In East Vancouver, a streetcleaner never comes by – except for the day before the Olympic torch rolls through East Vancouver.
This is a neighbourhood with a history. It’s the oldest part of the city. Off the banks of the water was an aboriginal reserve not far from Crab Park. Off the foot of Carrall Street, the civic leaders began to rebuild the city after the Great Fire. The Free Speech Riots of 1907 and 1912 happened right here.
In 1907, disgruntled members of labour unions marched down Pender Street in Chinatown and broke windows in one of ugliest expressions of racism in the country.
Great moments in labour history such as the On to Ottawa Trek and the Battle of Ballantyne Pier occurred here. It is now the very pier where security forces are staying on 3 cruise ships.
In Strathcona in the sixties, residents stood down a massive highway project that would have levelled the neighbourhood.
Ken Lum’s amazing public art project – a massive East Van cross at 6th and Clark has become a kind of mecca for this rapidly gentrifying progressive neighbourhood. The cross is not so much meant to stand as a marker, but is an emblem of pain and suffering. It faces out to the west side of the city with a kind of dignified pride. It is the immigrant’s pride, it is the pride that comes with survival.
Had the Vancouver Olympics sincerely been about leveraging the project for social gain and had the organizers actually involved people in a meaningful way, we would not be a city divided today.
The corporate sledgehammer that is the contemporary Olympic Games is a human rights wrecking ball.
Even local artists are being streamrolled. At issue, amongst many things, are the restrictive nature of the contracts that artists are forced to sign in order to protect the Olympic brand. The artistic director of the Salt Lake City Olympics, Raymond T. Grant, recently wrote an open letter to 2010 Olympic chief John Furlong, saying, “The clause is both dangerous and unnecessary. It does nothing to sustain the artist's talents advance the Olympic Movement, and celebrate a pluralistic democracy.”According to the Globe and Mail, the clause reads, “The artist shall at all times refrain from making any negative or derogatory remarks respecting VANOC, the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Olympic movement generally, Bell and/or other sponsors associated with VANOC.”
Earlier this week, in a courageous essay, Vancouver poet laureate Brad Cran denounced the Cultural Olympiad and decided not to participate in its activities.
What strange things we find acceptable in these states of exception. If you use a megaphone, the City of Vancouver will fine you. If you wander around outside the venues with political leaflets, VANOC’s roving band of volunteer brand protection teams will nab you and confiscate your belongings. If you put up a poster expressing political beliefs, it may just get ripped down and you might face a fine.
If you speak out against all this, Vancouver’s monotone mainstream media pundits will denounce you and misframe you.
At the protest tomorrow, there will be a choir with a hundred people. The East Van All Stars will walk from the Purple Thistle Centre to the Vancouver Art Gallery. There will be salsa, puppets and guerrilla theatre. Maybe there will be stiltwalkers. There could be naked cyclists.
This will be a celebration of resistance.
There is a movement building here in Vancouver that will last long past the two weeks of the bloated Olympic Games - it is about the right to the city, it is about asserting human rights, it is about democracy in the real sense of the word. It is about ending homelessness. it is about taking back our city from those who are immersed in the project of distorting it to their own ends.
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