initial interest locally. He was also the guy holding the megaphone at the rally.
“Today I am here as part of a movement to educate and make people aware of some of the huge issues that we are facing, not only as a province and country but as a global society,” said Jordan shortly after Saturday’s rally.
Jordan, an artist, poet and interior painter, also dismissed the criticism levelled by some pundits at the occupy movement.
Some commentators have said Occupy Wall Street lacks a clear goal and what motives it does have are vague and unrealistic.
Jordan says he doesn’t agree.
“There seems to be a common denominator where people are sick of the one per cent (of the population) having so much, and 99 per cent having so little,” he said.
He also said even though the people who show up to events like Occupy Newfoundland have many goals and agendas, the fact they came at all shows a shared sense of discontent with the direction of society.
“The clear goal, realistically, is to get people involved, to think for themselves ... not just put blind trust in our politicians to act in our best interest,” he said.
“We all realize that the world is heading in some terrible directions, we’ve decided it’s about time we stand up and take action for ourselves.”
Jordan, House and a handful of other occupiers have vowed to stay in Harbourside Park as long as they can. They’ve set up a tent shantytown of sorts, but have made it clear they intend to keep the park clean and to generally respect the space and its visitors.
Some, like House, could only stay as long as the weekend allowed.
“I got until Monday,” chuckled House.
“Like the rest of the 99 per cent I have to go show up for work.”