KAMLOOPS — No one knew what would happen next. We gathered in anticipation in front of the Kamloops Library on October 15, 2011. The Occupy movement was sweeping the globe and its reach extended to Kamloops.
These giddy times reminded me of the Hippy Movement of the 1960’s but these participants were more focused and clear-headed: no drugs, psychedelic music and free love.
More than 950 demonstrations were planned for that day in 82 countries on every continent, in every Canadian province, eight in British Columbia.
Seven years later, with the euphoria faded and the legacy unclear, I wanted to capture the moment before it was lost. When Professor Trish Archibald from the Social Work program at Thompson Rivers University invited me to write a chapter in an upcoming book, I jumped at the chance. She was assembling a team to write a history of social justice in Kamloops since the Second World War.
To research my chapter, I interviewed ten people involved with the camp at Spirit Square. I met with each of them at Red Beard Cafe on Tranquille. That location was appropriate, not only because I’m a regular but because it was only a block away from the original campsite. Back in 2011 when it was called Cowboy Coffee I would see the occupiers, camp-worn, visiting the washrooms.
They were willing and eager to tell me about the events that changed their lives. Cassie Tremblay was a major force in the camp. Her training as a nurse gave her the skills necessary for to day-to-day routine and regular meetings.
They hadn’t intended to occupy the park to begin with. But after five hours of talking at Library Square (after I had left) a core of seven to ten people wondered what to do with the pent-up enthusiasm. They decided to set up the camp at Spirit Square, went home and gathered sleeping bags, tents and camping gear, and met that evening at the Park.
The long hours at the camp gave people time to reflect more deeply about what they had committed to - the occupation of public land. Some visitors to the camp were motivated by the same principles: idealism, global solidarity, and wage disparity. Some were not; such as the homeless, those with addiction and mental health issues, even runaway kids.
As the days grew colder, the practical matters of the camp became more urgent; such the need for toilets and heat. But because they were occupying public land, permits weren’t granted. The daily grind took its toll and by November 15, 2011 the occupiers’ camp at Spirit Square was gone.
What is the legacy of Occupy Kamloops, I asked occupier Kevin Wicheknap? "The goals of Occupy have yet to be accomplished. All things are always in transition. Occupy brought people together who were concerned about the environment and inequality. It was unlike anything I have ever seen. It was inspiring. Now it's like, where next? We've learned to walk."
Years in the making, our book was released Monday. Other chapters include made-in-Kamloops solutions to social injustice regarding food security, education, housing, and poverty. Our book, Building Community in Kamloops, Social Justice in Action, is available at the Brock Activity Centre.