Olympic protesters mobilize in Vancouver

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      After years of preparation, it’s all coming down to this.

      B.C. Place opens its doors at 2 p.m. on Friday (February 12). Last-minute checks will be made for the extravaganza that starts four hours later. The show doesn’t come cheap; the federal government kicked in $20 million for its share. Around the world, huge numbers of people will be waiting in anticipation in front of their TV screens.

      This is the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

      Several blocks away, people gather on the north lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery. They too have waited a long time for the Games. They also want the world’s attention, although for another purpose. They want to show that Canada has a dark underside: poverty, homelessness, missing and murdered women, poor treatment of aboriginal people, and a military presence in Afghanistan. By 4:30 p.m., the crowd will surge toward B.C. Place. At a certain point, police will have to stop them so that they don’t disturb the party inside.

      But protesters will be back on the streets the next day, and in the following days as well, an occurrence that shouldn’t be seen as odd, according to Mark Leier, an SFU expert on the subject of civil disobedience.

      “Often people in authority would like to argue that any kind of protest is a symptom of pathology,” Leier told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “Their first response is that these people are crazy. We know, however, that this is just not the case.”

      Although Olympic officials now claim that protests will be smaller than previously projected, the history professor suggested that they may be in for a surprise.

      “One of the things that the Olympics does is it gives people a focus,” Leier said. “They’re angry about the HST [harmonized sales tax]. They’re angry about the job losses. They’re angry at the complete inability of governments to articulate the demands of people. And the Olympics are now essentially a huge party for some people to which most of us have not been invited. My sense is that people will see this as a reason to say, ”˜Hold it. We’re mad. We’re not taking it anymore.’ ”

      Antiwar activist Robert Ages is one of the organizers of the February 12 rally and march. He let out a hearty laugh when asked how many people he expects to show up.

      “It’s amazing. People are saying that they’re running into people while they’re postering and stuff who say, ”˜Oh, yeah. I heard about that. I’m gonna be there,’ ” Ages told the Straight by phone. “God, it’s hard to say. I expect it to be big rather than small. I mean hundreds and hundreds of people. But hey, it could be thousands.”

      Olympic security officials have repeatedly said that the constitutional rights to assembly, speech, and political expression will be respected during the Games. However, this commitment may be put to the test on Friday morning (February 12) when activists try to shadow the Olympic torch as it makes its way around the city.

      Police tolerance will also be tested when activists come together starting at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday (February 13) at Vancouver’s Thornton Park for a protest dubbed 2010 Heart Attack. It’s a street march intended to “clog the arteries of capitalism” and “disturb” the first day of the Games with a “diversity of tactics”.

      “You could say it will be more radical,” Alissa Westergard-Thorpe of the Olympic Resistance Network told the Straight. She declined to specify what tactics various groups might employ. “It’s up to people that come out. We’ll see what happens.”

      Westergard-Thorpe didn’t rule out the appearance at one of the planned rallies of the huge Olympic flag stolen by Native activists more than two years ago from the lawn of City Hall.

      “If there’s a demonstration in which the flag would appear, I would imagine it may be at February 12,” she said. “But it may be at February 13. There’s also demonstrations planned for February 15, so any of those days might be a good day for the reappearance of the Olympic flag.”

      Allen Sens is an international security expert and a senior political-science instructor at UBC. In a phone interview, Sens indicated that the probability of violent confrontations between police and demonstrators, especially during major international events, is “reasonable”.

      “They’re [such confrontations are] unpleasant and awful and all of these sorts of things,” Sens told the Straight. “But in context—and I emphasize this in context—if that’s the only kind of violence that emerges during the Games, I think we can consider ourselves fortunate.” He explained that although Olympic security officials have announced that the security risk to the Olympics is classified as “low”, meaning there is no credible terrorist threat on the horizon, Vancouver is still a vulnerable target.

      “We have very restricted transportation corridors,” Sens explained. “We have a lot of bridges. We have a lot of traffic choke points. We have the Sea-to-Sky Highway. That is a unique vulnerability to the extent that cutting any of those corridors or choke points or making them inaccessible in some way will cause a much more serious disruption than if you were in Salt Lake City, for example.”

      As thousands of security forces have been thrown into action to secure the Olympics, scores of out-of-town activists are also converging on Vancouver.

      These include Dan Kellar, a PhD student from the University of Waterloo. He belongs to AW@L, a social-justice group that organized protests when the Olympic torch passed through Ontario.

      Citing security reasons, Kellar declined to say how many of his colleagues came with him to Vancouver. “AW@L’s group that has come out here is really here to take direction from the locals, from the people that have been organizing for the last few years around this, and the people that are being affected most from the Games,” Kellar told the Straight.

      Kellar also stressed that protesters will undertake peaceful actions. But he added that the presence of thousands of security forces has been generating a lot of fear.

      As head of the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit, RCMP assistant commissioner Bud Mercer commands some 7,000 police officers, 5,000 private security personnel, and 4,500 members of the Canadian Forces. With a security budget that has grown to $900 million, the 2010 Olympics have become the country’s biggest domestic security operation ever.

      They have also attracted hordes of international media, providing activist groups with new channels for broadcasting their message.

      Although it isn’t an anti-Olympic event, the annual march commemorating missing and murdered women that will be held at noon on Sunday (February 14) will likely attract attention.

      Security preparations for the Games almost scuttled the march, but organizers like Gladys Radek stood firm. “We ended up inviting the police to a meeting and talking to them and telling them that we are going to do the march whether they like it or not,” Radek told the Straight. “This is a day that we’ve shared for 19 years, and it’s a day for the families to get together and know that they’re not alone.”

      The march is being supported by a variety of groups, including the B.C. All Chiefs’ Task Force, which is also undertaking a media campaign to highlight Canada’s refusal to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. “It’s only a window of opportunity for us to lay a foundation for a campaign that goes right into the summer,” Chief Wayne Christian of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council told the Straight.

      Starting at noon on Monday (February 15), a tent city will emerge in Pigeon Park in downtown Vancouver to highlight the issues of housing and homelessness. In a related initiative, Pivot Legal Society will be distributing red tents to people who are sleeping on the streets. A housing rally will be held from noon to 2 p.m. next Saturday (February 20) on the north side of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

      Downtown Eastside housing activist Wendy Pederson has almost lost count of the many interviews she has given to journalists from the U.S., Europe, and Asia. “The main message is that homelessness and poverty are not caused by addiction and mental illness like our government tells you,” Pederson told the Straight. “It’s caused by poor housing supply, poor incomes, and gentrification. If our government could put the same colossal effort that they put into a five-ring circus into ending poverty and homelessness, we would have a much better country.”

      Canada’s military involvement in Afghanistan will be the main focus when activists meet up at the Vancouver Art Gallery at 6 p.m. on Monday (February 15) for a rally. They will later hold a march. In a flyer, event organizers stated that although Canada is calling on the world community to cease hostilities during the Games, it has no plans to step down its military operations in Afghanistan.

      When activists held the third Poverty Olympics on February 7, Kaitlin Burnett was one of many people who turned up at the event held in the Downtown Eastside. They were wearing orange shirts marked “legal observer”, having been trained by civil-liberties advocates to monitor the conduct of security forces during the Olympics.

      “I think we’ve got more than enough police officers, security guards, military personnel watching the people of Vancouver,” Burnett told the Straight. “I think someone needs to be watching the watchers.”

      Comments

      22 Comments

      Strategis

      Feb 11, 2010 at 1:49pm

      Let the games begin!

      fan22

      Feb 11, 2010 at 3:47pm

      I wonder if these people are ever this motivated to improve there standard of living on their own?

      Jaded in Vancouver

      Feb 11, 2010 at 6:45pm

      Gotta agree with fan22 on this one. Looking at the photo of these protesters, how did they come by their " uniforms " ? If they can afford this, then they can afford to start improving their lives, instead of demanding that mommy-state take care of them.

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      my2bits

      Feb 11, 2010 at 8:55pm

      I'm with you guys...seems like there is a lot of motivation for thumping these causes. But, I don't get something and maybe someone can help me out... apparently this is all supposed to be about bringing attention to issues such as various social injustices, the underhandedness of our society, corporatism, or whatever other propaganda that can be conjured up. But, you see what I don't get is...how is any of this directly related to the Olympics in Vancouver? Oh thats right...it's not!!!
      What I think, is that most of these people get more out of simply bring attention to an issue and screaming about...but then don't actually do anything else to try to help solve the problem.
      Isn't that like standing in front of a burning building, screaming "it's burning, it's burning...why won't anyone do anything...it's the governments fault, the landlord, the company that supplied the wood, it's because of that treaty from 1704...ahh it's burning...why won't anyone do anything"...and yet the whole time standing 2ft away from a hose that could be used to put out the fire.
      Can anyone say creating more problems than solutions?

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      timbit

      Feb 11, 2010 at 9:37pm

      so can we all go to that cool olympic ice lounge after the protest? I mean I don't want to do too much work for this protest.

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      Transitrider

      Feb 11, 2010 at 9:42pm

      The protester's chronic pessimism I can understand. I just don't get how they can enjoy being wrong all the time.

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      Hello?

      Feb 11, 2010 at 11:29pm

      "End Poverty"

      "Build Me a House"

      Missing sign: "I want a pony!"

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      The reasons why we speak out

      Feb 12, 2010 at 2:19am

      Why do we join together to express a different perspective than that offered by the monopolised, corporate media? Because, as Morpheus said, "The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it. If you are not one of us, you are one of them."

      Why do we link so many things to war, peace, and the military - industrial - financial complex? Because "Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind. -John F. Kennedy" By investing so much money and attention on meaningless spectacles like sports, the real issues go unattended to.

      And why do we join together in big groups and act in ways contrary to the expected norm? Because "Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that numbers of people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience. Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running and robbing the country. That's our problem. - Howard Zinn" Yes, Howard Zinn, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, that is indeed our problem. So get out there and march!

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      Grover

      Feb 12, 2010 at 7:56am

      Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly: these trump all. Don't like the message? Then suck it up.

      lostboy

      Feb 12, 2010 at 10:00am

      keep marching away, but do not cause major disruptions, while most people are agreeing with most of the protests, if violent eruptions occurs, your messages will be lost. it is being heard by everyone already. "Downtown Eastside housing activist Wendy Pederson has almost lost count of the many interviews she has given to journalists from the U.S., Europe, and Asia" don't mess it up

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