In regards to police, we had a much different experience than other Occupy cities. There were some online threats of violence against us before the camp started, so on the first night, when there was only a dozen of us, I stayed awake, sitting in the a.t.m. lobby of the bank, coming out whenever someone was walking around. I had some good conversations late that night after the bar closed, explained what we were doing to people who had either not heard of Occupy Regina or who had only heard negative or vague media. This was one of the most important aspects of Occupy for us, the fact that we were able to communicate with the kinds of people who don’t go to protests, who don’t seek this kind of information out. As we grew, the nightwatch became institutionalized. Every night a few of us would stay awake, not just to do security, which was all too necessary because of the area, but because it gave us the opportunity to have discussions about various issues with the many random people going through downtown at every hour of the night. From before the first night, Occupy Regina had a police liaison, the police told us to keep the drugs and the alcohol out of the park and phone them if there was any violence or threats. By the way, Victoria Park, where the Occupy Regina camp was located, is in the middle of downtown, it is the main “drug park” for Regina. But while we were there, the dealing stopped. For the month that we were there, we kept that part of downtown safer than it had been in decades.
To put this in perspective, I am currently, for the record, the director of the Saskatchewan chapter of the National Organization For The Reform Of Marijuana Laws, and I’ve been the Regina event coordinator for the last 10 years. So for 10 years I’ve been organizing legalization rallies, including mass civil disobedience exercises like the annual 4/20 smokeout, and the vast majority of these actions have been held in Victoria Park. Other Occcupy residents were recreational users, some of them people who usually bought and used in Victoria Park. But we spent 4 whole weeks enforcing the “drug free zone” policy the group had agreed on to establish positive relations with the police when we started. This was surreal for me. We had a friendly, working relationship with the police throughout the existence of the camp, some came through quickly while off duty and out of uniform to donate.
We have a housing crisis in Regina, and there were nights when all the homeless shelters in the city were full. They’d direct the overflow to us, because we had a community tent. It was safer than sleeping in an alley somewhere alone, where many of those people are now that the Occupy Regina camp is gone.
Like many Occupy supporters, I’m kind of anti-capitalist on the whole, I believe we need an entirely new economic system, but we found common ground with the people who ran local businesses and family farmers from the downtown farmers market, and many of the union people who came around because we recognize that the banking system has fundamentally undermined capitalism itself,and we focused on finding and nurturing this common ground as much as possible. We did our dishes at local businesses, we had donated food, clothes, blankets, even tents, propane tanks, and money from people coming through. We had people who would come by to ridicule us based on something they heard in the media and come back the next day with donations because they discovered that they actually agreed with what we were saying.
Some businesses said that we were drawing more business downtown by being there, like a tourist attraction. This was especially true for the special acoustic solo performance by Joe Keithley from DOA, which brought out all kinds of different people. During the week before remembrance day, right wing talk radio kept harping about how we should shut down before Nov. 11 to “show respect for veterans”. Long before, we had agreed to take down political signs and banners and not campaign for that day, but not taking the tents down. The veterans, for the most part, liked us there, we were invited to the Legion hall and the Archbishop of the Quappelle Diocese, who led the remembrance day ceremony, gave us totally positive mention in his sermon, saying we were honoring the sacrifices of World War 2 by using the freedoms they fought for in the way they were intended.
We ultimately didn’t resist shut down. We recognized how uniformly Occupy camps were being shut down at the same time everywhere and realized that the decision was being made somewhere other than Regina, somewhere far away. We recognized that federal funding for projects might have been threatened to get City Hall to evict us even though we had an entirely positive relationship with the public, only 4 complaints and lots of compliments. We also didn’t want to put the police in the position of having to forcefully remove us, because we had a totally positive relationship with them and wanted to keep that for future events.