Marla Renn: Attempts to silence dissent won't stifle resistance to 2010 Olympics

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      By Marla Renn

      Vancouver, you deserve to pat yourself on the back for forcing a critical and thoughtful public debate over the 2010 Winter Olympics. What began as a small minority reporting and responding to the (now familiar) consequences of hosting the Games is today a strong majority. Evidence of popular dissent and participation in a debate we were never invited to is everywhere.

      Opinion polls now show that the majority of residents see through the Olympic charade, letters to the editor reflect critical evaluations, growing numbers of community groups are taking part in debates and organizing opposition activities, and water-cooler conversations expressing outrage and disbelief over an endless number of issues being raised by the Olympics has even surpassed the monopoly that reality TV once enjoyed. With no shortage of reasons to oppose the Olympics and no shortage of folks to share and discuss them with, a new story and image of the Olympics is emerging, one that is making powerful and invested interests nervous.

      The success of the Olympics depends on its ability to conjure up images dripping with the triumph of the human spirit, the glory in struggling to be your best, and fair play. Those images are important if the Olympic Games are to be a favourable marketing environment, but they also work to insulate the real agenda: the deepening of neo-liberal economic policies that are advanced and crafted by real estate developers, hungry for land grabs and publicly subsidized development opportunities.

      Such a climate chills free speech. Initially, this meant merely marginalizing the opposition, but today that opposition is commonly criminalized. We are witnessing an increased use of policing to obstruct the sharing and development of these critiques.

      The attempt to silence voices of Olympic dissent has recently been exercised at the Canada-U.S. border. Amy Goodman, the renowned independent U.S. broadcast journalist and author was held by Canadian border officials for 90 minutes and questioned over her intentions to speak about the Olympics while in Canada. Goodman’s reception came as a shock to many, but it is not a unique demonstration of how thickened borders are being used to restrict and intimidate social dissent over the Olympics.

      On December 10, it was my turn. I was travelling to Portland, Oregon, as a member of the Olympic Resistance Network at the invitation of community organizers there. The planned events were designed to provide information about the Vancouver Olympics and how people are opposing its agenda and working to protect ourselves against the impacts. But I never made it past the border. Instead, I was held by U.S. border officials for six hours, during which time I was interrogated, fingerprinted, and my speaking notes were photocopied, before I was required to sign an official document stating that I had been refused entry into the U.S. because I could not prove I had ties and equities in Canada. Despite having no criminal record, being married and now holding a professional teacher’s degree, my unemployment since graduating three months ago was the official evidence cited.

      The concern over my employment status was disingenuous, however, given that the focus of their extensive interrogation was my ties to anti-Olympic organizing, the names of people in Portland who had organized the speaking engagements, and the nature of my relationship to them. Once released, I was physically escorted to the Canadian border, where officials there were given my cellphone, camera, and speaking notes by the U.S. border guards. I then endured another two hours of interrogation regarding my involvement in the anti-Olympics movement, including this slam-dunk question from Canadian border officials: “Were you planning to recruit people in Portland to the anti-Olympics cause?”

      My refused entry to the U.S., accompanied by interrogation, intimidation, and harassment by officials on both sides of the boarder, demonstrated once again how $1 billion in Olympic security is designed to stifle dissent, even the public-speaking variety, and not to ensure public safety as is officially claimed.

      The Olympics present a unique impetus for popular education and collaboration across issues. Countless organizations, nonprofits, and community coalitions have identified the real Olympic agenda—to disguise developers behind the veil of athletic triumph—and they are raising their voices against it, building bridges, and collaborating to devise strategies of resistance. The 2010 Welcoming Committee is an example of a broad-based community coalition. It combines the efforts of almost 20 diverse groups and coalitions, and more continue to get involved and work toward building a creative, inclusive, and vocal public protest to coincide with the opening ceremonies. You can contact, if you are interested in becoming involved.

      The most significant accomplishments of the Vancouver Olympic Games will not be those of Vanoc, the City of Vancouver, or the sponsors. The real successes belong to us the people, for being critical and building a shared response to an event that is advancing an agenda much larger and more heinous than the plans and preparations for a monthlong party.

      Marla Renn is a community activist and educator based in Vancouver. She is a member of the Olympic Resistance Network and StopWar.




      Dec 18, 2009 at 4:05pm

      Please! If your right to dissent and publicize that dissent is so curtailed, how come you can write this article? I really don't see how your rights have been so trampled on at all. If anything, the publication of this article refutes the argument you make in it.


      Dec 18, 2009 at 5:31pm

      Cognitive dissonance, they name is Marla Renn.

      I mean, it sounds like you've been sampling your own kool-aid. Where's all this mass outrage? Why are there fewer Olympic protesters than spectators? Where are the boycotts?

      The fact is that a small fringe dislikes the Olympics, and if the only people you talk to are also members of that fringe, Olympic sentiment can appear to be as you suggest.

      My advice? Try talking a few regular people outside of your mutual admiration society. It might open your eyes.... but I doubt it. Not when you're that far gone.


      Dec 18, 2009 at 6:12pm

      Jason: You appear to be saying that as long as the Straight gives someone a post hoc platform, their right to speak cannot possibly be violated. Sorry to be harsh, but that is a ridiculous argument.

      the real ODB

      Dec 18, 2009 at 9:24pm

      Your comments are right on, Marla. I'm so excited (NOT!) about the Oly's ( and BC and Canada in general ) that I quit my job and I'm now travelling thru S.E. Asia till next spring. Hopefully I can secure employment here so I don't have to return to help pay for this mess! And believe me, the worst is yet to come. Good luck.

      dan leb

      Dec 19, 2009 at 9:49am

      Harriet Nahanee gave her life protesting the policies and ecological distruction caused by the small minded greedy people operating behind the rings of the Olympic games.
      The Olympics are supposed to raise the human spirit, not violate human rights, displace the less fortunate and make a mockery of all that is discent, ethical and just.
      In 1936 another small minded man tried to use the Olympics to further his own ambition.
      To the politians, social and business leaders who have allowed this disgraceful behavoir in the name of the Olympic Games please remember
      Adolf FAILED


      Dec 19, 2009 at 10:44am

      I am ashamed of my country. That the Olympics asks for such things as this to occur (don't worry the never asked, I'm sure it was merely a strong suggestion) is nothing compared to the fact that our government has gone along with it all.
      My free speech zone includes all of Canada according to the charter of rights and freedom, Anyone who says otherwise will meet with my opposition.
      And for Jason's knowledge the ability to write this does not mean that the police will not be knocking on the doors of Ms. Renn, her friends & family.

      Trish F

      Dec 19, 2009 at 10:46am

      It's quite typical to see insulting comments from people who react before they read. Jordan is obviously ignorant of the opinion polls which Renn cites; also, the letters section of the Province is probably 80 percent negative feelings towards the Olympics. So the evidence is fairly clear, yet uninformed men can feel empowered enough to say Ms. Renn is a member of a mind control cult! I think perhaps Ms. Renn's intelligent dissent is a threat to male dominance, thus earning such hysterical abuse. Good on her - we need more like her.

      Dusty B

      Dec 19, 2009 at 6:43pm

      Thanks for your courage, Ms. Renn. There are many more of us out there, not part of the resistance network or interested in fighting the cops in the street, who support your position.

      Norm Farrell

      Dec 20, 2009 at 12:48am

      Ms. Renn looks to me like she might be a touch untrustworthy. A former student, not yet employed, traveling internationally? Could be dangerous for Americans and Canadians, whom she just assumed would welcome her home from the U.S. without impediment.

      British experts have clarified that dangerous radicalization can take place from the age of 4. I presume Ms. Renn is even older than that. No wonder the heroic border agents of Canada and the USA act with vigilance to protect us all.

      Think these young people are not risks to our national security? Read this:


      Dec 20, 2009 at 1:42am


      Why is it that you feminist types sexify practically everything?

      None of the above posts had anything to do with anything but the Olympics until you trolled in.

      It's women like you who make me ashamed to be a woman sometimes.

      I agree with everything Marla had to say, whether it came from a man or a woman.