“I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have” – Coleman Cox
“The dictionary is the only place where success comes before work” – Vince Lombardi
The fall of 2011 saw the emergence of the Occupy Movement, characterized by protests in major cities across North America and around the world. On October 15th, the movement arrived in Toronto as a group of about 150-200 protesters began a peaceful, five-week occupation of St. James Park.
I’m not going to discuss the reasons behind the Occupy Movement itself because I’m still not sure exactly what the Occupiers were protesting. Many media outlets said that the group seemed unfocused and even the group’s spokesman wasn’t able to articulate their mission clearly. The purpose and specific goals of the Occupy Toronto movement will be the subject of another blog entry. For now, I’d like to concentrate on the five weeks that they occupied St. James Park.
The entire occupation was peaceful, and according to Wikipedia, the protesters received not only moral support from the public, but also material support in the form of donations from companies and individuals. Local businesses donated pizza, members of Toronto’s legal community offered advice and support, and OPSEU (Ontario Public Service Employees Union) installed portable toilets, electric generators and a 28-foot mobile kitchen. According to this Toronto Star article, OPESU also provided and paid for three portable shelters, called yurts, worth $20,000.
During the five weeks of the occupation, the condition of the park – with a population that eventually grew to 500 – began to deteriorate steadily. By the fifth week, the change in the park’s appearance was startling and disappointing. The Toronto Star, in an article about the aftermath of the Occupy Toronto movement, stated “The grass, after 40 days of being camped on, was beyond resuscitation. City staff pegged the cost of replacing it at $66,000”. There were also other costs. In December 2011, The Toronto Star reported that the occupation cost the city over $700,000, mostly for policing and EMS services.
After five weeks, the protesters were forced out of the park, and the Occupy Toronto movement came to a peaceful conclusion. While the Occupiers did leave peacefully, they didn’t clean up after themselves, and this is what annoys me. The Occupiers, while complaining incessantly to the media about how unfair the world is, were only too happy to receive food, water, shelter, a portable kitchen, portable bathrooms and other assorted donations from the kind-hearted souls in the community. They also cost the city over $700,000 and in five weeks, made a downtown park unusable. When I was growing up, I was taught that if you use or borrow something – whether an object, a meeting room or anything else – then you have to return it in the same condition. If something becomes damaged or broken while in your care (even if it wasn’t your fault), then you are responsible for repairing it or replacing it. When the Occupiers were finally evicted, they left all of their garbage behind. Ten thousand kilograms of waste – about 30 truckloads – had to be removed from the park afterwards.
However, there is a bright (and even inspiring) side to all of this. I’d like to draw your attention some people who are truly worthy of your attention – the generous individuals who are (in my opinion) the unsung heroes of the Occupy Toronto movement. According to the Toronto Star, after the Occupiers left, something truly heartwarming happened. A number of private companies donated materials and labour to help restore the park. I don’t know how many companies participated in total, but LawnSavers Plant Health Care and Landscape Ontario were two of the businesses named by the Toronto Star. According to the Star, the companies donated “11 tractor trailers of sod, 16 trucks of soil, and four trucks of mulch”. Then their employees volunteered their time and labour, and were able to restore the park to its pre-occupation state in two days. In total, about $350,000 in labour and materials was donated. You can see a time-lapse video of the restoration work here:
To get a sense of the scope of the project and how much work was required to repair the damage, here are the before and after aerial views of St. James Park:
St James Park, October 17, 2011. Second day of occupation.
St. James Park, November 14, 2011
St. James Park, after the restoration
In 2011 the Occupy Toronto protesters received countless pages of newspaper space and hours of television and radio time. The post-Occupation volunteers received almost no recognition at all, and this is a sad commentary on our society. I don’t know who the individual volunteers are, but they set a stellar behavioural example for us all, and they should be the people whom we admire and emulate. Allow me to contrast the Occupy Toronto Protesters (OTP) and the landscaping volunteers.
- The OTP damaged a city park, and made it completely unusable. The landscaping volunteers restored it to its former state.
- The OTP left 10,000 kilograms of garbage behind for someone else to clean up. The landscape volunteers (and, I would assume, Toronto city workers) cleaned up their mess.
- The OTP complained to the media and to anyone who would listen that life was unfair. The landscaping volunteers worked diligently without complaining, and without any pay.
- The OTP gladly accepted thousands of dollars in food, water, shelter and equipment from strangers, unions and local businesses. The landscaping volunteers donated their time, labour and raw materials.
- The OTP cost the City of Toronto over $700,000. The landscaping volunteers saved the city at least $350,000.
- The OTP (in my opinion) thought only about themselves. The landscaping volunteers were community-minded, worked for the greater good, and were truly “team players”.
Choose your role models carefully, and base your decision on deeds, rather than who shouts or complains the loudest. Thanks to the Occupy Toronto movement, I now know who among us are “givers” and who are “takers”. I still don’t know what the Occupiers were trying to accomplish with their histrionics, but they did teach me how to identify poor behaviour and exemplary behaviour.