Poverty Olympics organizer Wendy Pedersen believes the City of Vancouver and the International Olympic Committee will allow the street-theatre event to take place during the Olympic Games in February 2010.
One goal of the event, Pedersen told the Straight, is to internationally embarrass governments into addressing poverty.
“I can’t imagine them cracking down on the Poverty Olympics,” Pedersen said today (February 9) in a phone interview. “It would be like being sucker-punched. I can’t imagine they’d be so heartless, so inhumane. So I’m not going to worry about it, because I don’t believe people would be that mean.”
On February 8, about 500 people gathered at the Japanese Language School in the Downtown Eastside to watch the second annual Poverty Olympics.
A police escort accompanied the “torch relay”, which wound its way through the neighbourhood. It was also accompanied by a small army of media, including the Vancouver Sun, BCIT journalism students, CKNW, and Channel M. The Wall Street Journal will also be covering the event, according to Pedersen.
On January 22, Vancouver city council passed a motion that could restrict citizens’ ability to protest the Olympics on both private and public property. Council approved 16 Vancouver charter amendments, including one that would allow the city to “remove illegal signs from real property with limited notice”.
Pedersen said she doesn’t understand the implications of the motion.
Indeed, B.C. Civil Liberties Association acting executive director David Eby wrote to council before the decision, noting the impact on activism is not defined:
The Olympics have a long history of repressed political dissent, whether considering incidents as recent as Beijing’s notorious “protest zones”; aggressive enforcement of generic copyright phrases and words like “With glowing hearts”, “Winter” or “Gold”; or the dominance of security agendas over social agendas in budgetary and logistical terms.
This context is best illustrated in the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Charter at Rule 51, where the IOC demands limits from host cities on what it calls “advertising, demonstrations, propaganda.” In particular, Rule 51(3) reads unambiguously: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
The Poverty Olympics sells T-shirts with an image of a torch, and the logo of the event is five handcuff rings arranged to look like the Olympic rings.
In other Olympic protests, similar expressions have led to Olympic trademark crackdowns.
“They better let us have the parade,” Pedersen said. “If they do something about us, maybe that will bring more attention. It would be a low blow to low-income people. I think they’re going to have to be open to some attention no matter what they do.”
Funding for the Poverty Olympics comes from Raise the Rates; the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives hosts its Web site; and the Carnegie Community Action Project, which organizes the event, is funded through VanCity and donations from unions and individuals.
Pedersen said the Carnegie Community Action Project is looking for more funding.