#5 Occupational Hazards

Year in Review: Occupy Nelson. It began with a rally in front of city hall and a march down Baker Street.

The Occupy Nelson effort caught our attention through events like a zombie walk through the downtown.

It began with a rally in front of city hall and a march down Baker Street to show solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York.

It ended a month and a half later with police stepping in to remove what critics claimed had degenerated into a squatters camp.

In between, Occupy Nelson caused a huge debate which tended to overshadow the group’s actual message.

On October 15, as part of Global Revolution Day, hundreds of people came out to decry income disparities and stand up for the so-called 99 per cent not among the wealthy elite.

In the wake of that protest, tents went up in the city hall plaza — one of many such encampments around the world, some of which were broken up with tear gas.

Not so in Nelson, but Mayor John Dooley did ask occupiers to clear out for Remembrance Day. They complied, moving around the corner for the ceremony before returning.

“We’re trying to hold that space very respectfully and keep it clean, tidy and sanitary,” said Cheryl Burr, active in the movement. “We’re not feeling angry and hostile at people but actually feeling really energized that we need change and we need change bad and this is the coming together of people around that.”

Occupiers received honks from passing cars and support from people bringing down food and blankets. They also held several rallies around homelessness. Although police kept an eye on things, they said their dealings were amicable.

The group met several times with the city to discuss the situation, and the mayor described things as going well — but the occupiers begged to differ.

They wanted the city to provide them with power and make the campground available to the homeless for the winter.

The city responded that in exchange for removing the tents, occupiers could have an information booth. The offer was declined.

Finally, declaring the occupation in violation of municipal by-laws, the city issued a 48-hour eviction notice, and on the afternoon of December 1, the police and fire departments moved in and removed the tents.

Police chief Wayne Holland said it was to the occupiers’ credit that while they weren’t happy about being forced to leave, no one was arrested or hurt.

The question remains: was the occupation an effective way for the group to spread its vision? Or did it alienate those it might have otherwise reached?

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