As you may or may not know I am an occupier in the occupyvancouver (OV) movement. Vancouver is one of the over 1000 cities across the globe; we are a connected people who want to make a change for the betterment of all. I am there personally for two reasons 1) Wild Salmon and 2) Mental Health. I am also active in the Media committee and thus try to take on projects that advocate for these two issues.
As part of the radio show, I have been interviewing Michael Schratter (ridedonthide.com) on a regular basis, he has been cycling the world for mental health. Michael started his 40,000 km journey departing from the Vancouver Art Gallery on August 1, 2010. I have done numerous live telephone interviews with him particularly when he was in Central and South America and then on his final leg in Canada over the past few months. I, as well as other guests who have been on my show have been inspired by Michael’s journey and appreciated his candor through the conversations we had.
On Saturday November 12th Michael completed his 38,000 km journey around the world in Vancouver. Being a part of the occupyvancouver community I thought it would be a good opportunity for him to ride into the art gallery, symbolically completing his ride where he started and to address and inspire the people there. The plan was for Michael to arrive on Saturday November 12th at 3:30 pm, after his arrival event at GM Place earlier in the day. I arranged with the OV programming committee to make sure they could accomodate on the schedule. Earle Peach who is part of a band called Illiteraty, that plays frequently in the downtown eastside and is very aware of the mental health issues within that community had conveniently been on the schedule as well right after Michael’s planned arrival.
Having been onsite for the better part of four weeks I have seen the mental health and addiction issues first hand. Whether it is interpersonal conflict, random psychotic or manic outbursts in meetings or dealing with suffering and death due to drugs and alcohol, it has open my eyes and educated me on issues I only read about. However, what has inspired me is a caring community of people that has accepted people as humans and try to work on strategies in a non judgemental way to include everyone in the conversations. I have been on stage a number of times announcing that I am a mental health advocate, and people in the occupy community have come up to me to share their stories in private. Yes, the stigma still exists even within a supportive and caring community.
On Saturday November 12th at 2:41 pm I received a voicemail from Michael stating that he was not allowed to go to occupyvancouver. Here is a transcript of that message.
“Hey Jay I was told explicitly unfortunately I’m not allowed to at this point in time to go to occupyvancouver we dont have to get into details as to why, its controversial. You know as a left wing socialist I believe in everything that is going on there, I was reminded that I did sign a contract and that exists for two years and no one is interested in having sponsors take a financial risk or a branding risk with the ride dont hide campaign and in anyway feel uncomfortable. You know what I’m saying its unfortunate and embarrassing but that is the way it is. Im going to send you a text to have you to go to voice mail this message. Once again I apologize and I know you have extended yourself far further than you needed to make the offer, I really appreciate I look forward to working on your radio show anytime you want.” – Michael Schratter
Naturally, I was angered by this message, I was more than livid, I took it personally but then eventually, sadly not surprised. I blamed myself for putting Michael and myself in this situation. I thought; I should know what corporate influence is all about, I lived in that space in a past life and it almost killed me. After hearing Michael’s message my Bipolar mind was racing wildly through the scenarios on how I would retaliate; my ego and the cause for the greater good was in serious conflict. I was an emotional minefield waiting to explode on the next random person I was to come across, I was scared of this possibility. I had a conversation with a friend who helped me process the logic, it was kind of like trying to read a firefighters manual in the middle of a raging inferno, she tried her best.
At 3:30 pm I had no other option than to break the news on stage to the occupyvancouver community and explain the reasons why Michael could not make it. Being that there was a downpour there were only a few dozen in the camp that likely heard me. However, when I did explain it, people were in shock, they were saddened but seemingly not surprised. Many came to the conclusion that Michael was censored, they don’t blame him personally. However, being that the occupy movement is about changing the system of inequity through challenging the centralized powers of authority that affect the masses, the outcome in retrospect was predictable. It says even within social causes there is the 1% who prioritize the corporate interests and profit that support them vs facing the risk in the pursuit of the right thing to do. I even recall David Suzuki who presented at occupyvancouver a few weeks back where he read a disclaimer before his speech and stated he spoke only for himself and not his foundation (that bears his own name) or any entities associated with him. Was David Suzuki trying to capture back some freedom of expression?
I am saddened by the lost opportunity that the Ride Don’t Hide people squandered. However the reasons why I am there and the advocacy projects that I believe in do not change, and I am willing to collaborate with any free thinking individual. That being said, I have to remind myself daily I am just one voice in the 99%.
- J Peachy