Distance doesn’t make the heart grow any fonder. In the case of Occupy Toronto, it might be making it pretty indifferent.
Scarborough has six priority neighbourhoods, slashed transit, decreased housing and perhaps the largest immigrant population in Toronto. Despite all this, the suburb barely has more than three representatives at the Occupy Toronto protests downtown.
Why is this suburban community out of the loop? The answer lies in both the physical and mental distance between the two areas.
College graduate Shane Behari heard about the protests downtown but doesn’t know much about them.
“If I felt that my needs weren’t being met and I strongly felt that I wanted to stand for that particular cause, I would go, in a peaceful manner, following and obeying the laws of course,” he said.
Does he feel the need to join them?
“No, I don’t,” he replied. He feels that there are other ways to protest and that he would try those first before taking the step to Occupy Toronto.
“Currently, I guess like there are other methods of creating a voice,” he said. “Firstly, if I had an issue with the education system, I would write to the politicians, I would create a Facebook page, I would find other means to protest. There are various opinions about whether it’s effective or not. A formal petition even.”
The University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus has an active students’ union and several politically active youth groups that constantly lobby for student and community issues. The campus hasn’t brought its fight for better transit and freezing fees downtown though.
“I think on our campus, the general consensus is that there is no clear message coming from the protests,” Scarborough Campus Students’ Union chair Guled Arale said. “In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of the campus knows what it really is.”
He knows a few students who have visited the protests out of amusement, and only one student who goes regularly to protest.
“I have this frustration with a lot of the activist movements,” he explained. “There is this culture that is created, and more times than not, it is the culture that is being promoted rather than the message, and that turns off the average person.”
He also finds that Scarborough’s issues are unique and often overlooked.
“Here in Scarborough the main problems are the lack of connections of the communities in Scarborough,” he said. “Everyone is in their own bubble, and nothing is trying to engage or connect the bubbles to unite Scarborough.”
Only after an hour of covering the protests downtown was the Observer even able to track down a Scarborough resident. Varga Lynch recently moved to Glen Everest Road, but has been camping downtown for the past 11 days.
“We’re here to support the workers and the people of the world in their quest for freedom, and I’m one of those,” he said, explaining that he wants to show support for his family and friends fighting against the injustices of capitalism.
He intends on spending the winter downtown, staying as long as the movement is alive.
“I keep hearing criticism that we haven’t chosen one common theme yet,” he said. “I don’t think that’s necessary at all because we’ve chosen the theme of consensus, so that we can come with our expertise on diverse issues.”
Arale disagrees with the notion that lack of unity doesn’t affect the movement.
“If there was a central platform so everyone on the table can move in one direction, there is so much that could be done,” he said.
Until then, I don’t blame people in Scarborough for not really being involved in any of these movements.”