occupying the future

The Canadian winter and annoyed city councils have begun to dismantle the physical camps spawned by the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The Canadian winter and annoyed city councils have begun to dismantle the physical camps spawned by the Occupy Wall Street movement. However, the unsettling ideas, inconvenient truths, clamour and clash the Occupy folk so successfully raise won’t so easily be dispatched from our consciousness.

To say their amalgam of causes heralds a coming long winter of our discontent may not be far from the reality of how social, economic and political developments will play out.

Continuing talk of global recession may spark the rush to secure pipeline right of ways or new Asia-Pacific free trade accords. The general political unrest may hand over governments in Greece and Italy to economic technocrats, or generate the malaise seen in the bizarre parade of kooky Republican presidential aspirants in our neighbour to the south and west.

Helpless acceptance of increased extreme weather events or fatalistic talk of an inevitable triage for endangered species may reinforce a sense of futility in addressing these crises, after all the globe’s climate has changed before and extinctions are part of the evolutionary process aren’t they?

But these misdirections, and others like the dismantling of the social safety net or the diminishing of governments role in regulating markets in the name of fiscal austerity, will only delay the reckoning the Occupy folk see coming.

If nothing else, the Occupy movement can be credited with putting a major pebble in our shoe.

It painfully demands we acknowledge just doing more of the same won’t get us out of the accumulated messes we are mired in.

The system we live under, they forcefully state, has been created to serve the distorted and ultimately disastrous ends, on so many fronts, of just a small minority of the planet’s population, the one per cent.

They argue the system has to change.

Earlier this week, the Northern Institute of Social Justice held an inaugural event at the Yukon Arts Centre entitled Making Change: Global, National and Local Pathways to Social Justice. The audience was told the underpinning philosophy of the institute’s course offerings is meant to address the root causes of concerns like the growing inequality between rich and poor, and to advocate for systemic change. None of the invited speakers strayed far from that theme.

Lloyd Axworthy, former minister of Foreign Affairs in the Chretien government and now president of the University of Winnipeg, saw a current global system with “too many leaks,” implying there are fundamental “problems with the architecture of the system.”

He foresees our world necessarily becoming a community of civil societies where “humanity’s laws emerge from a state-centric system.”

In Axworthy’s vision, the poor will become legally empowered to claim their rights.

Phil Fontaine, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, focused on the Canadian pathologies of poverty as seen from a First Nation perspective. While progress certainly has been made, school dropout rates and prison population percentages among First Nations underline the fact Canadian society has a long way to go in truly meeting the needs of aboriginal people here.

“Poverty has created this situation,” Fontaine said. “And reconciliation can only be achieved through the eradication of poverty.”

Peter Johnston, chief of the Teslin Tlingit Council, spoke last, bringing the challenge of societal change down to the local level. He focused in on the homegrown justice system evolving in his community. Fontaine and Johnston’s words obviously had global resonance as well.

Wherever we choose to work, whatever issue we chose to focus on, there is plenty of work to do in the birthing of a new world order that, truly and sustainably, will serve the needs of the 99 per cent. We can not afford to be demoralized by the dimensions of the challenges before us, nor sidetracked by believing just patching leaks will make everything alright.

We must “occupy” our own futures.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.