Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Occupiers top hippies, hands up

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Tom Oleson's Oct. 29 column, Occupy winter -- it clears the mind, attempts to propose that the "Occupy Winnipeg" of today is similar to the hippie movement in Memorial Park in 1969.

He suggests that the hippies at that time "occupied Memorial Park." As I recall, yes, they were there during the day and at night when the weather was good. And they didn't have tents. Also, there was a motorcycle gang that occupied the opposite side of the park -- all between 1968 and 1972.

One of the more interesting occurrences was when the politicos, hippies and members of the motorcycle gang came together to demonstrate in front of the U.S. Consulate against the war in Vietnam. And, as Oleson suggested, this was happening all across Canada -- young people dropped out of school, smoked a little weed and hitchhiked across the country, not staying in one place for more than a few days. While I agree with Oleson that the hippies wanted to have fun, their movement was much more serious than that. Young people were part of a cultural revolution, including music (such as the Festival Express with Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead, which came to Winnipeg in July 1970).

They were fed up with the 1950s mentality where the woman stayed home and took care of the man and the household -- that is, materialism.

They wanted the freedom to travel and live off the land. In fact, some of these hippies still live this way successfully today, mostly on farms in western Canada and especially B.C.

On the other hand, then prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who not only supported but was part of this cultural revolution, provided federal monies for hostel space (such as the Osborne Barracks) for people to stay when it was too cold to sleep outside.

In Winnipeg, CRYPT (Committee Representing Youth Problems of Today) helped establish Klinic to help those with drug issues (overdoses), as well as providing housing.

I remember having 12 to 15 hippies sleeping on the floor at my apartment for $1 a night until they moved on west towards B.C. (usually a couple of days).

Oleson suggests that, after 1972, when the hippie movement died out, that they moved from Memorial Park to Wolseley. That's not true.

Having lived in Wolseley for most of my life, I know that these hippies came from all over Canada, and when the movement died out, they all went back to the cities they came from. They went back to live with their parents, went to university, got married and had kids -- basically, adopted a normal middle-class life.

While Occupy Wall Street might project some similarities to the hippie movement of the 1960s and 1970s in the way that they are occupying public spaces, the Occupy Wall Street in New York is a political protest composed of a much broader segment of American society than in the 1960s -- people who are unemployed or have lost their homes. They have serious political messages about how corporations have been bailed out by the government to the tune of millions of dollars.

The Occupy Winnipeg movement that has set up tents in Memorial Park, was set up in support of Occupy Wall Street and is comprised mostly of young people who are making a serious attempt to create direct democracy aimed at achieving consensus. Support for an idea is indicated by waving both hands, palms down above the shoulder. Lack of support is indicated by the same motion at waist level.

In fact, those folks who now bed down in Memorial Park have two consensus-building meetings (known as general assemblies) every day at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Winnipeggers like myself aren't familiar with the type of democracy that Occupy Winnipeg is practising, so perhaps we should be less critical and more supportive of this participatory type of democracy.

Contrary to Oleson's suggestion that they don't know what their purpose is, they do. According to Alex Paterson, a member of Occupy Winnipeg:

"They are creating an intentional alternative community, opening a place to meet and discuss revolution. They are practising democracy every day. But most importantly they are organizing against the austerity measures being adopted by Canada and other governments, such as cutting social services such as welfare, health care, education, daycare, pensions, etc."

Nick Ternette is a political activist,

freelance writer and broadcaster.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2011 A11

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