By George Jamieson    
I didn't join the "Occupy Victoria" demonstrations.  The closest I've come to occupying anything is receiving junk mail addressed to "Occupant."  That's different, I realize.

However, I've watched and listened to accounts of the protests, like many others.  I know some are sceptical, because the "occupiers" don't have a specific list of grievances and policies. They speak in generalities, vague, contradictory, all over the map.  This weakens their message, according to the doubters.    

I disagree. The occupiers are not motivated, far as I can tell, by a single agenda, or even a list of agendas.   

They are concerned with something organizations call "core values."  There's a difference between a core value and an attractive phrase that gets lip service and photo ops.  

The demonstrators don't believe concepts like economic fairness, equal opportunity, protecting citizens from white-collar crime, are core values of the political, social, and legal systems around them. They are nice words, spoken by everyone, then ignored by decision-makers at their convenience.  

I learned something about core values while watching parts of the Air India Commission of Inquiry. Not the most exciting journalistic assignment I ever had, but it was informative.  

One day a security expert from Air Canada patiently explained how the bombs were allowed onto the planes. The short answer was, in 1985, security was not a core value of Canada's airlines.   

He compared it to safety, which was, and is, a core value.  Every decision an airline makes about its planes and facilities is measured against safety standards.  It's not just something they accomplish if they can. Airplanes are not made "as safe as possible, while achieving the other objectives of the company."  They are made and operated as safely as possible, period. "How safe?"  "Can it be safer?" These questions are asked every time a decision is considered.  There are benchmarks, and they must be met. No wiggle room.   

Of course, everybody said they believed in airline security in 1985. Who wouldn't?  But it wasn't a core value. Employees of CP Air, acting in good faith and good conscience, let passengers check suitcases right through transfer points, and nobody on the flight crew raise an alarm when the passengers failed to accompany the suitcases onto the planes. The bombers demanded this when they bought tickets, and the employees complied, in the name of service, efficiency, and good customer relations.   

That has changed, as we know. Security is now a core value for air travel practically everywhere.  If there's a choice between the convenience of a passenger and the security of the flight, no contest.  The questions that MUST be answered include "how secure?" and "can we make it more secure?" Nobody asks if you were annoyed by the delay, or felt a little violated during the pat-down.  

How does this connect to the occupiers and their movement?  As I hear them, the demonstrators see a disconnect between what bigshots promise, political bigshots, economic bigshots, legal bigshots, and what they deliver.  

Sure, every politician and every banker says the right words about honesty, transparency, economic justice, fair play, protecting the vulnerable. No sane person would ever say we should sacrifice those things to protect the interests of other people or companies.  But when it comes to delivery, the occupiers feel cheated.   

Banks get protected, while investors and homeowners are told to look after themselves.  (This is not just an American phenomenon.  Canadians lost billions on those shady investments called "Asset-Backed Commercial Paper," and they aren't getting very much back. The so-called "assets" were bits of worthless U.S. mortgages, and many of the investment houses that sold them were owned by or partnered with Canadian banks.)     

A small number of bankers were shoved out of their jobs, but nothing compared to the number of homeowners whose credit is ruined for life, or investors who trusted their bankers to give them honest advice about where to put their retirement money.  

Environmental promises are made; everybody is in favour of environmental protection and the beauty of green space.  But the promises aren't always kept, and if there's a conflict about who can drill for oil or build a mine, the drillers and miners seem to win way more than they lose.

The chief executives of health institutions and agencies are paid hundreds of thousands, while nurses and medical technicians are told to take pay cuts as their jobs are privatized.  Jobs in almost every sector are shipped to low-wage countries. Unemployed people are supposed to be grateful when and if somebody creates new jobs that call for lower skills, at lower wages.  

Governments cut and cut, or privatize and privatize, while politicians give themselves pay raises that few citizens can expect.  

It doesn't surprise me that the occupiers don't have a specific list.  It's not easy to quantify fairness or justice by writing a prescription.   No easier than it is to quantify national security, or personal privacy, or decency.    

The most common way we describe these concepts is to say, "maybe we can't tell you when we have this thing, but we can sure tell you when we don't have it."

What the occupiers want is for some politician or corporate boss or banker or regulator to say, "fairness is a core value.  So is economic justice.  So is environmental protection.  So is regulating money-makers so they can't make their clients go broke and get off by saying they regret it.  We will make these core values the absolute centre of what we do. We will create benchmarks, and we will make sure nobody can shrug them off just because they get in the way of other objectives. If people violate these values, they will feel consequences. They will not be able to shift the consequences to people who are not as rich or connected or smooth-talking as they are."

Seems simple. What's not so simple is waiting for someone with real clout to make such a promise, and to show a roadmap of how it might be kept.

Broadly speaking, there are two ways to get action from politicians. The first is the carrot. Give them something, money, volunteer labour, a bloc of votes, a photo op with the "right" people. The second is the stick.  Make the politicians afraid of you.  Make them sweat about what damage you and your associates might do to their careers or ambitions.  Doesn't matter much whether you can actually do any damage.  If politicians believe it, it's real enough.