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This article was published 27/10/2011 (2850 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
'My life," Jonathan Barkley declares, his face lit only by the distant glow of the Bay’s parkade lights, "is here now."
Here, in this case, is Occupy Winnipeg, the local outpost of the global movement that has seen camps spring up in parks and squares across the world.
It began in New York, when thousands converged on Zuccotti Park in September to push back against income inequality.
Only one month later, the spark lit by the Arab Spring and kindled in the West by Occupy Wall Street has exploded. There are Occupy tent cities in more than 82 countries and hundreds of communities, each one autonomous, but twined at the root.
In Winnipeg, the Occupiers planted themselves in Memorial Park on Oct. 15.
And the general public went, "Huh?"
Unlike New York, where Occupy enjoys a majority of public support, the response from Winnipeg's general public has been mostly quizzical: What are they protesting? What is their message? Wall Street is far away and the still-green field of Memorial Park, long home to a now-displaced Somali-Canadian soccer game, is no heartbeat of corporate power.
But in some ways, the Occupy movements are less a protest and more a place; a global line in the sand from which, Occupiers hope, supporters can rally to push back against austerity, poverty and power.
"People go, 'Well, what's your demand?' " shrugs Barkley, who created the Facebook page from which Occupy Winnipeg grew. "It's not a demand. We're living our demand."
Now, in the second week of the Winnipeg occupation, that life is starting to take shape. Hundreds visit here, but only a couple of dozen regularly sleep out; the camp is still, at its heart, a ragged cluster of tents circled around a fire, its boundaries demarcated by banners protesting "corporate greed" and a sign bearing an invitation to "Come and Talk."
But even in an officially leaderless movement, leaders have nonetheless emerged to craft a structure. Occupy Winnipeg now has a porta-potty, a guest book and a schedule announcing workshops on the Canadian Wheat Board and class politics. Dinner is at 8 p.m. — on Tuesday night, a feast of mashed potatoes and ham cooked at a supporter's home and delivered to the site in steaming crocks.
This structure, though, has not come without friction. The site is open to all, and there are clashes between those who want "enough for all," as one banner declares, and those used to never having enough. Occupy Winnipeg locks its food tent now, after a man without a home was caught loading his backpack with donated yogurt and juice boxes.
As the logistics fall into place, activity at the camp is awakening. On Tuesday night, a delegation from the Council of Canadians arrives to host a meeting on hot-button issues, including the Canadian-European Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement they argue will put Canadian communities "up for sale."
The lively discussion is interrupted by a cheerful blond bearing a special delivery.
"This is from Occupy Vancouver to you guys," says Lena McFarlane, 26, with a grin, dropping a pair of Domino's pizzas onto the tarp.
As the Occupiers cheer, McFarlane retreats back to the camp's fire to spend a few final minutes with the people there. She and her partner, Stanislav Kupferschmidt, have to hit the road again. The couple is moving from Vancouver to Ottawa to rejoin family; along the way, they're visiting every Occupy they can, delivering gifts and soldering the links that bind one Occupy to another.
"It gives us a lot of hope. People seem really dedicated," McFarlane says. "At first, in Vancouver, we weren't sure about it, but there was a point where we thought, 'This is really happening.' All of (the Occupies) are holding strong."
As darkness deepens, some of the Occupiers scatter, headed back to warm beds and school and jobs. Those who stay huddle in groups debating homicide law and trade policies, making plans to set up an official Occupy Winnipeg welcoming committee, or just swapping funny stories about their cats.
The talking is what keeps the Occupiers here.
"I can't turn my brain off," says Deborah Lawrence, 38. "I go home, I try to read a book, and it's just words. My mind is here, it's just here."
Lawrence lives in West Broadway, but comes to visit every day: Since the occupation began, she's felt safe walking home.
"It's a place I can come and bounce off my ideas with anyone who wants to hear me," she says. "There's no point in trying to argue with people who have their generalizations about what we're doing. Come here and see with your own eyes. You will never be turned away."
For now, the Occupiers won't be turned away either: The group has been given a green light to stay at the park by legislature officials, they say.
But on this night, the news from elsewhere is less hopeful.
"Can I just say something?" one man says, his eyes glued to the glow of a message on his cellphone.
The reports spread in an instant over Twitter: In Oakland, Calif., police cleared hundreds from an Occupy demonstration Tuesday night with what Occupiers reported were "stun grenades — stun grenades and rubber bullets." (Police there have denied using flash-bang grenades, though videos of the clearance appear to show a similar device.) One man, an Iraq war veteran, was rushed to hospital in critical condition after being struck in the head by a crowd-control device.
This news, more than the liquid October breeze, sends a chill through the circle. But the fire keeps flickering, and conversations soon sputter back to life: a night-time stillness broken only by the hum of the Winnipeg Police Service helicopter as it makes long, lazy circles over Memorial Park.
"Look," Barkley says, crooking an eyebrow to the sky. "You think they're watching us?"
Updated on Friday, October 28, 2011 at 10:22 AM CDT: adds video