Calgarians gather downtown to have their voices heard

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“Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world.”

That slogan was one of many that could be heard echoing throughout downtown Calgary on Saturday afternoon as hundreds of Calgarians took to the streets in support of Occupy Calgary, a peaceful demonstration whose overall purpose and message is as varied as it is passionate.

Occupy Calgary was just one protest in a much larger movement known as the Oct. 15 “Global Day of Action,” which featured roughly 1,500 demonstrations in more than 80 countries, according to the official website for Occupy Wall Street.

The events were hosted as a message of support for the original Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City, which began as a showing of disapproval against corporate and political greed in the United States and has been ongoing for the past month.

Corinne Oftsie

Corinne Oftsie, a social work student, was in attendance at last Saturday’s Occupy Calgary protest at Banker’s Hall to speak out against social inequalities.

Photo by: Derek NeumeierBeginning at 1 p.m. on Stephen Avenue in front of Bankers Hall, Calgarians of all ages and races could be seen carrying signs, voicing their opinions over a portable public address system, loudly chanting phrases in unison, and engaging others in the crowd in discussions.

With the event lacking a clear, central point of focus, protesters created an open forum for making their voices heard about a wide range of issues that they believe were negatively affecting the world around them.

“I worked in the financial industry for 20 years and managed over $100 million with one of Canada’s largest banks as a stockbroker,” said Larry Elford, 52, who was in attendance with his wife, Penny, speaking out against banking fraud in Canada.

“I found the industry was corrupt and predatory, and I fought with it through the ’90s, got beat up pretty bad and left it in 2004, continuing my fight with the industry from the outside.

“This isn’t just a Wall Street thing and it isn’t just a rich financial investors thing,” he said about the movement. “It’s every person, it’s every pension fund, it’s every unemployed guy, it’s every homeless person, it’s the pain and suffering of every school teacher and cop. It’s everything boiled up into one thing.”

Citizen unity appeared to be an overarching theme, as many people expressed interest in positively changing things for all Canadians.

Produced by: BAJ Visser

“I think people should realize that the majority of people out here are people that they live by, people that they work with, people they go to school with, and that people are angry about the way that the system is going,” said Jason Devine, one of the organizers for the event.

Corinne Oftsie, a social work student carrying a bright yellow sign that read “People Not Profits,” was at the event voicing her opinions in the hopes that it would help “achieve some critical consciousness on the systemic issues that create inequalities in our society. It’s a global movement and it applies to everybody.”

Another attendee, Jerra Hjelt, said people were there to take action against “corporate greed, globalization, disparity and inequality.”

“We have a terrible voting system and we are not all directly involved in decisions that affect our lives,” she said. “People don’t really have much of a voice, because their votes don’t really mean that they want them to.”

Natalie Noble said she was there because she is worried about current economic concerns and how they could affect the future of young Canadians, including her seven-year-old daughter, Lilli, who was drawing colourful peace and heart symbols in chalk on the sidewalk.

Lilli Fitzgerald

Lilli Fitzgerald, 7, was in attendance with her mother, Natalie, who is worried about the future of young Canadians.

Photo by: Derek Neumeier“It’s scary to think about what the economy could be like when she’s an adult, or as a young person trying to find a job or trying to go to school,” she said. “Our generation has had a lot given to us, we’ve been silver spoon-fed, but for her there is that fear that she could be facing a much harder future.”

“What’s happening economically is a sad situation for many people that want families, but can’t do so because the economy won’t let them,” added M.A. Mackenzie. “Our wages have remained the same, but yet the cost of living has gone up. What do we do?”

After two hours the large crowd migrated to the green space at Olympic Plaza where event organizers hosted general assembly meetings, which approached organizational issues to be voted on by everyone in attendance, and various workshops discussing such topics as legal rights, non-violent resistance techniques and media awareness.

Some protesters hope that Olympic Plaza will be the central hub for Occupy Calgary in the coming days or weeks. Roughly a dozen tents were pitched over Saturday night, with the intention of remaining there and keeping the movement going for an undetermined amount of time.

Both event organizers and representatives with the city are having ongoing discussions about prolonged use of the park.

Members of the Calgary Police Service were on hand at the event, but allowed the peaceful demonstration to persist. Although reports have come out of the demonstrations in New York, Boston, San Francisco and other cities about violence between protesters and police, no reports of violence or arrests have been made so far in Calgary.

Click here for more photos from the Occupy Calgary demonstration

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