The Occupy Movement was one of the defining news stories of late 2011; however, much of the hope and meaning behind its original vision was lost in growing apathy, divisiveness of purpose, intrusion by other agendas and, in the case of Canada, the arrival of winter. As the New Year brought both hopeful and harrowing new stories to the media, the Occupy Movement lost its front-page appeal; however, the principles behind the movement remain significant to Olds, Alberta.
Residents and government leaders in the town were touched by the worldwide gatherings and protests advocating for economic and political structures that nurtured a fair and equitable society. At the same time, they realized that the focus of the Occupy Movement has been holding a magnifying glass to social and economic problems without offering solutions. Olds decided it was time to explore the concept of citizen-driven engagement based on the same vision the Occupy Movement holds, yet entirely focused on solutions. For the residents of Olds, this is the Other Side of Occupy.
The community has chosen April 14 as the day it will Occupy Olds and explore answers to existing challenges the community identifies through discussion and sharing ideas. The unique thing about Olds’ Other Side of Occupy is that the local government and other community institutions are championing the public’s effort. According to Norm McInnis, the Chief Administrative Officer of Olds, “The Occupy Movement started as a noble cause, but degenerated into groups occupying public spaces and fighting with enforcement agencies about their right to be in those public spaces. We want to use Occupy’s imagery to suggest that we need to occupy our own public spaces in Olds… not to try and get rid of things that we do not want but rather create the community that we do want.”
Olds, a rural, agricultural community of 8200, is located an hour north of Calgary. Olds has a rich history of both community involvement and sustainability which culminated in the creation of the Olds Institute for Community and Regional Development in 2001. The Olds Institute is a partnership between the local government, the Olds College, the Agricultural Society and the Chamber of Commerce. In one decade, it has grown into a community-driven force for social, economic, environmental, cultural and governance sustainability.
With over 130 community volunteers directly engaged in initiatives like physician attraction, technology adoption and heritage management, the citizens of Olds embrace opportunities like the Other Side of Occupy. “I think this is important because it’s truly a work of the community,” says Lesley Winfield, library manager and volunteer for the Olds Advisory Group for Sustainable Living. “Unlike traditional forms of planning where there is a top down approach, a huge part of the community is involved in creating visions for the future. This makes it exciting and real to the everyday person.”
“The movement is about coming together locally to discuss local issues and find local solutions,” adds McInnis. “In many ways, it is like the Occupy Movement in that it is turning away from global solutions that do not include the same values that local solutions require for dealing with systemic local issues and opportunities.”
The Other Side of Occupy takes place in Olds on April 14, 2012 at the Commons at Olds High School from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. More information can be found by clicking here.