The Ring

IDEAFEST 2012: From Occupy Wall Street to the People’s Assembly of Victoria

Fri, 2012-03-09 15:27

Reported by Rachel Goldsworthy, Coordinator, Centre for Social and Sustainable Innovation, Peter B. Gustavson School of Business

Occupy Wall Street didn’t end in Manhattan; in fact, it didn’t even start there.

To a standing-room-only audience on March 8, Dr. Basma Majerbi, finance professor at UVic’s Gustavson School of Business, pointed out that the first call to action came from the blog of Vancouver-based Adbusters magazine.

“It’s not just about Wall Street,” explained Majerbi. “It’s about a lot of issues… and it’s an awakening call to think about these issues.”

Clearly, a lot of people were ready. Some sources estimate the total number of Occupy sites at 2,200 worldwide, said Dr. Michael Read, who teaches organizational behavior at Gustavson. Even conservative counts tallied 1,600. And on March 8, six months after the first camp occupied Wall Street, there were still 1,300 live streams of information about the movement.

“Occupy has become and continues to be an empowerment movement,” said activist and law student Anushka Ngaji, who from the start was involved with the People’s Assembly of Victoria, the local arm. “It is my individual voice… along with 500 individual voices or 50 individual voices.”

What has made the Occupy Movement so effective, explained Dr. Budd Hall of the School of Public Administration, is that every unit was based on a common foundation: the Group Dynamics education-based guidelines that promote collective thinking and consensus. [See Quick guide on group dynamics in people’s assemblies] So, according to Read, even though the structure of each camp depended on its regional and national context, there were many commonalities among them. They could—and did—form a cohesive whole that built from a ripple to roaring surf as it rushed around the world.

According to Dr. Joshua Ault, a professor of international business at Gustavson, globalization has historically moved in waves. The capitalistic economic style of the mid 20th century, for example, built to extreme highs in the 1980s and 90s.

“We got so caught up in the benefits [of capitalism],” he said, “but there are a lot of negatives that come along with it.” He pointed to negatives like increased inequality, exploitation and corruption exemplified by companies such as Enron and Lehman Brothers.
Dr. Merwan Engineer, a professor in the economics department who studies happiness, described research that has found income affects life expectancy, but not life satisfaction. In other words, dollars don’t deliver happiness.

So now we’re seeing the retreat of the globalization wave, Ault says, as we start to look more closely at the less-than-positive effects and begin to take steps to counter them.

“The Occupy Wall Street movement,” he said, “is people taking this pause and saying ‘Maybe capitalism isn’t everything we thought it would be.’”

However, he cautioned against black and white questions like “Is globalization good or is it bad? Is capitalism good or is it bad?” That, he said, “is kind of the same thing as asking ‘is fire good or is it bad?’

“Instead of fighting over [those questions], maybe we can come together and talk about when is it good, and start to harness that.”