An Olympic flame arrived in Vancouver on Sunday. It didn't look like a roach. It was mounted on hospital gurney, and made out of papier-mâché. Yes, it was the Poverty Olympics torch, proudly carried in by VANDU members (Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users) to hundreds of cheering supporters at the 3rd annual Poverty Olympics in the Downtown Eastside. The torch arrived from the North Shore with Aboriginal women drummers, having made its journey throughout the province over the past month.
The organizing group explains that their aim is to ensure that increased poverty is not the province's Olympic legacy: "Grinding poverty and growing homelessness are happening despite some bold promises to create a positive Olympic legacy — promises such as building more social housing, reducing homelessness, and not displacing poor people to make way for Olympics-driven development."
Hundreds of supporters and dozens of local and international media showed up to welcome the flame and watch the Poverty Olympics celebrity mascots, "Itchy" the bedbug, "Chewy" the rat and "Creepy" the cockroach, explain that while the "official" Olympics cost more than 6 billion dollars, the Poverty Olympics, with an equal spirit and pride, produced their version on a budget of "about $6 dollars". The mascots led a packed Japanese Centre Hall in the Poverty Olympics Anthem, which perhaps best sums up the spirit of the events:
Our home on Native land.
A billion for security,
Instead of building homes.
Olympic spending has gone sky high
While thousands sleep outside.
From far and wide
Invite the world to see
A quarter million souls,
Poor and freezing cold.
Oh Canada, where is e-qual-i-ty?
Oh Canada, we are ashamed of thee.
The Poverty Olympics organizers reportedly asked the Olympic Committee to include these games in the official 2010 program, with the hope that "shining the international spotlight on the dark side of our prosperous city and province might finally convince our governments to take action." Specifically the organizers are calling for governments to reduce poverty and homelessness by:
-raising welfare rates and minimum wage
- building thousands of social housing units across Canada
- implementing a series of identified poverty reduction strategies.
All for a budget that would cost less the than the cost of the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Click here to see more photos from the 2010 Poverty Olympics and visit: http:// povertyolympics.ca to learn more.