The Occupy Movement undertook a two-day initiative entitled Occupons le Sud-Ouest that addressed community issues affecting the borough as part of a local project targeting Montreal neighbourhoods.
According to Paul Bode, an organizer of the event, there was a need for Occupy Montreal to “go local” and focus on residents in their neighbourhoods.
“What we did at la place des Peuple was great,” said Bode. “It was an amazing experience but it’s not the way to really reach people where they live.”
Occupons le Sud-Ouest spanned over the weekend at Sir George-Étienne Cartier park in Ville-St-Henri. Since the spring, individuals within the movement have started neighbourhood occupations throughout the city. Occupons le Sud-Ouest is the fifth local occupation in Montreal, and the first for the borough.
“What you see today [shows that] Occupy Montreal has spread,” said Marc Olivier Rainville, who joined the movement when it began in October 2011. “We’re not only downtown but we are in every park of the city.”
The event aimed for residents to participate more in their community, communicate with their neighbours, and learn about the issues affecting the neighbourhood. A prominent issue for residents of the borough is the reconstruction plan for the Turcot Interchange. The crumbling structure that links highways 15, 20 and 720, and provides access to the Champlain Bridge, needs renovations.
“The big, big thing that concerns us is the Turcot Interchange,” explained Bode. “I love my neighbourhood but I am so scared of what that’s going to bring and I think a lot of the other residents feel that way too.”
Many residents expressed fears that the revised project does not sufficiently address safety issues, specifically about the demolition of houses located in the surrounding area of the construction site.
“I’m really hoping that the members of different organizations see what a wonderful opportunity this is to get information out about the issues that affect the neighbourhood,” said Shannon Franssen, a co-ordinator with Solidarité Saint-Henri and a spokesperson for Turcot Mobilization.
The two-day occupation also focused on issues of gentrification, the environment, and food security. Workshops and discussions held throughout the weekend focused on these issues. It gave participants a chance to learn about these concerns as well as offer their opinions on the subject.
The Occupy Movement offered free vegan food, had booths set up to educate individuals about gardening and organic foods, and a play area for children. There was also chalk, markers, and paper for residents to write messages about what their ideal neighbourhood would be like.
After living in Ville-St-Henri for six years, Geena Davis noticed that the neighbourhood changing; this was the impetus behind her participation of the occupation.
“I think it’s important to show support when people are doing good things,” explained Davis. “I think people doing anything they care about, that contributes to the betterment of a neighbourhood or of a community is a good thing.”