Home > Olympics, Riot 2010 > The Olympics, the Media, and the Message

The Olympics, the Media, and the Message

Reflections on the Torch Relay through Southern Ontario

On the day the Olympic Torch Relay entered Ontario, AW@L conducted dual actions; confronting the City of Kitchener’s pre-Olympic Torch Celebration at City Hall and confronting Olympic sponsor RBC at their Uptown Waterloo branch office.

Our goal that day had been to draw attention to the ways that Canada and RBC are using the Olympics to Greenwash their brutal records of environmental destruction. That was the same week that Canada’s PM Stephen Harper was awarded the Fossil of the Year award by civil society at the Copenhagen summits.

Many of the people we spoke to that day, at either City Hall in Kitchener or out front of the RBC across from the public square in Uptown Waterloo, were very receptive to our message. It was however, during the massive failure that was the Copenhagen summit, and people were in tune to messages about Canada and climate change. People were, the media wasn’t.

The local television and radio stations are both official Olympic sponsors, and neither covered the anti-olympic events at all on the Global Day of Action against Climate Change. The local paper didn’t cover the issue of Greenwashing, but did mention our protest in their story about the pre-Celebration event at City Hall.

Ok, they did a little more than mention the protest.

For what he wrote that day, Record reporter Jeff Outhit has since called me and offered a personal apology for writing that “theres even a little Olympic spirit in protester Alex Hundert.” He admits that was a gross misrepresentation at best. What he says he was trying to write about, was the idea, which he described as intriguing, that we as protesters recognized that there was value in peaceful protest against the Olympics. He said he was surprised that we were not disrupting the event and that we were civilly engaging with parents who were attending the Olympic event with their children.

At the event, I told him that we recognized that the Olympic propaganda events were aimed at children and that we weren’t out to target them or to make them cry, but rather to disrupt the corporate sponsors’ ability to use the Olympic spotlight as a branding opportunity.

Jeff Outhit wrote a couple lines about the over-commercialization of sports… and that I had Olympic spirit. When I called the paper’s office and yelled at him, he got very defensive. After I had spoken to his editor and explained how this was a blatant misrepresentation, the paper agreed to print a correction. Outhit later called back and offered a personal apology. I took the opportunity to explain to him what greenwashing and the Olympics are really all about.

In what was then a relatively pleasant conversation, Outhit explained how he had gotten carried away with the narrative of peaceful protesters who are not militantly against sports, as he expected us to be. I told him that, in theory, sports aren’t that bad for communities and for kids, but that the Olympics have appropriated sport and culture for use as part of nationalist and corporate propaganda campaigning. He acknowledged that this was very different than what he had portrayed in his article, (He had printed the following sentence fragment, attributed to me: “Sport and competition are great ways for people to learn how to work together,” omitting the “in theory” that preceded it and the “but” that followed).

This tripe is the only thing he has written on the Olympics since, on one of the local torchbearers: “His heart stopped but he lived to tell the tale”.

I’m pretty sure he still thinks the Olympics are harmless and benign, but that is just speculation on my part.

***

While the Olympic Torch Relay protest in Toronto was underway, Olympic sponsor CTV [pdf] reported that the action was preventing the Torch from getting to Sick Kids Hospital where children were anxiously awaiting. This report was repeated throughout the night. It didn’t matter that the torch, in fact, arrived at Sick Kids only slightly behind schedule, and that it was the City Hall celebration that was delayed by an over an hour. In fact, the night’s action had been designed specifically so that the torch would not be prevented fromarriving at the Hospital. Reports to the contrary were malevolent speculation at best, but more likely an act of intentional propaganda aimed to discredit protests, by an official sponsor of the Games.

There were barely any reports about the farce that resulted in the arrest of two protesters. Here is what happened: A bike cop pushed a protester who was running along side the torch. He fell off his bike. The protester was then tackled by a couple cops, beaten, and charged with assaulting an officer. Another protester who went to attend the incident was similarly tackled, and charged with obstruction.

While detained, the first arrestee, charged with assault, was questioned, and after refusing to answer, was beaten by the interrogating officers, who never gave their names. This happened several times over the course of his detention. No media ever reported this incident of police brutality. It is my guess that the cops were taking out their anger on this protester; taking revenge for how incompetent the police had been made to look when we took over parts of downtown Toronto.

The next day, a reporter was assaulted by the the Torch Relay security detachment. He was sent to the hospital with a concussion.

More than ten days later in Guelph, an even bigger blunder by the cops and Olympic security resulted in another charge against a protester.

For yet to be determined reasons, the Olympic Torch Relay managed to run itself directly into the protest on the streets of Guelph, and in the ensuing confusion/confrontation, the torchbearer tripped over a member of the VISU/RCMP security detail. The only pictures of the event clearly show that the relay ran right into the middle of a crowd of protesters, that no protester ever touched the torch bearer, and also that had they wanted to, the protesters could have easily swarmed the torch and had their way with it. There were only a dozen cops on the scene.

How the fuck did that happen?

Obviously the cops and relay team were embarrassed, and resultantly the protester closest to the fallen torchbearer was arrested–not the protester who was assaulted by/engaged with the cop who actually tripped the runner. (He fell too). It is this protester, who has publicly stated that she was punched in the head by a cop. I’m not sure if it was during the initial engagement with the VISU/RCMP torch security, or if was an assault from one of the uniformed RCMP who rushed the scene after the runner had already hit the ground.

I don’t know exactly what happened, because I was several blocks away at the time. I emphasized this when talking to Dean Tester, a reporter with CanWest. He still chose to run quotes from me in their article, despite two eye witnesses having gone on record before I did. However, I was the one who gave him the ‘sound bite’ about the “minor attack” on the protesters by the police. I was referring to the punch in the head.

Despite the fact that CanWest had quotes from myself as well as a local reporter from the Guelph Mercury that clearly articulated that it was Torch Relay security itself which phsycially tripped the runner during the incident, they, and every other news outlet still ran the headline from the police’s own press release: Protester pushed torchbearer to the ground. Or some version of that.

The lesson here is, learn how to write sexy violent press releases, cause the truth is barely relevant; its all really just a media battle, apparently.

***

We are winning the media battle.

No, we are not controlling the headlines or necessarily manipulating the media to the point where they are telling our story. We have, however, backed them into a corner where they are quickly revealing themselves as simple propaganda spokespeople for the Games, the sponsors, and the Government (who have now admitted that they intend to use the games to “showcase” their “accomplishments” in government, as reported on CBC Radio One, last night).

Yesterday’s editorial in the Globe and Mail is proof that we are being effective. They have been forced to resort to transparent and simplistic reiterations of official government and VANOC propaganda.

The Four Host First Nations, the Lil’wat, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh communities, have played an integral role in the Olympics from the early bidding process, and are formal partners in the Games. At their conception, and throughout their development, aboriginals have been fully involved in the Games.

The fact is though, that the corporation called “The Four Host First Nations” was created only after the BC Union of Indian Chiefs refused to endorse the Olympics, and that in those four First Nations, there exists grassroots opposition to the Games, not united support. Also, there are other First Nations’ territories affected by the Olympics who have not signed on to the corporate partnership.

The Globe tells us that, “a Vancouver 2010 Aboriginal Licensing and Merchandising Program was established, and represents the first time an Olympic organizing committee has partnered with indigenous people to create an official licensed merchandising program,” without mentioning that Indigenous artists are taking VANOC to task for the appropriation of First Nations art on several fronts, including their official “authentic aboriginal” merchandise, their gross appropriation and management of First Nations representations throughout the “Cultural Olympiad,” and the very use of the Inukshuk as a logo, all designed to send a certain message to the world about Canada’s relationship with First Nations. A false message.

And the Globe is blindly banging that drum. “The torch run itself has a strong aboriginal component. In Ontario alone, 20 aboriginal “flame blessing” ceremonies are being held,” says the Globe, failing to mention that the torch saw major resistance at several First Nations stops in Ontario, including an outright cancelation at Oneida.

What editorials like this say to me, is that they are scared; those who have so much invested in a particular dominant conception of what it means to be Canadian. They need to believe that we are a ‘tolerant’ people and a progressive, ‘multicultural’ nation; that we are a ‘post-apology’ nation engaging in meaningful reconciliation with ‘our’ Indigenous peoples.

But all that is bullshit.

The old money behind Canada’s major news institutions is not willing to risk contemplating what it would mean to recognize that Canada not only has a brutal colonial past, but that colonization is an ongoing process, still vicious and brutal. Our politicians are similarly unwilling, as remain most Canadians, it seems, unfortunately.

However, when we, as anti-colonial activists can force the media to so blatantly repeat the official dogma, it is a sign that we are starting to wedge cracks in their dominating narrative.

With the Vancouver convergence less than two months away, now is the time to prepare for an intensification of the fight. This is the battle of the story of the 2010 Olympic Games.

See you in the streets.

No Olympics on Stolen Native Land!
Stop the Olympic Greenwash!
Homes not Games!

===

UPDATE, Dec. 31.

  • Today at 1:30 pm, another protester was arrested, Kelly Pflugbach from Guelph. Cops realised they’re not gonna be able to convict Brittney (who touched no one), but they also know that getting punched by a cop = assaulting an officer, so they are now charging Kelly too. She was released before 6pm this evening.
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