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What’s going on in the park?

Occupy Toronto (Day 7)

Day seven of the occupy Toronto movement has me wondering exactly what I want to say about this movement. I could tell you about day to day life in the park, or the marches that have taken place, or what the many people I have talked to have said about why they are part of this world wide show of frustration and displeasure. As for myself I’m seeing red flags and I’m not talking about the communists.

We are living at what could be a turning point in history and I can’t help but speculate on who’s driving the car? I have spent a few days this week just hanging in the park, observing and talking to many people, all kinds of people, young, old, activists I have known for some time, people I have only met on Facebook, and lots and lots of people who for them this is their first protest or action.

The main stream corporate media report that the message is fragmented and the demands of the people are many, they continue to broadcast interviews with protesters who cannot articulate the problems and do not speak for the majority. I find the opposite to be true. Of the many I have spoken with, although they will say it in many different ways, all seem to be on the same page as to what this movement is about. The message I get from them all is corporate greed, the private banking system that has taken control of the creation of our money and the fact that our political system serves these corporations and bankers and not the people who elect them. Every other issue is a symptom of these problems.

Although this is what the people in the movement are talking about, the people who are in control of the general people’s assembly seem to do nothing but direct the people with their rules of speech and etiquette and hold glorified pep rallies. The Occupy Toronto organization is made up of many volunteers who sit on many committee’s such as medical, food, media and logistics. There is one group however who control the real power of the movement and moderate the general assembly, this small group is the facilitating team. These facilitators are the same people who have taken control of this movement long before the group first came together in the park last Saturday. This group of very elusive people seem to consist of very educated university students and graduates, well trained in psychology and group control dynamics. Armed with reasonable explanations for their methods straight out of a document known as the Quick guide on group dynamics in people’s assemblies which they claim comes from the Occupy movement in Spain. The problem with this is that there has been much speculation that these other Occupy groups are as controlled as the ones in Canada appear to be. I have been hearing the same concerns of outside control from activists known to me across Canada and the United States, I will in this article only be addressing the Toronto group which I have personally been observing.

One of the most interesting tactics employed by the facilitators in group meetings is something they call “The Peoples’ Microphone” rather than using a sound amplification system or bull horn, they will call out “Mic check” which is an instruction to the crowd to repeat what they say in a loud, almost hypnotic chant supposedly so all can hear the words spoken, they say this method is used so that everyone can feel they are part of the process and to create unity of the group. The truth is this method is also well known to psychologists as Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). (NLP) is an approach to psychotherapy and organizational change based on “a model of interpersonal communication chiefly concerned with the relationship between successful patterns of behavior and the subjective experiences (esp. patterns of thought) underlying them” to change their patterns of mental and emotional behavior.

NPL does not seem to be the only psychological tactic in these facilitators tool box. Should anyone raise concerns about content or methods they are quickly encouraged to join one of the volunteer committee’s and see for themselves that nothing sinister is going on. That person is then directed to a job on one of the various committee’s that provide services to the camp or even made a marshal to police the camp activates, but access to the inner core of the facilitating team seems not to be an option that can be attained. In fact it took me much effort and days of being led around the park looking before I was able to nail down one of these “non-leaders” for a off-camera interview that was cut short because the facilitator was so busy (busy hiding from questions like mine is my guess).

Her name is Sarah Rotz, (Master of Environmental Studies Candidate, York University, Honour’s Bachelor Degree in Environmental Management and Business Management, University of Toronto). Talking to Sarah was like talking to customer service at the phone company, none of the excitement or passion that I got from others in the park. My first question was her background and experience in activism? She told me about her work on the Toronto People’s Assembly on Climate Justice, another highly suspect group, it appears the Toronto chapter of this international group are the very same people who turned up as facilitators in the Occupy Toronto movement. When I started asking questions about the anonymous donations and allegations of control by CSIS that a young man named Thomas Zaogg had made moments earlier in the park, something interesting happened. A man appeared at her side and started answering the questions for her. When I asked if he was a facilitator as well? He told me no, nor was he on any of the other committees, just another protester in the park. Well, for just another protester in the park this man who identified himself only as Aden seemed to know all the textbook answers. The pair dismissed my questions as paranoia and even suggested the drugged-up young man named Thomas (who had been thrown under the bus at the pre-Occupy meeting) was himself a CSIS agent. The pair then told me they were busy and quickly disappeared into the crowd in the park. Any other attempts to track down and question facilitators this week have proved futile.

In the first week of the Occupy Toronto Movement, they have entrenched themselves in St. James park, had a number of protest marches, discussion groups, arranged for food and communications in the park, but have yet to issue a group statement of any kind. Since day one I am also hearing talk of “things that don’t seem right about this whole thing”, but the people camping in the park don’t seem concerned about this at all? I am also hearing the same concerns from other Canadian cities as well. For example when the march came back from city hall this Saturday a general assembly was called and even though someone was going though the crowd taking names for a list of people who wished to speak, the facilitator announced the speakers list was full and they would not be hearing from anyone who was not on the list. What list? I could see the list had not yet been compiled? Although anybody is supposed to be allowed to speak at these controlled meetings that’s not what is happening.

Now don’t get me wrong here, I believe in the goals and spirit of this movement. Even though I strongly believe that this movement is currently being controlled by what may be government agents in an attempt to control the direction of this popular uprising. The people may yet achieve real change in how we function as a society. In the end I also believe these attempts at control will fail. It will take more than a bunch of university control freaks with a bag full of psychological tricks to stop what has started in the world. I believe we are at a turning point in history and the people who have been steering the car may well end up as road kill.

Originally published on Lawrence McCurry’s blog. Read his previous post, “Occupy Toronto - Day One” here.

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James Petras, professor and author

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