Tuesday, 7 February 2012
Keeping Yourself Occupied
What you might not see is that there is a sign on the poster that says, "If you've come for the demonstration, we went to the coffee shop down the road for a bit."
So my first reaction was to put the picture on social media with a sarcastic comment about how they can't even occupy their own protest (MAN I'm clever). Then I realized a couple more things: 1. The coffee shop they went to sells THE most expensive cup of joe in Red Deer (to my knowledge). 2. The store is owned by a city councillor.
This is interesting because my next appointment was to meet with said city councillor in said coffee shop. As this years president of the Central Alberta chapter of the Canadian Home Builders Association, I had some things to discuss. Needless to say, I was very aware of the juxtaposition as I walked in to the coffee shop. The 3:30 appointment was the 99% (though that totalled 5, in this case). The 4:00 appointment was the local industry advocate, trying to create a better business environment for his members.
So, we took a moment to appreciate the irony, and carried on with our meeting. But I appreciated something the intelligent, well spoken councillor said. He mentioned that he had recently been lambasted by a 'revolutionary' blogger, and he wondered if the blogger realized how non-1%-y he is... what with hosting the occupy movement at his coffee shop so they can warm up before going back to picketing his other office and all.
After all my judgmental thoughts, I realized that all of us had ended up at that coffee shop for the same reason that day. I joined the home builders' association for a few reasons. Some are related to my own company and growing my network. But some just have to do with the fact that I really like this city, and I want to be involved in improving it. The city councillor became a city councillor because he feels strongly about the city, and wants to be involved in the direction it goes - because he's passionate, and likely because he has much invested in the outcome (as a downtown business owner, he must).
And the protesters? Well, perhaps they felt that they didn't have the avenue that the councillor or I had. But I suspect that this is the best avenue they felt they had to be part of the conversation. Does Red Deer have ANY of the top 1% of income earners in Canada? Maybe, but not many. I don't think these guys wanted to overthrow them and swap houses or anything anyway. Maybe it's just that this is the only way they felt they could be heard.
And I get that. Because I feel like it's hard to be heard from where I stand, too. And I bet even the city councillor feels the same way from time to time. Even the best ideas, once they churn through layers of consulations and approvals, become dumbed down, less potent versions of their earlier selves. That's the curse of democracy. We will only ever get a maximum of 75% of a good idea, once it's made its way through the red tape.
So, keep yourselves occupied, occupiers. We're not so different. We're all just trying to find our way to a seat at the proverbial table.
My only caution is this: keep things constructive. Compromise is the blessing and the curse of democracy. There is no room for inflexibility, for stonewalling. Every stakeholder gets to weigh in. Every opinion gets counted. There is no value in trying to stop or undermine the conversation. In 60 years, we will end up somewhere. You're not going to be able to roll that stone backward. But you might get to steer it a bit, if you're in the right place at the time that it goes by.