TORONTO — It’s a mass protest movement without formal leadership that began on Wall Street, and on Saturday it will coalesce for the first time in Canada.
Those involved with Occupy Bay Street and similar demonstrations planned for other Canadian centres are trying to draw attention to a growing divide between haves and have-nots.
“The theory by governments the world over is that if we reward the one per cent, it will trickle down to the other 99, but that’s not happening,” said Amy MacPherson, a social and poverty activist.
“The present systems we have are not working.”
Almost a month ago, Occupy Wall Street activists carrying a message of anger and frustration over the economic meltdown descended on lower Manhattan and decided to stay there.
The protest unleashed a global outcry against the simple notion that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer — with the blessing of governments that mollycoddle the financial elites.
“The majority of people are no longer feeling that they have meaningful representation,” said Kevin Konnyu, 33, a Toronto photographer involved with the Occupy Bay Street planning.
“The ballot box is no longer, perhaps never was, working in our best interests.”
Greased by social media, similar demonstrations cropped up in other American cities and have begun spreading — from Canada to Hong Kong to South Africa.
Antarctica is the only continent that isn’t involved, said MacPherson, 36, of Wasaga Beach, Ont.
On Saturday, protesters are expected in various Canadian cities such as Montreal, Vancouver and Edmonton, with Occupy Bay Street in Toronto likely to be the largest gathering.
The activists do not have a single “ask” of government. Instead they hope to awaken politicians and the public at large to a spectrum of social issues such as job losses and lack of affordable housing.
Mostly, there is anger over government bailouts they say lined the pockets of corporate big wigs but did little to help those lower down the economic food chain.
As Canada’s financial hub, Bay Street is an obvious symbolic target, although the exact location could change.
Insiders fret police could barricade off a site if announced ahead of time. There have also been disagreements about alternate locations.
Decisions on Occupy Bay street are being taken at “general assemblies” — meetings at which activists hash out issues and try to reach a consensus.
“It’s a wake-up that we can actually organize, engage civilly in discussion, work out what the problems are, and come to mutually agreeable decisions on what we can do,” Konnyu said.
Social media sites have been abuzz with a raucous infusion of ideas and arguments.
One discussion has been whether organized labour should take part.
For now, despite sympathy with the cause, the labour movement will not have a formal role out of fears of dominating the message.
“Of course we support it. We understand it. We’ve been fighting the same thing for a long time: greed,” Canadian Labour Congress president Ken Georgetti. “It’s rapacious.”
Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, said his organization has met some of the activists and will offer small-scale logistical help.
“These guys here are asking us to come late to the party,” Ryan said.
“We need to step back and let them organize their events the way they want to organize it and get it off the ground.”
While those involved say momentum is building, no one is predicting how many people might show up Saturday.
There is, however, a strong expectation that the “occupation” will continue beyond the weekend as it has on Wall Street.