I am a part of the 2010 'Welcoming' Committee, which helped organize the protest that took place at the Vancouver Art Gallery Friday, the day of the Olympic opening ceremonies. While a part of me is happy that all went well (started on time, our performers showed up, the sound system worked, etc.), some deep dark part of me left feeling wholly unsatisfied. Yes, we came together! Yes, we took to the streets! Yes, we walked from point A to point B...led by police the whole way! Yes, when they told us to stop marching we stopped. And yes we were met with three lines of police barricades, police on horseback and police on every nearby rooftop, watching us from above. I know that the march was specifically designed and advertised as a non-violent, peaceful, family friendly affair with entertainment and free food -- yes, I know this. But at the end of the day, standing there face to face with those cops, it felt like an anticlimax.
Perhaps Friday's protest was merely foreplay and yesterday morning, as folks took to the streets for "Heart Attack 2010: Clog the Arteries of Capitalism," some sort of climax was reached. While news coverage does discuss the violence committed by police against protesters, what the majority of the blogosphere, viral messaging networks, and news outlets, both mainstream and independent, are all up in arms about it is the "violence" committed against property downtown. So the question is: what is violence? Is property damage violence? Can you commit an act of violence against a bus...or a building?
Ok, kiddies, if violence is the word of the day, let's talk about some violence. Let's talk about a most violent and gruesome affair: the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
In 2006, the B.C. government decided to build a bridge over Eagleridge Bluffs so that those en route to Whistler for the Games could avoid ferry traffic at the Horseshoe Bay terminal. More than twenty people were arrested protesting the Sea-to-Sky highway expansion over the Bluffs, a treasured piece of land and a nesting area for bald eagles. Among those arrested that day was First Nations Elder Harriet Nahanee, age 71, who was sentenced to two weeks in jail after refusing to apologize for her contempt of court. While in jail, Nahanee got sick and a week after her release she was hospitalized for pneumonia. There, the doctors discovered she hand lung cancer and one month later Harriet Nahanee passed away. Is this violence? This was certainly not the first time that Nahanee had suffered at the hands of the Canadian state, as she was a survivor of both the Ahousat and Alberni Residential Schools.
Is this violence?
Or what about the Cowichan sweater debacle? In 2009, The Husdon's Bay Company unveiled their $350 "definitely not a Cowichan" knit sweater. In a statement, the HBC said, "It is a contemporary design inspired by a great fashion icon that is recognized as a knit sweater all across the country." The Cowichan people, located in and around the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, are known for their beautiful, unique form of hand-knitting. Not only do Cowichan sweaters have a long history of being in high demand by Canadians but there is also a long history of Cowichan women being exploited and underpaid for their work. And making these sweaters is no easy feat- it is a labour intensive process where the wool must be washed by hand in boiling water, teased, carded, combed and dyed all before the actual knitting begins. There are stories of women staying up all night to finish a sweater just so they can buy groceries for their families in the morning. Or even worse, some women have reported being paid $50 for their work, only to see their own sweater on the dealer's rack with a $300 price tag.
Is this violence?
If Vancouver Police Chief, Jim Chu can call the Heart Attack protestors "criminals" then what do we call the board of directors of the Hudson's Bay Company? The officials at VANOC? Or our own Members of Parliament?
I believe that the cases of Harriet Nahanee and the Cowichan sweater debate are acts of violence committed by the State against its own people. I believe that it is an act of violence in and of itself to sit idly by while these things happen. And I do not want to sit idly by as this kind of violence happens in my city.
I think that we should have more compassion and understanding for the Heart Attack protesters as they are not resonsible for the real violence and oppression being born in this country.
Eve Belle Wilensky grew up in Vancouver and is an activist with several local groups.
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