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Occupy Victoria: where are they now?
Tarps and tents transformed Centennial Square into an Occupy encampment more than two years ago.
The leader-less group set up shop in early October 2011 outside Victoria City Hall, with several protests taking place on the legislature grounds and in front of financial institutions.
And while the merits and impact of Occupy continue to be debated, the News caught up with some of Victoria’s key organizers to get their reflections on those days of action and find out what they’re doing now.
“The good things that came from Occupy were finding other like-minded individuals in the community that were supportive of life, liberty and property rights,” said Greg Hill, who runs wearechangevictoria.org, a local social activism group. Esquimalt council-hopeful Josh Steffler, a former Esquimalt council candidate and Occupy Victoria participant, is also a regular contributor to We Are Change Victoria.
Hill, who helped organized a busload of protesters to meet Prime Minister Stephen Harper last week at Brentwood College, was initially encouraged by Occupy Victoria but became disillusioned as the movement progressed.
He’s since branched out into producing an alternative media series, Freedom Free For All on Shaw TV, and continues to hold an annual “Freedom and Solutions” rally at the B.C. legislature each October.
“Just in the last year, our Facebook group has doubled,” Hill said. The group also plans to roll out a subscription-based membership in 2014 to help fund its growth, he said.
Anushka Nagji, a former University of Victoria law student now living in Vancouver, said Occupy helped foster a community that rejects capitalistic ideals.
“I’ve started an online radio station, radio-BED.com,” said Nagji, a former spokesperson for the People’s Assembly of Victoria during Occupy Victoria.
“I was actually arrested a year and half ago organizing student solidarity protests in Vancouver. And I do some organizing for an organization called Clear People of Colour as well as organizing with indigenous land defenders and sovereigntists,” she said.
Nagji spoke highly of a semi-regular “freedom market” in Vancouver that was born from Occupy, where like-minded residents share clothes, groceries, books and other services for free.
“The important thing with Occupy was not the occupation itself, but all the lessons we’re learning as a result,” Nagji said. “I think people are continuing … to create community and do things for free outside of Occupy, and I think that’s what’s important.”
The Victoria Police Department ultimately ended up footing the $55,000 security bill for the month-long Occupy Victoria event. At its peak, the Occupy movement was active in more than 20 Canadian cities and more than two dozen countries worldwide.