I thought I’d take a time-out from veggie talk to reflect on Remembrance day and the Occupy movement, it’s a bit of a novel, but I think it’s important to keep the dialogue going!
In about an hour I’m going to head down to Parliament Hill and listen to the Remembrance Day ceremonies. I’ve been going for the past few years, since I get the day off. My grandfather was in the Greek navy during WWII, a bit of a different experience from the Canadians. My grandparents talk about the city of Athens being starved out by the German invaders, being taken over by the Nazi regime, black outs and gunfire on the streets.
I’ve been seeing on facebook comparisons between the youth who went off to war and the youth who are currently participating in the Occupy movement. So I thought I’d write about what the Occupy movement means to me.
I grew up in a single-mom household. After my parents divorce when I was six, and my dad skipped the province so that he wouldn’t have to pay child support, my mom moved my sister and I to our grandparents house in a small Ontario town near the Quebec border. My mom commuted for two hours each day to Carleton University in Ottawa to finish her degree. A year later we moved to an Ottawa suburb, renting a small town house in what I refer to lovingly as “single-mom housing.” My grandparents supported us as much as they could, and there was a bit of money coming in from the government. My mom’s friend Barb lived with us for a bit, and after she moved out I remember that she took all the furniture with her. For awhile I can remember the only place to sit to watch television was on pillows on the floor, or my sister’s old car seat.
I never felt poor though, I had my library books, my grandparents were generous at Christmas, I would make Barbie houses out of hard-cover books and wash-clothes for blankets. We always had new clothes for school in September, and other than needing to wear plastic bags inside my boots, I don’t remember feeling any different than the other kids I went to school with.
We moved to downtown Ottawa when my mom got into teacher’s college, just down the street from where my grandparents had down-sized and recently moved to. They provided baby-sitting and chauffeured us around if my mom couldn’t. My mom re-married when I was a teenager and I welcomed three more sisters into my family. With young ones at home again, my mom stopped teaching and stayed at home with them. I learned quickly that if I wanted money, I needed to get a job, so I did. I worked 10 or 20 hours a week at the local grocery store. Looking back I am also so grateful to have been a teenager in the 90’s, my wardrobe consisted of Salvation Army finds, old plaid shirts and used cargo pants.
With a teacher mom and some reliance on government money, I grew up fairly left of centre, politically. Throw in that I attended an arts highschool, and it never occurred to me that there were opinions that deviated from a more or less socialist point of view. I took a bus to Montreal when I was 16 for the “NO” rally when Quebec wanted to hold a separation referendum, I marched with the teachers during a strike, I proudly wore a button against the Mike Harris government, and when I turned 18 I put my vote to the NDP.
After 10 years of paying off my student debt, I now find myself in a position were I’m making more money than my family ever had when I was growing up. I work hard for it, there are days when the thought of stepping foot in my giant office building, sitting in my cubicle infront of my computer and reviewing a policy consultation makes my artistic brain want to implode. But I wouldn’t have been able to pay off my student debt without my job. I wouldn’t have my car, or be able to buy pricy health food. I wouldn’t be able to pay for my gym membership, or attend my yoga teacher training. So I am at peace with my job for the moment. And as soon as it’s not worth it to me, I’ll get out of it. I must admit though, making a comfortable living has given my political views a run for their money, if you’ll forgive the pun. I am in a higher tax bracket, and seeing the before and after tax amount I take home always gives me a small heart attack.
So I keep asking myself, am I in the 99%? I keep hearing people say, why don’t those protesters just get better jobs? Or invent an ipod? What are they complaining about? I wonder, if I had followed my artistic dreams instead of settling into my office job, would I be able to complain that I am not making enough money? If I had decided to write for a local newspaper, making just above minimum wage because it allowed me to write everyday, would I feel that the money of North America was being unfairly distributed? Just because I am comfortable, does that mean that I should feel guilty for how I live?
I do feel guilty. The Occupy movement is receiving a lot of flak from the upper middle class, and I sometimes feel like it’s a “she doth protest too much” situation. Maybe it’s uncomfortable because there is an underlying truth in it. I’m sitting on my Ikea couch, typing on my mac mini computer, and I imagine eight-year-old me, curled up in my sister’s old car seat in an empty living room watching tv shows where characters didn’t have to wonder if they were getting new running shoes this year.
For me, the Occupy movement is putting these issues in our faces. It is unfair that some people have comfort, and some people do not. And yes, sometimes it is about the choices that we make. My mom didn’t have to go back to school, she could’ve gotten a job and slowly moved up, she didn’t have to have more children and stay at home with them. But why is it okay in our society to pay someone else to watch your children so that a mother can buy groceries? What are we teaching our children by saying that money is more important than the time we spend together? Are we saying that a mother’s ability to raise her children is less important than making money?
The men and women who fight in wars, if it was a choice, or not, are doing what feels right to them. They are defending freedom. The protestors of the Occupy movement are doing what is right for them too, they are protesting for freedom as well, they are asking us to examine where our society is putting it’s importance, it’s morals. Is a banker more important than an artist? Is a teacher more important than a mother? Is the CEO of an internet company more important than a teacher? Is a hockey player more important than an army cadet?
I can’t offer any solutions, but I think of my grandparents who were starving in Athens in the 1940’s, and I think of single-mother families who are starving today on minimum wage, and I am thankful for the Occupy movement. We don’t have a tangible war to fight, but the protestors are following a more complicated truth, simply that something feels wrong.
Today, I am remembering all those who have fought for what is right, be they war veterans or protestors. I am remembering my 8-year-old self, who didn’t want anything, other than her family’s love. I am thankful for all of those who have fought in wars for our freedom, I am thankful for my mom who stayed at home to raise her family, and those who continue to fight for people everywhere to be able to choose how they live their lives.