Resistance Casts Pall over 2010 Olympic Festivities
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CANADA: Resistance Casts Pall over 2010 Olympic Festivities
February 20, 2010
By Anthony Fenton
VANCOUVER, Feb 15, 2010 (IPS) - The 2010 Winter Olympics opened with the
largest protest convergence in the history of the Games.
Approximately 3,000 protesters of diverse backgrounds converged on
Vancouver Friday afternoon, assembling for a peaceful yet boisterous
rally and march through the downtown streets to the steps of BC Place,
the site of the Games' opening ceremonies.
As throngs of activists filled the Vancouver Art Gallery - indigenous,
anti-capitalist, anti-corporate, environmentalist, anarchist, anti-war,
pro-civil liberty, and anti-poverty alike - speakers laid out a laundry
list of grievances against the Games.
The speeches opened with homage to the Coast Salish people, on whose
unceded territory the demonstration took place. The march itself was led
by Native Elders, while the most prominent chant heard was "No Olympics
on stolen Native land."
Olympic Resistance Network organizer Sozan Savehilaghi said, "The
Olympics are taking place on lands that have never been surrendered. The
people that are going to be impacted in a negative way the most are
indigenous people; they have the highest rates of poverty, of abuse, and
they are highly over-represented in prisons."
One Native spokeswoman from the Downtown Eastside, home of the country's
"poorest postal code," told the audience to "send a prayer to people who
think it's all right to spend this kind of money while people are dying
and living in poverty."
A recent tally by the Vancouver Sun estimated that at least eight
billion dollars will be spent on the Games, and there are an estimated
15,000 homeless people in British Columbia. According to a report
released by University of British Columbia researchers last December,
the number of homeless in Vancouver more than doubled in the years
leading up to the Games.
Accordingly, the slogan "homes not games," was found on many placards,
and was a popular chant both before and during the march.
David Eby of the BC Civil Liberties Association called the intrusive
role played by the police against anti-Olympic protesters in advance of
the Games, "an embarrassment to the country."
Harassment, surveillance, and attempted infiltration of the
anti-Olympics movement has been part of the nearly one-billion-dollar
security budget that has seen more than 15,000 police, military, and
private security put the Olympic venues and surrounding areas on virtual
lockdown for the duration of the Games.
"The people who've spoken out against the Games have been visited at
their homes, at their work, by the police, as if there is something
illegal about saying they do not support the spending of public money on
this enterprise," said Eby.
Christopher Shaw, member of the No Games 2010 Coalition and author of
"Five Ring Circus: Myths and Realities of the Olympic Games", praised
those who gathered to protest, while denouncing the "hooliganism, the
boosterism, and all the false patriotism that surrounds the games."
Speaking to the B.C. legislature on Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen
Harper led what the Canadian Press called a "nationalistic charge,"
unfurling a Canadian flag and pronouncing, "Patriotism, ladies and
gentlemen, patriotism as Canadians should not make us feel the least bit
shy or embarrassed."
Placards carried by marchers spoke to the diversity of reasons behind
the protests. "Dirty Oilympics funded by tar sands," expressed the
environmental opposition to the Games, while "End Corporate Rule" spoke
to popular discontent toward the corporate sponsorship of the Games.
Council of Canadians spokesperson Harjap Grewal called the tar sands,
"the biggest most destructive [industrial] project on the planet," and
listed a number of the Olympics' corporate sponsors that are "profiting
off the tar sands" and using the Games to engage in "greenwashing".
Whereas many of the throngs of onlookers and passerby were bespeckled in
the red and white colors of the Team Canada, several marchers carried
the flag of the Mohawk Warrior Society, a militant Native organization
that seeks to protect indigenous land, language, and culture.
The march came to a stop on the steps of BC Place, where the opening
ceremonies unfolded as scheduled. Over 200 police made a human wall to
prevent protesters from reaching the site. As several police on
horseback loomed behind the police line, protesters chanted, "Get those
animals off those horses!"
Tensions rose as traffic pilons, water bottles, and sticks were thrown
across the police line. Police commanders used the commotion to
physically push the protesters back, causing a series of brief melees.
Two protesters were arrested.
After a nearly two-hour standoff, organizers announced that people
should go home and reconvene for additional protests throughout the
Following the march, Savehilaghi told reporters, "We were successful in
getting our message across, in coming to [BC] place and marching down
here and voicing our concerns about the Olympics."
In contrast to the relatively peaceful rally and march on Friday, early
on Saturday morning, approximately 300 activists took to the streets for
a march dubbed "heart attack," which aimed to "clog the arteries of
capitalism" and cause a disruption to the Games.
Although mostly a peaceful demonstration, direct action tactics were
carried out by what police called a "number of anarchists...a loosely
organised group of thugs." Tactics included smashing the windows of
corporate sponsors, overturning newspaper boxes, and vandalism.
Whereas on the eve of the Games, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant
Commander Bud Mercer told CNN that they would be overseen by "friendly
security," police on Saturday wore full riot gear as they clashed with
Saturday's clashes with police resulted in at least seven arrests. The
Vancouver Police Department issued a release denouncing "a criminal
element within the legitimate protesters."
Gord Hill of the Kwakwaka'wakw First Nation, and spokesperson for
No2010.com, said "The [International Olympic Committee] and [the
Vancouver Organizing Committee] is the criminal element, pillaging
public coffers, the effects of which we will see long after the Games."
Hill also disagreed that the level of force used by the police was
proportionate to that used by the protesters, adding, "Buildings are not
made of flesh and tissue. They are made of concrete and steel."
Sixty organizations endorsed a statement released by the Olympics
Resistance Network on Saturday, which stopped short of denouncing the
"heart attack" protest, stating instead "we should avoid
characterizations such as 'bad' or 'violent' protesters. We respectfully
request that all those in opposition to the 2010 Olympics maintain our
collective and unified commitment to social justice and popular
mobilization efforts in the face of massive attempts to divide us."
Various protests are slated to continue throughout the Games, including
a protest on Monday by the local anti-war organization, StopWar, against
"Olympics security, militarization of our city, and our country's
treacherous role in the occupations of Afghanistan and Haiti."
Prior to the Games, Canada's Governor-General Michaelle Jean unveiled
the Olympic Truce Wall at the Olympic Village, stating, "Building peace
does not mean simply laying down our weapons."
Last week, local activist and author Derrick O'Keefe recalled in
Vancouver's Georgia Straight weekly newspaper that in 1980, Canada and
the U.S. led a boycott of the Summer Olympics in Moscow due to the
Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
"Thirty years later, it is the United States, Canada, and the other NATO
countries that are occupying Afghanistan. Instead of a boycott, the
Vancouver 2010 Olympics are being used to promote militarism in general
and Canada’s role in the occupation of Afghanistan in particular."
*With additional reporting from the Vancouver Media Cooperative (VMC).
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