Disaster Tourism at the English Bay Oil Spill

By Emily Griffiths

In the wake of the oil spill a few days ago, I set out this morning with my partner to see the aftermath first hand. I really didn’t want to go, because I don’t enjoy feeling depressed or enraged, but denial isn’t a healthy choice, either.

We arrive at English Bay around noon. It’s almost as if nothing has happened. It’s like any Saturday, folks are just out here, doing their thing; people jog, walk, or cycle along the seawall, a mass of tankers blocks the horizon. We know something’s up, though, as a helicopter hovers by and the Coast Guard passes back and forth in their little boat. A bizarrely D.I.Y. handwritten sign reads “Oil Spill. Area Toxic. Do Not Touch Rocks or Sand. Do Not Go Barefoot” in blue Sharpie. A row of more formalized signs lines the shoreline, providing an official “Water Safety Notice” from The City of Vancouver.

Oil Spill 1.1

A lone Park Ranger in a neon orange windbreaker strolls back and forth across the sand, pausing intermittently to speak to folks wandering by. People are jumping for the chance to share their opinions and concerns regarding the spill, and are happy there’s someone official-looking to engage with. I overhear the Ranger thanking two women for “taking an interest in our beaches.”

There’s not a whole hell of a lot to see here, so we make our way along the seawall towards Stanley Park. En route, we come across a man lining up oil covered rocks on the side of the path. He’s wearing white latex gloves smeared dirty brown with oil. He’s repositioned one of the official signs as part of his display. His name is Jakub Markiewicz and until we ran into him, I was feeling completely powerless in the face of this ugly event. Just by standing here behind a collection of oily rocks, Jakub is asserting himself and his opinions. When I approach him, he is already talking to a group of passerby’s.

Oil Spill 2

Jakub is telling them that even though this is a relatively small spill, the effects will linger in the environment for a long, long time. It is impossible for us to totally “clean up.”

The older woman listening asserts that, since the tankers are so far out, we shouldn’t have to worry about oil washing up on our beaches. She’s clearly one of the Not-In-My-Back-Yard types; folks who remain unconcerned with catastrophe, so long as it doesn’t affect them personally. Who cares about the sea-life and smaller coastal communities?

I can’t help but feel that this spill was inevitable. I’ve been watching the tankers encroach over the past few years, growing in number each season. They assert a sense of foreboding onto the otherwise picturesque landscape. Each tanker can hold up to 300 million liters, hinting at a possibility much worse than a 3,000 liter leak. It’s evident that even 3,000 liters is causing its fair share of destruction.

Further down the seawall, a couple has parked their bikes and decided to create an impromptu art project. Using scraps of cardboard to protect their hands, they gather oil-covered rocks and spell out “STOP HARPER” in the sand.Oil Spill 3

We eventually catch up with the clean-up crews over at Third Beach. When I think of oil spill response and clean up, I think of special technologies separating out oil from water. I expect a large-scale, highly specialized and professional operation. This is not what we find. Instead, there are two white pick-up trucks with HAZ-MAT RESPONSE stenciled on the side and a smattering of volunteers dressed in full body yellow plastic suits with red lifejackets laying specialty paper towels along the rocks. I know these dedicated folks mean well, but how do they confront the futility of wiping off individual rocks with paper towels as multiple tankers float ominously in the background?

Oil Spill 4

A neon orange Park Ranger and a burly police officer supervise the rock scrubbing from a series of nearby park benches. The Ranger asks the cop, “Are you guys here because of protesters?” The cop responds, “We’re just here to make sure these guys can do their job.”

Sure, Friend. Who’s going to stop them?

Oil Spill 5

I get the feeling that this whole “clean-up” thing is little more than a token effort. The Rangers, the police, the yellow-clad cleanup crew, the helicopters, and the Coast Guard boats are only here to make us think that the city/the province/the country is doing something to rectify what’s happened. No doubt the media discussion will soon shift from the poor reaction time to the “success” of the clean-up.

Many of us out here today are outraged by the spill and are looking for a place to direct our energy. A wrong has been committed and we feel the need to do something about it. But what can we do in the face of oil spills, impending pipelines, the Harper Government and the global oil-based economy? Perhaps we can do what the Indigenous Land Defenders are doing, which is frontline direct action. But this comes at a risk of being arrested and charged with terrorism, under the new definition. This is a risk, but without risk, there is no reward. For many of us, it’s much easier to allow our energy to be coopted into volunteer clean-up labour.

Oil Spill 6.2

Vancouver’s Co-Working Co-op Stimulates Worker Empowerment

Coworking gratis? A Verona da settembre!Tuesday night in the back room of The Tipper bar/bistro/restaurant on Kingsway at Victoria we are holding our Inception Meeting for a new kind of co-working space in Vancouver, one structured as a co-op.

You can read about the project in The Georgia Straight piece last week, and on the project webpage at Incipe, the consulting workers’ co-op that is spawning this co-op. Incipe, in-CHEE-pay, is Latin for “Begin!” And you can register for the [free] meeting here. And if you want to be involved and informed, you can sign up for the e-newsletter here.

We will be starting forming the community of people eager to take part in a new way of doing co-working, as equal owners of the whole enterprise instead of clients of for-profit corporate co-working spaces, which are how most of the world’s co-working spaces are run.

But considering the fact that people who work, study, think, research, and volunteer from home are often disempowered and vulnerable, they need support.

So they gravitate to co-working spaces because of possibilities of serendipity and synergy and connecting with people to envision greatness with, over coffee. Because trying to do that in a Starbucks has a slim chance of much success.

But one of the key principles of co-working is to build community. And why do we have communities? To support each other.

And, it turns out, co-ops are all about building community and supporting each other in democratic workplaces within an intentional progressive economic climate.

So there’s a natural fit to building a co-working space that is a co-op. And it’s also natural to convene the space for people who understand this, to get to know one another and start building the community so that we can all assess our collective needs, desires, dreams, visions and capacity for mutual aid and support.

From this, we will do the heavy lifting to find our co-working space.

So, consider how precarious work has become for so many people!

It has been a rough couple generations for working people, with a notable increase in precariousness of work.

Downsizing, contracting out, layoffs, people in the middle of their working lives being flung through the windows of corporate towers only to have a difficult time finding work because employers may prefer to hire much younger people.

And while many people choose the freelance, contractor, entrepreneur consultant lifestyle, many people who’ve been canned are forced into fending for themselves, trying to leverage their skills, training and experience into something useful. They are one form of the precariat: the precarious proletariat.

Others in the precariat class include young people who typically can’t get work in their fields they have trained in, or find corporate or organizational structures grotesquely tyrannical and impediments to optimizing their work-life-activism elements of existence. They end up being precariats too. Our Incipe consulting co-op itself formed out of this very dynamic!

So our goals in creating a co-working co-op space include these:

  1. Helping people work outside their homes.
  2. Helping people have meaningful ownership.
  3. Helping people feel some community in their labouring.
  4. Helping people connect with others who can build synergy with each other.

But one of the most important goals in this whole project is to recognize that workers are disempowered, disconnected and devalued. And to fix that, we need to build support networks for people. And one of the ways to do that is to build a co-working space that is co-operatively owned, just like MEC or your credit union or Modo or other small and massive co-ops around the world.

So, scroll back up to see the links to getting more information about our co-working space in development. Get involved, because we need you and your originality!

And whether you need a 24/7 space or a desk away from home for a few hours each week that costs about as much as the coffee you need to buy to camp out on Starbucks’ wifi, this ownership model is for you.

Remember, co-working is about empowerment. And so are co-ops!

What’s Wrong with Canada? We’re Not Denmark-ish

And I don’t mean we need to become Denmark, but we need to have the dialogue about why they can do what they do and we choose not to.

When Canadians are surveyed, a very large majority of us support these public goods. But those desires get subsumed with corporate, neoliberal, right wing government-cut rhetoric.

We need to explore the political sociology of Denmark to understand how they embraced the tax commitment to provide these public goods.

We can be Denmark, but we choose not to.

We need to respin the messages from the tax-hating corporations and make the economy serve human beings better!

 

How You May Be Able to Be a Better Feminist

I don’t need to add anything here. If you like/hate what you read, click the link and get up to speed on the rest of it!

White feminists: this is a call for you to get your shit together. The point of equality isn’t to claw your way to the top so that you can treat other people just as badly as white dudes have treated you — we need to elevate each other, amplify each other’s voices, and maybe let someone else tell us if we’re allowed to be on their team. Because, as per Flavia Dzodan, if your feminism is not intersectional, then I’m sorry but it’s complete bullshit.

* by “white feminism” I mean a certain demographic of white women who are straight, cis and able-bodied and view their brand of “feminism” as being better and more “real” than that of anyone else’s.

Sh*t white feminists need to stop doing | rabble.ca.

Image: New York Public Library

De-Spinning the Political and Re-Spinning it for Social, Economic and Political Justice