Forget by-laws, let’s talk right and wrong.
Media discussion of Occupy Wall Street has been frustrating, tiptoeing around the big picture with the technicalities of municipal law and other spin-off issues. Coverage of Occupy NS itself has dwindled into arguments over the handling of the Victoria Park eviction and the treatment of those arrested.
By-law P-600 states that camping is not allowed in public parks. Shouldn’t we be asking why laws like this exist in the first place? Or why they are pulling rank over the spirit of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
The cities in which our mayors interpret and enforce these laws were built on the lands of First Nations (who respected the land so much that they never imagined claiming ownership of it – something the settlers took advantage of). We have built a grotesque maze of urbanized centres across Canada bleeding toxic chemicals into the Earth. We have created a world where a ticket to the table costs an arm and a leg and now we turn around and tell the homeless that they’re cramping our style? Sure, you can live simply, but not in my backyard!
When did it become illegal to live in a public space?
Widespread vagrancy during the Great Depression sparked laws designed to keep undesirables away from the rest of us. The approach of fencing ourselves off from those we’ve left afflicted continues today. People may not want scrappy derelicts all over the place, but it’s something we must accept because human beings have a right to exist, regardless of the social norms we’ve created. Think about this for a minute – we’re requiring human beings to purchase the right (in the form of homes, possessions, and services) to physically exist.
Human rights come at a high cost. We now live in times where your right to citizenship and mobility are hindered by the obligation of purchasing complex passports. Expensive degrees hinder our right to education and pursuing our livelihoods. Our freedom to express ourselves is weakened by the propaganda of corrupt governments, bought medias, and indoctrinated consumers.
Occupy movements across the world are exposing the fact that our freedoms to assemble in protest are being hindered by games of who-owns-what and silly by-laws that obscure the real issue: we have big problems, and if it takes months or years of continuous exercising of the right to assemble, our representatives need to respect that.
Morals vs. Ethics
People confuse laws and ethics. The police and the military are just “following orders,” journalists are just “doing their jobs.” We are allowing not only companies, but institutions of public trust to pay employees to cast aside their values and follow the “rules.”
We need to defend the personal right to ethics. Furthermore, we need to choose ethics over morals. Morals are given to us on stone tablets and in company handbooks. We have to build our ethics on critical foundations of choice, reason, and honour.
We are on the cusp of something exciting. Let’s ask our cities to allow the Occupy movement to form, to swish around in the people’s mouths, to let them acquire the taste of what could be and figure out what forms they want it to take.
I would ask law enforcement, politicians, educators and every cog in the spinning wheels of the system to forget what they were told is legal and right. Do the math yourself before you blunder out into the world derailing the hard work of those who are trying to change it.
What’s happening in Halifax isn’t an isolated occurrence. Look at what’s at stake here. We all want to be the generation that looks to our grandparents and says, “Change is possible, look what we’ve done!” Does the city of Halifax really want to be the voice of by-law P-600 instead?