Red Deer’s Occupy movement has grown five-fold since Derrick Callan kept a lonely vigil on the steps of City Hall on a cold day last November.
But while the active protesters could still be counted on the fingers of one hand on this much warmer Sunday, Callan believes the movement actually has scores of local supporters who stand by its demands for economic fairness and equality for all.
“I get a lot of people coming up to me, saying they support us — people from the churches, people I haven’t seen before . . . I think there’s a lot of back-door support from people who don’t like standing out in the limelight,” said Callan, the Red Deer College student who facilitates the local movement.
The broad goal of Occupy Red Deer is to express dissatisfaction with increasing economic inequality in Canada.
No one wants to shut down the corporations that provide Alberta with economic benefits and jobs — the aim is to distrubute wealth more fairly, said Callan, who would like better government regulations and tax laws. “The gap between rich and poor is growing wider and wider.”
Each person who stood Sunday in front of City Hall — including a single mother on disability, a retired lawyer, and retired farmer — had related concerns about health care, the environment, water rights, the lack of child care and opportunities for the disabled.
“Most of it fits in with poverty,” added Callan, who believes Alberta is still considered the best place to live in the country, weathering the last recession better than most provinces.
Yet, there is “hidden homelessness” here, and working poor people, who often must hold down multiple jobs to squeak by.
“During the boom, companies and big businesses were making huge profits, but the wages of working families didn’t go up at the same rate.
“If our standard of living went up, it was because people were working longer hours,” and going into debt, said Callan. “Companies were making profits off the backs of workers.”
Fellow Occupy protestor Ken Collier added that certain CEOs, who are in the top-paid “one percent,” earned as much in the first three hours of 2012 as most people do for the entire year.
That’s why We Are the 99 Percent has become the name for new groups that have formed after Occupy camps were shut down in other cities across Canada, said Collier, who’s retired and also a member of Friends of Medicare and The Council of Canadians.
While Red Deer’s protestors never had a camp and were never asked to vacate municipal property, city workers did come out to sweep away the word ‘Occupy’ when it was written in the snow, or with sidewalk chalk, said Callan. (He joked that protestors would be doing Red Deer citizens a favour by spelling “Occupy” on the bumpy, ice-caked streets to bring the plows out sooner.)
Because the movement has to change to stay in the public eye, Callan is already planning special activities and events throughout the year to get the message out to more people.
For the next few Sundays, public information sessions will be held from 2 to 3 p.m. in the Red Deer Public Library’s Waskasoo room. Anyone interested can also join the noon to 4 p.m. protest in front of City Hall, before and after the session.