Memoir: two young protesters find love among the tents at Occupy Toronto
I’m a 28-year-old film editor, and I don’t want for much. I live in a spacious apartment on a quiet street off Queen West. I rarely have trouble finding meaningful and well-paying employment. But after following the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York, I was inspired to step outside my comfort zone.
On Saturday, October 15, when a group of people set up tents in St. James Park, I decided to stop by and show my support. By the time I got there, the sun had begun to go down and a general assembly was underway. There were hundreds of people of various ages and ethnicities, income and education levels, all energized and eager to have their voices heard. At the end of the assembly, a smaller facilitation meeting was organized in the park’s gazebo to discuss the process of working together as a group. There were about a dozen of us. As the sky darkened and the floodlights lit up the gazebo, we began introducing ourselves. Almost immediately, a familiar voice spoke.
“Hi, I’m Krysti.”
“Krysti?” I yelled.
“Uh, yeah, that’s what I said.” Then, “Oh!” We hugged, stopping the meeting cold. It had been 11 years since we’d seen each other. We had attended the same high school in Peterborough, acted in a community theatre troupe that re-enacted classic Hollywood films, and shared the same mischievous sense of humour. I was glad to have a friend among the group of strangers. After the meeting, Krysti and I walked to a nearby sandwich shop to catch up. We talked until closing.
The next day, I returned to the park and took part in a facilitator training session. Afterward, the coordinator, a 30-year-old activist named Daniel, approached me to say that he thought Krysti and I were a good team, and that he hoped we would become facilitators. We hadn’t thought of ourselves as a team. Nor had I thought about taking on a specific role in the park. I wanted to be involved, but I was in the middle of a major project and often worked late into the evenings. Krysti, on the other hand, was between serving jobs and acting gigs, and wanted to commit to Occupy full time. With her encouragement, I agreed to come to the park every day, even if I didn’t know how long I could stay.
On Monday, our friend Bre asked if we could look after her tent for a few nights, as her dogs were homesick. We decided to give it a try, with the understanding that the sleepover would be non-romantic. That night, in our jeans and sweaters, we lay awake talking while the cacophony of music, voices and street traffic carried on outside the tent. We finally fell asleep at four or five in the morning, only to be woken up a few hours later by the sound of a drum circle.
On our third night, I decided to turn on the charm. Krysti was a vegan, and she was often frustrated with the lack of options available to her in the food tent. I found a place that sold vegan poutine and brought her some after dark. She was ecstatic. She suggested we check into our tent for the night, and that’s when I made my move. I’d recently grown a moustache—partly in honour of Jack Layton—and I thought I could use it to my advantage. “You know,” I said, “I’ve never kissed anyone with this moustache before.” She took the opening, and we stayed up all night.
When it came time to vacate Bre’s tent, our neighbour Steve, a 45-year-old camping enthusiast and single father who wore a maple leaf toque and smoked weed from a carved carrot pipe, told us he had a larger tent at home. “I have it ready in case somebody needs it,” he said. “It’s yours.” When I arrived at the park the next day after work, Krysti had set up our new home. She’d even added a heart-shaped plush pillow she found at the Salvation Army for $2.
We established a routine. At night we would brush our teeth together at the donated portable sinks, and Krysti would update me on what had happened while I was at work. During the day, while she was in meetings, she would text me to see if I had anything I wanted to contribute. I would email articles and essays I thought were important or print them out and bring them to the park to share with my fellow protesters.
By week three, the temperature had dropped to zero. Krysti and I put our tent up on skids. We insulated with cardboard and got a propane heater that doubled as a stove. We lined the inside of the tent with foil. At night, when our light was on, the tent glowed like a space capsule—or the movie version of a space capsule, as in 1985’s Explorers.
The day the eviction notice came from city hall, Krysti and I were in the middle of a free yoga class in one of the yurts. As we stretched into downward dog, we heard shouting outside. “The cops are here! The cops are here!” We were told to be out of the park by midnight, but later that afternoon, while we discussed various strategies for dealing with media and the police, our lawyers successfully argued for an injunction, and we breathed a sigh of relief. At least we had time to think about what to do next.
That night, Krysti and I moved our most important possessions (mainly books and clothing) out of the park. When I returned, I brought two bottles of champagne and plastic glasses to share with our neighbours. I cooked a vegan stir-fry on our portable heater. As we watched some of the tents being disassembled around us, we realized we weren’t going to be able to give ours back—it meant way too much to us. So we told Steve we would buy his tent for whatever it was worth. He asked us for $20. We said that would be like stealing from him. “Hey man,” he said, “it’s for a good cause.”
Chris Wiseman is a film editor in Toronto. He plans to keep the spirit of Occupy alive in 2012.
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