Katie Lynch never imagined living with her parents at the age of 33.
She also never imagined going back to school for a second degree.
The single mother of a three-year-old recently moved back home after losing her job 14 months ago.
“I have $40,000 worth of student debt,” she said. “I can’t get a job so I’m back in school.”
Lynch isn’t the only one uncertain and uneasy about her future.
Chanting “We are the 99 per cent” and “This is what democracy looks like”, thousands of supporters descended on St. James Park in the centre of the city on the weekend for Occupy Toronto.
Inspired by recent Occupy Wall Street events in New York, protesters marched against what they called corporate greed and social injustice.
I’m not a commodity. I’m not something to be used.
— Austin Millet
The eclectic crowd, which included people of different ages and stripes, marched from Bay Street to the park on the corner of King and Jarvis streets. Some, seemingly undaunted by the recent dip in temperature, even set up camp in the southeast corner of the park.
Postal worker Terry Theakston, dressed in rain gear, joined the protest, she said, after experiencing this year’s postal strike and resulting action by the Canadian government.
“I’m particularly annoyed with our federal government … trouncing all over the rights of workers,” she said. “[Prime Minister Stephen Harper has] legislated whether they have the right to strike or negotiate their own terms and conditions.”
The demonstration also attracted many youth, including high school student Austin Millet, who said his passion for social justice developed in grade 9. Though eager to pursue a post-secondary education, the 18-year-old said he remains skeptical about the economy.
“If I go to school and specialize … will the world be really ready for me to come out?” he said.
The current system is both demeaning and alienating, Millet added.
“I’m not a commodity. I’m not something to be used,” he said. “I don’t want to work for someone. I want to work with people.”
Critics of the protests have pointed to what they say is the movement’s lack of a unified voice, but Occupy Toronto is about representing a collective of all sorts of causes, said volunteer Stefonknee Wolscht.
“Everyone here has a story,” he said. “It’s common ground for people to come peacefully together and to give the media something to write about that goes beyond what the banks and politicians want to say.”
The protest would not have been possible without the grassroots efforts of participants and volunteers, Wolscht said.
“It was all word of mouth,” he said.
Optimistic about the movement’s future, Wolscht said Occupy Toronto protesters hope their message catches the attention of the eyes and ears of government and big business.
“It’s time to stop doing what you’re doing because it’s not working,” he said. “We are the people — the 99 per cent — who want to be heard and we demand to be heard.
“You will not be in business if you don’t respect the wishes of the people.”