Sandy Garossino – Position On Occupy Vancouver

Occupy Vancouver - aerial shot taken by reporter from Hotel Georgia


The Occupy Vancouver protest and encampment on the grounds of the Vancouver Art Gallery has taken this election by storm, forcing all of us to reflect on our core values. Many share a deep sense of frustration that the movement appears to lack clarity and focus, and that public debates and spaces have been disrupted.

Yet employing police authority to physically confront peaceful protesters is inherently inflammatory, and its longer term outcome uncertain. Before using physical force in this way, those in government should know the answers to three questions:

1. What is the cost?
2. What is achievable?
3. What is the exit strategy once the City engages in open conflict with protesters?

In the absence of clear and unambiguous answer to any of these questions, I would not approve the use of force to remove the tents at Occupy Vancouver.

Few if any of the over 1000 cities involved have displaced Occupy movement protesters without violence. It’s doubtful Vancouver will be the exception. The Stanley Cup riot in June has incurred massive investigative costs, and we have not even begun the trials. A choice that opens the door to a second riot in 6 months is not, in my view, in our city’s interest.

In my personal and professional experience I have seen many tense situations defused with calm and measured response by authorities, and I support this approach now. Rarely does raw force yield the desired results.

Patience, nerve, and quiet strength are the skills needed to resolve even the most tense situations. This is how we talk desperate people back from the brink, get critical witnesses to come forward, or even negotiate the return of hostages. And it’s how we should resolve our concerns with peaceful protesters camping in a public square.

That said, Occupy protesters have taken over public space for their own exclusive use, and have used their numbers to overwhelm public debates that others have come to hear. The Occupy leadership model does not lend itself to dialogue with the broader community, which largely supports their aims but is losing patience with their methods. Those seeking a respectful response from our whole community have an obligation to do better.

These demonstrators are for the most part Vancouverites. Whatever their methods, the Occupy Vancouver members are citizens passionately pursuing a better society for all. This objective deserves attention and respect.

In Vancouver, the Occupy movement gives voice and visual presence to our acute affordability issues. It provides a window to the real and harsh reality that too many of our own citizens, including children, face every day. I saw this most acutely in one very memorable moment during this campaign in East Vancouver. A woman rose at the end of an all-candidates meeting to speak in anger that she was not hearing any answers for her. In her forties, she provided childcare for 3 families, made under $11 an hour, and was living month to month in a part of town where speculation and gentrification are driving up rents. This hardworking woman is pitching headlong into irrecoverable poverty while 3 families depend on her so they can work themselves.

What is to become of her? No one can say. What is to become of Vancouver if hardworking people like her can’t make it?

The demonstrators of Occupy Vancouver are fighting for this woman’s dignity and for the dignity of thousands like her in Vancouver who have no voice. I hope we can all remember to put their interests first, and to see our challenges with Occupy Vancouver in this broader context.

Let’s put our most vulnerable citizens and the working poor front and centre, and we will reach a peaceful resolution that can serve the long-term interests of all. Whatever the outcome, we share a city and a future. Let’s take the best care of both that we can.

As Lao Tse said more than 3000 years ago, “What is in the way, is the way.”

For an independent and collaborative approach to public engagement, please vote Sandy Garossino for City Councillor on November 19, 2011.

8 Responses to Sandy Garossino – Position On Occupy Vancouver
  1. Wendy
    November 14, 2011 | 1:32 pm

    So, are you saying that you would vote to let the Occupiers stay indefinitely?

    What about the level of law-breaking happening on the site? (drug dealing, drug use?) Is this okay?

    While yes at it’s core the occupy movement has their hearts in the right place, they are refusing dialog with the rest of the community and not allowing others to speak (as evidenced by their appearance at the housing debate). Most dislike democracy and voting, they want to shout instead.

    By taking over the main public square in Vancouver, they deny others the right to speak their minds there.

    I wish we could focus on real solutions for people who want to be a part of Vancouver–things like creating more housing of all types. Instead we’re letting the occupants of 25 tents drown out good discussion.

    • Sandy
      November 15, 2011 | 1:27 am

      One key element I did not address, Wendy, is that this matter is now before the courts. VPD Chief Jim Chu says that he needs a court order before he will move against the protesters, and it is not certain that the courts will give him one.

      It’s possible this could take weeks winding its way through the various levels of appeal courts. Meanwhile winter is coming.

      My approach would be to remain in contact with other civic governments and watch for peaceful resolutions to emerge, which they surely will as winter takes hold. Because of the policing expenses we have already incurred this fiscal year, we should wait for and follow established successful models rather than try to be the leader.

    • nomi
      November 17, 2011 | 7:17 pm

      Were people using the “public square” to speak their minds b4 Occupy “took over the art gallery” ?? hmm?? if they were did you notice?
      What is your “focus” for creating real solutions? it’s too easy to criticize & not as easy to come up with a solution that suites everyone’s needs
      .drug related abuse issues are not confined to the occupy space HELLO!! this is a bigger issue that the city has had for many Decades
      …the occupy movement is a reflection of a greater issue …lack of direct communication between civil planning & the community at large .
      & if this communication was taking place to begin with there would be no occupy anywhere …..if you notice the city does most of its planning without any discussion from the public… better a few kids shouting that they care ,than NO discussion, that you never noticed didn’t happen b4 !
      thank Occupy for stirring people out of their slumber.

  2. Roderick MacDonald
    November 14, 2011 | 4:05 pm

    Your comments here earned you my vote. Cheers!


  3. Stephen
    November 14, 2011 | 4:46 pm

    I think you’ve got my vote as well. I’m voting for the COPE Vision ticket, except for one, which I will replace with you.

  4. Karin
    November 15, 2011 | 1:51 pm

    You’re drawing voters from across the spectrum by being thoughtful, articulate, and daring to engage at a complex level. That’s a draw whether people agree with your ultimate conclusion or not, and I think a lot of people are happy to see an escape route from the sick partisan polarity of Vancouver politics. Other than independent, I’m voting mostly NPA because I haven’t forgotten what it’s like to present to the Vision/COPE council and be met with contempt, and because I think there are some thinking people on the NPA slate. I’m optimistic for you: I think the primary question remaining is who your colleagues will be on council!

  5. Beth
    November 15, 2011 | 3:03 pm

    I too greatly appreciate your astute and even-minded consideration of the matter. You’ve got my vote!

  6. Fred Bass
    November 17, 2011 | 6:27 pm

    Your statement above about Occupy Vancouver is beautiful: balanced, just, fiscally responsible, well-thought-out. We need you on City Council.

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