The legacy of Occupy Kamloops

No one knew what would happen next. We gathered in anticipation in front of the Kamloops Library on October 15, 2011. The Occupy movement was sweeping the globe and its reach extended to Kamloops.

Kamloops Library. Photo: David Charbonneau

These giddy times reminded me of the Hippy Movement of the 1960’s but these participants were more focused and clear-headed: no drugs, psychedelic music and free love.

More than 950 demonstrations were planned for that day in 82 countries on every continent, in every Canadian province, eight in British Columbia.

Seven years later, the euphoria faded and the legacy unclear, I wanted to capture the moment before it was a lost. When Professor Trish Archibald from the Social Work program at Thompson Rivers University invited me to write a chapter in an upcoming book, I jumped at the chance. She was assembling a team to write a history of social justice in Kamloops since the Second World War.

To research my chapter, I interviewed ten people involved with the camp at Spirit Square. I met with each of them at Red Beard Cafe on Tranquille. That location was appropriate, not only because I’m a regular but because it was only a block away from the original campsite. Back in 2011 when it was called Cowboy Coffee I would see the occupiers, camp-worn, visiting the washrooms.

They were willing and eager to tell me about the events that changed their lives. Cassie Tremblay was a major force in the camp. Her training as a nurse gave her the skills necessary for to day-to-day routine and regular meetings.

They hadn’t intended to occupy the park to begin with. But after five hours of talking at Library Square (after I had left) a core of seven to ten people wondered what to do with the pent-up enthusiasm. They decided to set up the camp at Spirit Square, went home and gathered sleeping bags, tents and camping gear, and met that evening at the Park.

The long hours at the camp gave people time to reflect more deeply about what they had committed to – the occupation of public land. Some visitors to the camp were motivated by the same principles: idealism, global solidarity, and wage disparity. Some were not; such as the homeless, those with addiction and mental health issues, even runaway kids.

As the days grew colder, the practical matters of the camp became more urgent; such the need for toilets and heat. But because they were occupying public land, permits weren’t granted. The daily grind took its toll and by November 15, 2011 the occupiers’ camp at Spirit Square was gone.

What is the legacy of Occupy Kamloops, I asked occupier Kevin Wicheknap? “The goals of Occupy have yet to be accomplished. All things are always in transition. Occupy brought people together who were concerned about the environment and inequality. It was unlike anything I have ever seen. It was inspiring. Now it’s like, where next? We’ve learned to walk.”

Years in the making, our book was released Monday. Other chapters include made-in-Kamloops solutions to social injustice regarding food security, education, housing, and poverty. Our book, Building Community in Kamloops, Social Justice in Action, is available at the Brock Activity Centre.

 

 

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Canada is a young country. Or I’m old.

Canada is 150 years old this year. Since I’m one-half that age, Canada must be a young country. Or I’m old. It must be the former.

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We had humble beginnings, Canada and I. I was born in Jasper Place, now part of Edmonton but in 1941 it was a rudimentary town. We had no water or sewer. The bucket in the indoor toilet had to be emptied regularly to the outhouse in the back. The honey wagon would clean it out once in a while. Water was delivered by a truck to a cistern in the basement. A hand-operated pump supplied water to the kitchen. Milk was delivered by a horse-drawn cart.

Canada was born with only four provinces at confederation. Like Jasper Place, it lay outside the huge territory it would eventually encompass.

Canada was rebranded as much as it was born in 1876. John Ralston Saul, author of A Fair Nation, argues that Canada had already been a federation for 250 years before that. We are a Métis nation, comprised of indigenous people, English and French. Before 1876 our federation comprised mostly of indigenous people, numbering one-half million.

By 1947 we moved to a suburb of Edmonton called Bonnie Doon, Scottish for “pleasant, rolling countryside.” We lived only one block away from Saint-Jean College where Catholic priests taught students who were about to enter the clergy. Now it’s the only francophone University west of Manitoba, a campus of the University of Alberta. The college allowed neighbourhood kids to use their outdoor rink when they weren’t playing hockey. That’s where I learned to skate.

The broken hockey sticks made fine bows as long as they had a straight grain. We carved them with a draw knife and used them to hunt rabbits with bows and arrows in the nearby Mill Creek. The rabbits didn’t have much to worry about because of the thick bush and our poor aim. I wore horsehide moccasins in the winter which warm even on the coldest days. We would often spend entire winter days sledding on the hills in the ravine.

By the time Canada was officially born, our indigenous people had been decimated by disease which they had no resistance to, and by conflict with their European guests.

However, the 250 years of gestation of Canada left its imprint on the fledgling nation. Canada is not just a collection of its people; it is a product of our collective consciousness. John Belshaw, former Thompson Rivers University professor, puts it this way:

“Scholars draw a distinction between historical consciousness and collective memory. The former is something on which we reflect but often forget. History as a discipline consists of facts – – objective and recitable. Collective memory, on the other hand, is an ongoing process that builds a shared and more nuanced understanding of the past, (Walrus magazine).”

While not exactly a Baby Boomer, I identified with the Hippy Movement. I smoked my first joint in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, the birthplace of the counterculture movement. I naively believed John Lennon when he implored the world to “give peace a chance.”

We have done OK, Canada and I, but we’re still young and have a lot to learn. Happy sesquicentennial, Canada!

The trouble with Steven Galloway

Award-winning Kamloops author Steven Galloway has problems of his own making. They could have been avoided.

Penguin Speakers' Bureau

Penguin Speakers’ Bureau

Galloway was raised in Kamloops and attended the University College of the Cariboo in the 1990s before it became Thompson Rivers University; where I taught for twenty years.

Galloway is best known for his 2008 novel The Cellist of Sarajevo which sold 700,000 copies, was translated into twenty languages, and had film options. His career took off and he became chair of the creative writing program at the University of British Columbia on July 1, 2015.

A year ago, Professor Galloway was dismissed from the writing program and has since been fired by UBC, which cited “a record of misconduct that resulted in an irreparable breach of the trust placed in faculty members.”

His firing set off a storm in Canadian literary circles. University of Victoria faculty of the Writing department signed a letter critical of the firing process, a letter also signed by literary heavyweights such as Margaret Atwood. UBC’s faculty association said it has serious concerns with the administration’s “misleading public and private comments regarding Professor Galloway.”

Former students don’t see it that way. They say he fostered a sexualized atmosphere, drank regularly with students and played favourites –bringing some students into his inner circle while casting others out.

Reporter Kerry Gold investigated some of those misadventures in her feature-length article in The Walrus (December, 2016). Galloway would convene Thursday-night sessions in a local canteen known as the Legion with up to ten students. “The group would stay late, consuming alcohol at a pace that made some uncomfortable,” says Gold.

Galloway’s former teaching assistant, Erin Flegg, says the sessions became an informal part of the curriculum. Participants would vie for Galloway’s approval and the rewards it could bring: references, teaching positions, introductions to agents and publishers.

One night in 2012 was particularly rowdy when they met after graduation. It wasn’t late but Galloway had quite a lot to drink, a witness told Gold. “It’s time,” Galloway said, as he got up and slapped the face of a female student next to him. It was revenge for what she had said in class –that she didn’t like Galloway’s writing. Galloway then responded that he would like to slap her face but that he would wait until she was no longer a student.

Partying with students is a bad idea. As a high school teacher and later an instructor at TRU, my policy was never to date or revel with students. The obvious problem is the power differential. Teachers have the power to promote students and advance their careers.

Another student hoped to get into Galloway’s writing class and was drawn into to the struggle for his attention. “He invited her to come drinking,” says Flegg, “That’s how the relationship began. The power dynamics were there from the start.” The two had a relationship for three years.

Intimate relationships are a temptation for teachers. For me, I only had to remind myself that I had been placed in a position of trust: the betrayal of which would diminish me and my profession, and would harm my students.

Digital Surveillance in Education

Loss of privacy is not such a bad thing when it comes to education says Professor George Siemens.

Digital surveillance of can help students, says Siemens, professor at Athabasca University and adviser for open learning courses at Thompson Rivers University.

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Professor Siemens told CBC’s technology program Spark that monitoring student performance can be useful in determining when problems arise and what the remedies might be. Such programs track progress by monitoring the rate at which students read online material, and what parts they highlight and annotate. When problems are detected, intervention can be done either by faculty or automatically by the system itself.

Siemens doesn’t think this kind of surveillance is creepy at all not when the stakes are so high –the difference between passing and failing.

Digital monitoring by the university is just part of a useful technology says Siemens; part of “learning analytics.” A Wikipedia article, referring to Professor Siemens, defines it: “Learning analytics is the use of intelligent data, learner-produced data, and analysis models to discover information and social connections for predicting and advising people’s learning.”

The “social connections” part is troubling. Analytics that harvest personal information from social networks like Facebook and Twitter skirt the boundaries of school and private life. Also, they could be breaking B.C. privacy laws which prevent storage of student information held on foreign servers. For that reason, universities are moving away from cloud-based foreign servers like Dropbox and email accounts from Google and Microsoft.

By law, public institutions must protect student information from the prying eyes of foreign governments. As we now know from the revelations of whistleblower Edward Snowden, the U.S. spies in the National Security Agency (NSA) happily violate the privacy of anyone in the world.

The data culled from most social networks is stored on servers in the U.S.

Of course professors should know as much relevant student information as possible to provide remediation when skilled, industrious students are failing. Some of these barriers to success are family income and whether the student is the first in the family to attend a post-secondary institution. These things are known to affect performance.

Online courses could be tailor-made so that any qualified student who applies themselves to the course material could pass with a grade of A. The host of Spark, Nora Young, wondered if the tailoring of curriculum to the point of making it difficult for a student to fail wasn’t doing education a disservice –what’s the point of grades if everyone gets an A?

In the first place, replied Siemens, monitoring of students will determine who is lazy and therefore undeserving. Secondly, why shouldn’t students who have mastered the course material receive an A?

Why not, indeed? Student grades based on bell curves and Standard Deviation take no account of the personal profiles of students that have been proven to determine outcomes, the design of curricula in which well-designed courses should produce higher grades, and the skill of the teacher in delivering the course. All these factors should produce higher grades.

Too often, grades are used as proxy for students intelligence, not whether they have mastered the course materials. We have a measure of intelligence already: IQ tests.