The London Olympics games closed with the words of “Imagine” by John Lennon and “Freedom” by George Michael. John Lennon sang “Imagine all the people living life in peace.” And then Eric Idle sang “Always look at the Bright Side of Life.” But what did the Olympic Games really bring to London?
The idea of the Olympic Games is supposed to bring peace and harmony to the world. But do they really? What benefits do they bring the host city? Who do they really benefit? These Olympics were held in East London. Rather than leaving a legacy of benefit to East London, one of the most successful housing cooperatives was torn down to make way for the Olympic Athletes Village displacing many residents.
Many promises were also made and broken during the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010. But who really benefited from both Vancouver and London games? Imagine if the Olympics really benefited the people of the host city.
One legacy that came out of the Vancouver Olympics was the establishment of the Poverty Olympics and the tradition has been carried to the London Olympics as protest and critique of the failure of the Olympics to bring real benefit to the people of the city that host them. Anti-Olympic organizing has already begun in the cities where the Olympics are going next.
Now that the London Olympics games are over, the media focus on the Paralympic games will not be the same. There will be little coverage and sponsorship as was the case here in Vancouver. These Paralympic games may not bring the coverage and sponsorship, but they do bring an opportunity for community organizing, support and awareness for people living with disabilities.
Maybe this Anti-Olympic organizing will make future cities hosting the Olympic really think about what social benefits can be gained from hosting these Olympic events rather than simply being projects of gentrification and economic development that benefit the corporate agenda. But it will also build a movement for social development with a growing network of anti-Olympic organizing.
Now that Vision Vancouver has self-actualized as a political party, it’s time to see if they’ll now address some longstanding democratic deficits.
The complexion of the city changed markedly last night as Vision elected all its candidates, the Greens got a seat on council, the NPA increased its representation and all of COPE’s candidates lost except for one school trustee.
There will be a great deal of analysis in the coming weeks and months about what happened to the Vision-COPE cooperation deal. For something that was designed to promote cooperation between two parties to get all their candidates elected, something went wrong, or right, depending on your point of view.
Unsuccessful COPE candidates ended up with around 5,000-24,000 fewer votes than Vision candidates on council, with the range of 16,000-24,000 on parks and 9,000-21,000 on school board. For an arrangement that was supposed to be mutually beneficial, something didn’t translate well. It appears on the surface that up to 40% of those voting for Vision decided not to vote for COPE candidates. Why did that happen? Did Vision promote COPE candidates as much as COPE promoted Vision candidates? Let the speculation begin.
So in this new political era, Vision has no substantial opposition from anyone that isn’t flagrantly right wing. That should be easy for Vision to wedge itself against radically right agendas, freeing them up to indulge in most of the rest of the political spectrum as they see fit.
So while Vision asserts itself as progressive, they only have to be left of the NPA, which is quite easy, and provides no incentive to be very progressive at all.
If they want to show progressive politics, however, they should do a few things:
Stop the tax shift from businesses to human beings. Leave that pandering to developers and corporations to the NPA.
Start discussions to implement a ward system for the 2014 election. Imagine if for federal elections we had an at-large system whereby people from all over the country could run and the top 308 were elected with no obligation for regional representation. That’s what we have in Vancouver with the at-large system: 640,000 people with no community representation. Absurd.
Start a good-faith dialogue with Occupy Vancouver. Now that the NPA shrieking about Occupy has stopped being a threat, it’s time to stop the posturing and truly engage with the movement. Take a page out of Seattle city council’s book: they endorsed the movement 100% and is starting to look at moving the city’s money to credit unions. Accept that the NPA tried to make Occupy the sole election issue, but they failed because half dozen issues resonated with voters more than Occupy, which led many to conclude days ago that the NPA was not going to do more than maybe increase its seat count. Much of Vision’s advertised policies are supposed to be progressive and resonate with the Occupy movement. Your own legitimacy hinges on walking the talk. Use the injunction last week as a means of entering into long-range dialogue with Occupy. Seek common ground. Pursue facilitating progressive improvements to society in conjunction with the Occupy movement.
Simply, if Vision Vancouver cannot or will not walk the talk of its ideals, it will be obvious to all that the party will only go left of the NPA when it absolutely has to.
The public is apparently very eager for excuses to forgive corporations and conservative governments. Does this eagerness extend to groups not so favourably supported by the corporate press?
I think a core element in the public’s smooth road to appeasement is a combination of political and socio-economic burdens, and apathy. Who has the time and energy to care about the consequences of actions like prorogation or massive design flaws in cars? Those consequences reflect systemic regulatory weaknesses that need to be addressed.
The public seems to want a quick fix and if someone nods in our direction, we forgive and all too easily forget.
Imtiaz Popat on “The Rational” and I, along with former Green Party Vancouver Parks Commissioner Roslyn Cassells talk about the Olympics, democracy, protest, animal welfare, and a provincial and federal budget coming up this week.
The audio is weak in places, but the discussion is strong!
The video podcast of the conversation lives at Vista Video.
Regardless of whether CBC should have put its logo on something that also had the Canadian flag, VANOC pulled out its big Tonya Harding stick and hit the CBC on the kneecap because people were taking the flags into the brand-sterile Olympic venues.
“But we know that VANOC is very vigilant about anything related to the Olympics. And you know what? We’re good citizens and if they’ve got an issue with it, fine with us, we’ll stop distributing the flags,” [CBC spokesperson Jeff Keay]said.
1. VANOC felt it was easier to make CBC stop handing out the flags rather than be the “no soup for you” party-poopers they are by accosting everyone entering an Olympic venue and telling them that they can’t bring in an item with a CBC logo on it. Bad PR. They’d end up with garbage cans full of Canadian flags, which I suppose is what happened until they realized they should just make CBC stop handing them out.
2. I don’t know if #1 is true because VANOC, in good soft fascist tradition, refuses journalistic transparency. They didn’t respond to Jane Armstrong’s request for an interview.
We’re days away from the end of the $8 billion obscene Olympic party. Last year, BC’s health authorities were defunded by $360 million. Cut, cut, cut.
Soon the 16-day bash will be over, the guests will leave and we’ll return the empties. Then we’ll walk around the house and tally up the damage. Holes kicked in walls, broken vases, cracked bathroom mirrors, something weird in the carpet that will never come out.
Less than a week after the Olympics end there will be a federal and provincial budget. Expect “tough choices”, which is what neoliberals say when they plan to further separate the rich from the poor.
Halfway through the Olympics on Saturday, February 20, hundreds gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery to call for a national housing strategy. NDP MP Libby Davies’ private members bill C-304 lives on despite Stephen Harper’s cynical proroguement of parliament. Despite killing all his own pending legislation, the prime minister can’t kill private members bills by proroguing parliament. That gives us room for great action next week!
Also, the enormous Canadian flag draping over the Hotel Georgia was the scene of some creative blowback: “FU2010”.
The tone of the day was concerned, passionate, upbeat and truly visionary as speakers and the crowd came together to explore a momentous step just days away when parliament re-opens to embark on a new era of social justice in Canada.
John Richardson, Executive Director of Pivot Legal Society spoke of overcoming fear and responsibly planning for the future:
MP Libby Davies spoke about housing being a human right, despite what I consider to be the gross excesses of the Olympics:
She also spoke about Harper’s lack of understanding of poverty and tendency to embrace budget crises as an excuse for inaction:
And she also spoke about what we need to do with her bill when parliament reopens next week:
In the end, when the 1,000 condos in the Olympic Village that cost $1 billion to build [or $1,000,000/unit on average] come on the market over the next few months, Metro Vancouver will experience a housing adjustment. Such a glut on the market will likely depress prices across the region. This can be good for people looking for affordable housing and for renters, despite the fact that few will be able to afford those 1,000 units. The ripple effect will be useful.
But there may be panic, dread, capital flight, or nothing but a different housing climate. In times of flux, there is great opportunity for change. It is within this context that Bill C-304 can make significant strides in addressing the crises of homelessness and affordable housing.
So pay attention to RedTents.org to see what you need to do to make our federal, provincial and municipal politicians do more than toss lip-service to housing issues.
But then Saturday turned violent. But it is really not that simple.
Friday was the Olympics 2010 Welcoming Committee. Saturday was the 2010 Heart Attack, designed to stab the core of global corporate capitalism. While both events are related and orbited the protest convergence happening in Vancouver this week, their goals were quite different.
The Heart Attack was intended to invoke a seizure in the corporate masters who run the world through their well-subsidized politicians, funky psychologically-gripping marketing wing, and places like the World Economic Forum.
So it is not surprising that the Black Bloc anarchists from all over converged on Vancouver to take advantage of a chance to smash windows of Olympic sponsor corporations.
But before everyone gets too comfortable and over-simplifies Saturday’s violence, let’s explore a few things.
The open source software movement and virtually all instances of non-profit altruism on the internet are a form of anarchy; one does not have to smash a window to be an anarchist. While anarchy can mean confusion, disorder and chaos, it also means “a theory that regards the absence of all direct or coercive government as a political ideal and that proposes the cooperative and voluntary association of individuals and groups as the principal mode of organized society.” You may be surprised that you too agree with at least elements of this form of anarchy. Global corporations and their comprador politicians may repulse you in the same way they repulse the activists and anarchists on the streets on Saturday.
Global corporations use the Olympics and their nasty lawyers to secure unprecedented marketing space for their largely crappy products. Have a Coke and a Big Mac, why don’t ya! The Olympics are helping destroy the social fabric of BC through a massive funding shift; the corporations that force the athletes to pimp themselves in order to compete on the world stage are reprehensible. If you have read or seen The Corporation, you understand the psychotic nature of corporations. Do you condone their behaviour here, or here, or here?
Various people have been dissecting the meaning of violence after Saturday’s activities. They rightly distinguish between property damage and violence against humans. Corporations are not humans. Their shareholders are, but I would argue that most shareholders have no or virtually no awareness of the social ill their corporation visits upon the world. So we at least need to understand why some argue that there are different kinds of violence. Is it the same kind of violence to throw a newspaper box through the window of The Bay as it is for Coke’s involvement in the murder, kidnapping and torture of union activists in Columbia?
If you think the Olympics are for regular people and not the corporate elite, did you see any corporate media reporting on the fence that keeps people away from the Olympic flame? How’s that for disenfranchisement that symbolizes how there are first class citizens with access to the grand Olympic party while the millions of British Columbians who will pay for their party can’t even get close to the torch, which is supposed to symbolize…I don’t know anymore…something idealist?
For more disenfranchisement, did you know that leading up to the next municipal election, our anti-social, neoLiberal premier has floated the idea of letting business owners vote in municipal elections? In the premier’s words: “There’s an opportunity to adopt principles of the provincial Election Act including: disclosure, spending limits and other changes that will improve fairness, accountability, transparency and public participation. Perhaps it’s time to restore the voting rights for industrial and business property owners in our communities.” In the same breath that he mentions enhancing accountability and public participation, he wants to let corporations vote along with human beings. What is to stop me from forming an, I don’t know, internet consulting business, paying for a business license in every municipality in and around Vancouver, then voting in future municipal elections all over the lower mainland? If you think democracy should be reserved for real human beings, you may want to actively oppose this drift towards corporations getting even MORE human rights. Can you get a sense of the depth of a threat corporations are to human being culture, society, economics and politics?
The Bay has hundreds of years of history oppressing and violating people, complicit and instrumental in European colonization of North America. They happen to be an Olympic sponsor. They also happen to now be owned by NRDC Equity Partners, an American holding company, the great neo-colonial power of Canada [tar sands, anyone?]. You don’t need to wonder why they’re a target of anarchists along with RBC, the main financier of the tar sands devastation.
BC Solicitor General Kash Heed waxes ironically on the rule of law: “One of the hallmarks of any civil society is respect for the law. The very laws that protect our right to free speech and the right for peaceful demonstration are at risk when a small group in society think they are above the law.” One way to understand the Heart Attack and the severe opposition to the global corporate elites is to explore the hypocrisy in this statement, from a government known for undermining the rule of law. VANOC is above the law. Its accounting is secret. They are not subject to freedom of information requests. VANOC instructed the provincial government to legislate the striking ambulance paramedics back to work last fall. The IOC is an international organization that is above the laws of all nations. It pays tax to no one, obeys no democratic political constitution or charter. It rejected women’s ski jumping from the Olympics by criteria it derived itself; in doing so, it violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The BC courts ruled that this gender-based discrimination is illegal, but that it has no scope of authority over the IOC. The global corporations that fund and steer the IOC on its rampage around the world profit from these violations of the rule of law. How can they be punished or sanctioned? Do we really have the guts to use existing or enhanced legislation to revoke their corporate charters? Here is a longer list of corporate activities that are opposed to the social good. If you oppose the violent methods protesters used on Saturday, how would you prefer to reign in unacceptable corporate behaviour?
Kash Heed continued: “The [police] will continue to ensure that athletes and the public are safe from unlawful activity and able to enjoy the Games without concern.” In reviewing the difference between kinds of violence, is it reasonable to equate property crime with threatening athletes? Is that what was actually happening on Saturday?
VANOC and corporate greenwashing: consider the realities of climate change staring us in the face, requiring us to act in the next few years to avoid irreparable harm and violence to the livelihood of billions of the people. Examine the real record of environmentalism in the Vancouver Olympics. Put up a few green-only Olympic rings, spew some chatter about carbon offsets, then helicopter snow from Manning Park to Cypress Bowl and conveniently don’t count a variety of dirty energy sources and you’re ok. Since the Olympics has become a monstrous PR campaign anyway, truth takes a backseat to optics and marketing. Where is there corporate accountability?
So regardless of who was doing what on Saturday, criminal behaviour definitely took place. Smashing windows is a crime, but did it serve a larger political purpose? Was that purpose valid or not? Was it civil disobedience for a greater moral good? Are corporations committing crimes against humanity to a degree that we choose not to punish? And if you find the objects being protested on Saturday to be guilty of anything, what steps are you willing to take to reign in their aberrant behaviour if smashing RBC/Bay/McDonald’s windows is not acceptable to you?
And in the end, has the window smashing helped you move to a more informed place about the nature of unacceptable corporate behariour in the world? If so, there has been some social good that has come from the violent behaviour, whether anyone condones it or not.
I’ve spent the weekend reflecting on the success of various confrontations to the Olympic brand and the emerging global corporate feudalism.
I’ll start off with a recognition that I’m sitting here in my “I am a free speech zone” t-shirt, having celebrated Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year and observed Vancouver’s Missing Women Memorial March, which saw eagles circling above.
Friday’s Olympics opening day march was a significant success. Elders led the procession. Dancing was prevalent. Agents provocateurs were noted, whispered about, marginalized and videotaped. And our messaging was clear:
“No Olympics on stolen native land”: the vast majority of British Columbia, unlike the rest of Canada, is on unceded native land and BC has been a part of Canada for almost 140 years now.
“2010 homes, not 2010 games”: the policy choice to host the Olympics has directly impoverished hundreds of thousands of British Columbians.
“This is what democracy looks like”: marching through the streets is the active expression of democracy; it is neither illegal nor anti-social.
What is lost in all this is the subtext of class war.
First, watch this clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
Funny, eh, but let’s not think we’re past this. We have purged the nobility from our social system, even though the queen is plastered all over our money. Nobility by birth, except in monarchist mags, has been supplanted by corporate and celebrity nobility.
We still have a class system. It’s not upper, middle and lower class anymore; that’s all too impolite. But if we examine income groups in Canada, we have a increasingly wealthy hyper-rich, a rather rich group that is doing quite well, a struggling middle class that is being milked by user fees and needs two incomes to have the same purchasing power as one income did in the 1970s, a growing working poor or subsistence lower-middle class who are a few paycheques away from homelessness, and a growing homeless yet working and pure poverty class. Too many of these lower strata are using food banks.
Through this, our culture endures rampant empathy-free zones.
Gordon Campbell and all the Olympics boosters have chosen to host a global party. The price they have charged society has been in closed schools, reduced mental health services, declining hospital services and cuts to all levels of healthcare, an affordable housing crisis that enriches those who already happen own expensive property in the sexy parts of BC, and an uncounted death toll of people whose lives have been truncated by the service cuts that were the “tough choices” to ensure the tax base of BC funds a global party for the hyper rich: corporations, their serfs, their customers, and those who could afford to bid on Olympics tickets or pay scalpers.
Oh, and we have had the lowest minimum wage in the country and the highest rate of child poverty for more than half the decade.
Let them eat fucking cake, hey?
Let’s go back to Friday night’s protest. The few thousand of us who rallied, danced and marched. We did not disrupt the Olympics or the culturally-impaired opening ceremonies. We posited a variety of statements and had good media pickup. We exercised our personal free speech zones and the legal observers were happily mostly bored.
The bottom line was that there is a price paid by hosting the Olympics. The corporate media and other global corporations who only symbolically underwrite the party while the taxpayers of Vancouver, Whistler, BC and Canada actually pay for it, all go on thinking it’s a great time, despite the 12 degree temperatures and shipping snow from Manning Park to Cypress Bowl. So much for green games.
There are those who continue to wear their blood red Olympics mittens and cram themselves onto our transit to get to their events, some of whom vehemently resenting having to take transit at all, and still have no idea the kind of suffering the vulnerable of BC have endured and will continue to endure for decades while we pay off this corporate debauchery.
I don’t know what to say to them. I want to take their pictures, as they are maybe the deluded masses who don’t get the simple connection that voting for Gordon Campbell in 2001 because he said he would cut their taxes meant he’d cut services for the vulnerable and increase user fees for the rest of us. They are also the people who think a party that costs $6b plus the Canada Line and the Sea-to-Sky Highway will not have a collections agent waiting at our house on Sunday morning while we clean up the half empty wine glasses and stale cheese plates. The empty beer bottles won’t pay the debt. My grandchildren will finally burn the mortgage on the excesses we’ll enjoy over the next 14 days.
And the BC government opened the legislature last week with a warning to fear the March 2 budget. For once the government is telling the truth. We are going to be further debauched in that budget because while VANOC is above the law and keeps its books secret, the government knows how much was spent and they’ll use it as an excuse to cut more, privatize more and gouge any other public, communal asset left in BC.
And if you think I’m crazy, wait 16 more days. I dare you.
The best we can hope for is for the Olympics to not bankrupt BC financially because our leaders have already sold our soul and bankrupted our morality, and we’re all going to feel the lashes for decades to come.
VANOC is like the host of a party that you never meet. You have no say in how they plan the party. They answer to no one. They spend all your money, but they won’t tell you how much you have to pay to get out of the party at the end. And once you’re in the party, you have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to get into the rooms where “things” take place. Oh, and the party host drives an SUV: the jokes are going viral about how the Anti-Idling-By-Law-Ignoring VANOC SUVs are causing the elevated temperatures in Vancouver [sorry El Nino] that have melted all the snow on Cypress Mountain.
Why does any of this sound appetizing?
VANOC’s sense of what it takes to build a celebratory community culture is simply deranged. And we have only to follow the Olympic spliff torch as the Governator carries it on Friday.
I know I am a free speech zone, but what about the vague area outside venues? And who’s right? Me and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or VANOC, the IOC, an eager VANOC volunteer and a sanctioned or rogue member of VANOC’s 15,000 member security force?
There will also be a not-so-spontaneous “Dancing in the Streets” flash mob on Saturday to welcome the world. Despite it taking place in the context of the Olympics, it has the potential to actually be merely social and fully apolitical. I wish them well.
A party should not bankrupt, maim, impoverish or denigrate people or values–whether or not they can attend the party functions. Parties that do that are not for the good of society.
When we endure the Olympics and watch the corporate media and political boosterism of the whole show, we must use this core criteria to determine value: do these activities build community or destroy it?
I have my bias, but I’ll be looking for glimpses of anything positive. I can’t say I’m optimistic, though.
De-Spinning the Political and Re-Spinning it for Social, Economic and Political Justice