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Dispatches From The Occupation: A History of Change

By Stephen Collis

Review By Robin Folvik

November 4, 2013

BC Studies no. 181 Spring 2014  | p. 152-54

On 25 September 2011, the first “occupiers” began to move into Zuccotti Park. Located near the heart of Wall Street, New York’s financial district, their presence was initially ignored by mainstream media. However, awareness grew and Occupy spread to other cities and countries around the world. Nearly two years later, questions remain. What were the roots of the Occupy movement? What did participants hope to change and what was on offer as the alternative? On a deeper level, what is change and how does it happen? These are some of the questions Stephen Collis, a Vancouver-based poet, activist, and academic, explores in Dispatches From The Occupation: A History of Change.

Divided into three sections, Collis begins with a long view of the historical and theoretical significance of the Occupy movement alongside references to earlier movements that have called for change. Part 2 presents a collection of writings published online during the existence of Occupy Vancouver, tracing the excitement and optimism felt as the first tents began to appear, to the daily workings, both good and bad, of the “city within a city,” and to the end of the encampment and beyond. Part 3 finishes with a set of reflections and theses on the history and process of change.

Unlike the authors of a number of other first generation publications on the Occupy movement, Collis was closely involved in the daily activities of Occupy Vancouver’s encampment. This connection is reflected in this book, which brings together “the whole jumble of rants, proclamations, manifestos, thoughts, screeds and squibs” (xiii) inspired by his participation. While an underlying tone of optimism is woven throughout the work, along with much careful consideration of the issues at hand, Dispatches From The Occupation also captures the sense of frustration that appeared as forces combined to disrupt the direct path forward to change.

By historicizing the Occupy movement within a larger process of political and social organizing and action, Dispatches from the Occupation opens a conversation on the tensions between theory and practice and the difficulties faced by activists, past and present, when trying to bridge the two. It also provides a counter-narrative to the negative or narrowly focused attention that Occupy Vancouver received from news reports, online forums, and other sources, including local business and government. Absent, however, are references to the many occupations and movements that have occurred, historically, in British Columbia, and particularly in Vancouver. Inclusion of this history would help unite the discussions occurring in the different sections of this book while contextualizing the Vancouver landscape a bit more thoroughly.

Even though the network of encampments was short-lived, Occupy Sandy and Occupy Gezi are two recent examples that suggest that Occupy remains relevant. The appearance of new movements since the publication of this book, many involving or supported by Collis and other Occupiers, perhaps lends weight to the underlying theme, captured through the words of poet Charles Olson: “what does not change/is the will to change” (xiiv).

Dispatches From The Occupation: A History of Change
By Stephen Collis 

Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2012. 256 pp. $16.95 paper