The Age of Occupy

Patsy George addressed an enthusiastic audience of students, faculty and community members, young and old, at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) on February 20th, 2012, the United Nations Day of Social Justice.

 Those who have heard Patsy speak know that she is both riveting and engaging; each of her ideas pulls the audience along to the next.  The Director of Social Work at UFV called her a “wonderful speaker” who made the audience “think, a lot”.

 And it’s no wonder. Patsy moves in her speech from her 20-something years being exposed to the era’s bitter realities, to the Occupy Movement originating in New York, to decrying economic development at the expense of social justice, to the conditions of the indigenous peoples of Canada and beyond.

 It was prior to Martin Luther King’s fame when Patsy began her civil rights’ activism in San Antonio, Texas. Her first action was to occupy a movie theatre, which would not allow her friends to sit together as white, black and brown.

 Patsy’s analysis of the Occupy Movement challenges us to question the current social structure, the economic framework and the media which allow such inequalities to still exist today. “People in power and the media…are uncomfortable with this or any other social movement.  The questions…“What do you want?” and “Who is your spokesperson?” demonstrate the mainstream need to confine activities to categories that are familiar, but which reflect systemic inequality. “When the movement says we stand in solidarity with the 99% of the world’s population asking for social justice, the media dismisses them as naïve and simple dreamers.”

 In spite of the odds against it, public discourse has been changed. Patsy refers to the writings of Linda McQuaig, a Canadian journalist. “We are moving from a terror era to the income equality era. After two months Occupy Wall Street seems to have moved us into a new era, not bad for a leaderless group that sleeps in tents and does not even use microphones.”

 Patsy shares her beliefs about the origin of the social movements we are seeing around the world. The domination of economic development at the expense of the social agenda is at the heart of it. The sheer scale of the global economic activity is such that it has made it impossible for governments to effectively control or regulate world trade or resist the force of global capital. Patsy refers to the “speculative nature of wealth creation” and how “far removed” from the reality of people’s lives that this goes on with “overwhelming evidence of negative social and environmental consequences.”

 Globalization has not served the majority well. Patsy explains that “when we examine globalization through the eyes of the ordinary people, for the vast majority of women and men around the world, globalization has not met their simple aspirations for decent jobs, livelihoods and a better future for their children.  Most developing countries still have very limited influence in global negotiations on rules and in determining the policies of key financial, economic institutions. Workers and the poor have little or no voice in the governing process of their institutions, corporations and power structures. Power has shifted from elected local institutions to unaccountable transnational bodies. In other words, the imbalance between the economy and society is subverting social justice.”

 There are no other groups which have been as adversely affected as indigenous peoples, especially the Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Patsy has a lot of advice for anyone who dares to listen. “Those of us who are settlers, children and grandchildren of settlers for the last 600 years or so must accept that without reconciliation with the first people of this land, there will be no justice and peace in this country.”

 “Certainly apologies have been given for the atrocities committed but understanding and respecting each other involves multi-dimensional appreciation of the suffering and damage to the First Nations families, who in some cases continue to suffer. So a true reconciliation process must deal with the traumas of the racist past. Until the First Nations are truly free, Canada cannot claim to be free.”

 “Justice demands that we work on the side of the First Nations. If the Kelowna accord was possible, even though it was rejected by the Harper government, we can continue to believe that such a Canada is possible and attainable.”

 Embedded in her disheartened message of a world whose economic and social systems are spiraling downwards, is a deep and encouraging reminder – that “human beings have the capacity to be generous, co-operative, trusting and altruistic”. Patsy draws attention to groups and initiatives and laws which are set-up to make the world a better place: the micro-credit initiative raising millions from poverty, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and Universal Declaration of Human Rights which continues to caution world governments, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives campaigns for a living wage and citizens’ own initiatives which are truly making a difference.

 Patsy urges us to move towards our human tendencies of “longing for an experience of meaningful human community” as this will provide a place where “alternative social development can take root.” Patsy believes and implores us to “dream and dream big…to join with others to expand our horizons, reject the ideology of consumerism,… and deepen our commitment to human rights.”  She emphasizes that we must ensure that, “all voices are heard, understood and valued so that together we can eradicate poverty, eradicate violence against women, reconcile with the First People of this land and create just political and social institutions which will bring peace in our communities.”

 Fittingly, for the President of the Vancouver Branch of the Uni ted Nations Association in Canada, Patsy ends the public lecture on social justice with the words of the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. “Let us work together to balance the global economy and build a new social contract for the 21st Century. Let us chart a development path that leads to greater social justice and the future we want.”

 Patsy is a social worker, women’s rights activist, and community volunteer, and the President of the United Nations Association in Canada – Vancouver Branch. Her many honours and accolades include the Order of British Columbia, the Order of Canada, and an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of the Fraser Valley.

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