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2010 Riot.

Understanding “violent” protest in vancouver

According to Vancouver Police, today’s anti-Olympic march was “taken over” by “criminal elements.” The mainstream media has dismissed the day’s actions due their qualification as violent protest–much of the coverage has featured the reaction of random bystanders on the street, who believe that the violence diminishes the validity of the entire protest movement.

If people remember correctly, in the immediate aftermath of both the Seattle protests in ’99 and Quebec City in ’01, the response was exactly the same. In Quebec, even the catapulting of teddy-bears was prosecuted as violent crime. Window smashers at both were labelled by many as terrorists. Today, we remember those summits as cornerstones of the contemporary social justice movement.

Today’s “protest turned violent” was part of a larger convergence–5 days of organized protest and direct action against the Olympics. Activists across the country have already stated that the No2010 Olympics movement is, in its own right, a watershed moment for the Canadian social/environmental justice movement.

For one thing, as Harjap Grewal from the Olympic Resistance Network (ORN) said, “It’s a unique moment in history, because a call for a convergence normally happens at the G8, WTO and World Bank summits that happen around the world, and this time organizers have actually called for a demonstration against the Olympics industry. We don’t see the Olympics industry as being that much different from these other institutions that are unaccountable to the people of the world. The IOC is like the WTO. The IOC is like the IMF, is like the World Bank. And it encourages the transfer of wealth from public hands to private pockets.”

In an article for The Dominion by Shailagh Keaney, I was quoted as saying that organizing across the country against the Olympics has been “a major step where various forms of anti-colonial and anti-capitalist resistance that were rooted in very different places and different issues along those common themes have come together physically in several places.”

Today in Vancouver, the anti-capitalist and anarchist militants of the movement had their moment.

The callout for the “2010 Heart Attack” stated the goal simply: “to disrupt business as usual.”

Mission accomplished.

Alissa Westergard-Thorpe (ORN) has been quoted in news sources around the world today. In some of the bullshit corporate media out there, it has been claimed that she and the ORN “condemned” the so-called violence today. I highly doubt she did that. After all, the ORN’s Statement on Solidarity and Unity says:

“Our organizing is based on the recognition that the Olympics is taking place on unceded Native land, and exists to create a movement for all anti capitalist, Indigenous, anti poverty, labour, migrant justice, housing, environmental justice, civil libertarian, anti war, and anti colonial activists to join forces. We come together on the basis of anti-oppression principles and with a respect for diversity of tactics.”

What Westergard-Thorpe actually said, well reported by Canadian Press, is: “Protesters have never been violent toward human beings… Property damage is not the same as violence, and it certainly is nothing compared to the tools that police have, manhandling them, pushing them, hitting them with bicycles.”

First, I agree that comparing the violence of the protesters to that of the police is preposterous. Protesters used mostly sticks, pylons and newspapers boxes to break windows and block roads. There were reports of some tools present–a couple hammers, and one person with a bike chain wrapped around their hand, but there are no reports that they were used in attacks on anything other than targeted corporate property.

The police on the other hand, were on the streets with fully automatic machine guns, amongst other weaponry.

The protesters never hit cops with weapons other than plastic pylons. And my understanding, is that protesters were not attacking police. In some cases they were likely trying to push the police line to avoid being surrounded by heavily armed riot cops. In most cases though, clashes with police occurred where people were ‘dearresting’ their friends; that means preventing the cops from beating and arresting their friends. We call that community protection.

The police on the other hand, were beating people with batons and took more than a dozen hostages.

It is not untrue that there was some confrontation with bystanders. But from what I can tell, in all cases, it was mutual and no one got hurt. One overly patriotic bystander seemed to have tried to challenge the entire block to a fist fight. I think he might have been arrested for his own protection.

Westergard-Thorpe also talked about “property destruction” not being “violence.” Lots of people say that all the time. While I understand where they are coming from, but I haven’t taken that perspective. [edit, 1am feb14]

Property destruction is violent. So fucking what?

There are lots of kinds of violence that occur in a vast array of contexts. Violence is not dichotomous or binary. Personal physical assaults are violence, property destruction is violence, verbal abuse is violence, discrimination is violence, displacement is violence. There is no hierarchy. Systemic actions that deprive people of, for example adequate housing, food and water, are morally far more heinous than an act of physical violence employed to prevent an attack on someone who cannot defend themselves.

Sometimes it is ok to use violence.

Why is it ok to use violence to disrupt the Olympic celebration and “business as usual” for the capitalist system in Vancouver? Because the capitalist system is one of the greatest purveyors of violence in the history of humankind. The Olympic Games are the paradigmatic symbol for so much of the violence wrought by that system in this city over the last decade. A little bit of anarchist violence was employed to prevent the Olympic Games from presenting a narrative that whitewashes all the capitalist violence that has been perpetrated here. That should be just fine by anyone who prioritizes social justice over law and order.

Perhaps the most important contribution I can make to understanding what went down today is to look at the target of the violence. As all the media have reported, the Hudson’s Bay Company superstore received the brunt of the damage today, with most of its windows being smashed out.

The media reported that HBC was targetted because it is an official Olympic supplier and the store is one of the primary spots in Vancouver where official Olympic merchandise is sold to tourists.

There are lots of Olympic sponsors. HBC, however, is one of the primary corporate targets of the anti-Olympic movement, and was clearly singled out today. They deserved it.

Here is why:

For almost 350 years the Hudson’s Bay Company has been a primary instigator and propagator of the colonization of (so-called) Canada. HBC is a perpetrator of genocide. So please take those stupid mittens off. [edit 1am Feb 14] Complacency is complicity.

No Olympics on Stolen Native Land.

###

For more info on HBC’s brutal history of colonialism, check out:

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  1. Carl
    February 14, 2010 at 12:47 am

    Hi,

    First of all… I’m glad you want to express your freedom of speech, etc. People do need to exercise all their legal rights. I just have to say though, you guys are to little too late don’t you think? This would have made perfect sense if you and a bunch of others felt this way 5 or 6 years ago and organized large protests and continually did so until you got lots of support.

    What you are doing now is just asinine and a bigoted thing to do. You are costing us tax payers more money by forcing the police to respond to your actions as well as beefing up the olympic security to protect people of the games from you guys, and are just making yourselves look like a fool.

    Your definition of violence might be true, but it’s provoking police and not to mention criminal. How is destroying peoples property justifiable? You are costing innocent people a lot of money! You have every right to do anything legal (protest without causing damage and without throwing things at people). As soon as you do something like cause damage in the name of your cause that should have been done 5 years ago when little of our money was spent… you should be thrown in jail.

    You guys don’t care about the citizens, you are just trying to get attention. Go get a real job and become a real tax paying citizen instead of wasting your time when you could be working.

    Stop using the term “Indigenous people stolen land” to try and justify your actions because we would hear a lot more from them about being angry about the Olympics. I know natives and I haven’t heard any of them complain about the Olympics.

    I want to hear your response to my comment because I know you’re as much about free speech as I am and I am making no threats to you. I have checked the box to notify me via email from responses.

  2. Booyaka
    February 15, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    Hello, Carl.

    What you say is based on a few assumptions, if I may touch on some that interest me.

    First, you are assuming that a) nobody was organizing and protesting 5-6 years ago, and b) the mainstream media is willing to publish/broadcast the opinions of anti-olympics organizers, both of which are false. There is no way for people who have such a strongly dissenting opinion to reach anywhere near as many people as pro-olympic commercials can. First, there is a difference in budget, and second there is a refusal from the media to air such opinions. How do you expect anyone to support a perspective if they are not given the chance to understand it? We have some freedom of speech in this country — however, corporations and governments have a voice so loud it drowns the rest out.

    Second, you seem to be lumping every tax-payer together by saying the protesters are costing “us tax payers” more money forcing the police to respond. The police are payed to be there whether or not anyone shows up to protest, and the police were hired a loooong time before anyone arrived. If the violence was so malicious that extra policing was required, then the violent ones are responsible for that extra cost, sure, but smashing windows is a symbolic act (so long as you don’t hurt anyone), and the corporations finding themselves windowless can definitely afford to replace windows without laying off employees. You seem far less concerned, however, about the increadibly over-budget olympics themselves. Wealthy people are flying in from all around the world for a two-week party, while most of “us tax payers” can only watch on TV, yet us tax payers are the ones picking up the $7,000,000,000 tab for the entire games.

    Thirdly, you seem to assume the natives you know represent all natives. I know natives who ARE upset about the olympics, but I don’t think they represent the opinions of all natives. In fact, I’m sure the natives who are being payed quite handsomely to endorse the games don’t mind the olympics at all, but I think the ones who have lost the land they use to feed their families may not share such opinions. The sad fact is that most of “Canada” was taken from the natives, by violence or deception.

    Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly (from my view), you are assuming that the olympic games and their supporters are RIGHT. You are assuming that the government is RIGHT. You are assuming that the economy is GOOD, the police are RIGHT and the dissenters are BAD. You should make very sure of this before you recommend someone be thrown in jail for doing something which may, in fact, be in your best interest. You should make very sure of this before you recommend someone be locked up for hurting nothing but corporate pride. Pride should never win out over human rights.

    Fifthly, you are assuming these people don’t care about you as a tax-paying citizen.

    When a law is passed, it is imposed on everyone. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t vote for it, if you voted against it. It doesn’t even matter if you weren’t born yet! You are expected to obey, and most people see no problem throwing “law-breakers” into an iron cage for not obeying something they never agreed to obey. Most of the time, laws are enforced because people ASSUME they are correct. However, most of the time, people will side with their own personal property over the well-being of another human.

    It doesn’t matter what kind of intention or justification you have for a law or action, what matters is the result, the effect.

    One day you may find yourself opposed to a law that hurts your family, and you may find the police arriving at your house to enforce that law at gun-point. Then you will be very happy you payed all those taxes your entire life….

    “To serve and protect.” Yes, but whom? The olympic motto is “with glowing hearts,” but “with bulging wallets” might be closer to the truth.

  3. pat
    February 15, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    completely agree with carl.afaic,dan kellar is just regurgitating rhetoric(and in a verbosely unpleasant manner)beware fomenting insurrection w/o a viable alternative-it is not just wasteful and meaningless,it can become dangerous for both sides.you profess compassion for the underprivileged and disenfranchised,yet you espouse destruction of other’s property,and trample on their rights.anyone with that attitude seems destined to become the tool of a whole other class of despotism.

    • February 22, 2010 at 2:34 am

      how did i get pulled into this… who the shit is pat?

      corporations can not have the same rights as people, and people who run destructive corporations need to be held accountable for their crimes.

      fuck the olympics.

  4. February 16, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    hi alex,

    thanks for posting this and contributing to intelligent discourse. your post was intelligent and well supported.

    i know that it takes a lot of energy and emotional resources to deconstruct and present an alternative and credible opinion. responding to the reactionary viewpoints (as per above) is also challenging as those reactionary voices use a lot of over-simplified phraseology like “go get a real job and become a real tax paying citizen” that requires even more deconstruction. it sometimes amazes me how uninformed people are about politics and political movements. canada really is in the dark ages when it comes to having a low common denominator of political intelligence. but, given the concentration and general stupidity of the mainstream media it’s not too surprising.

    in any case, congrats, keep up the good work and if you have a moment please check out my blog where i’ve been addressing some similar issues.

    best,

    zev

    http://www.chroniclesofzev.com/

    on my own blog i’ve been trying to address

  5. veganterraist
    February 17, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    How is what we were doing at all asinine and bigoted? The taxpayers are stuck with this bill no matter what and we have been paying for it since the start back seven years ago. Maybe when the general public get a closer look at what they are paying for (A police state for 2 weeks) then they will see just how ridiculous there 1 billion dollars in tax money is.

    The only people looking like fools are those who sit above their ivory towers and shout abuse at those on the streets fighting for what they believe in. You sit in your towers living in a World of apathy and ignorance and you have the nerve to tell others what they are doing is wrong. I am guessing from all your comments you come from a class and a priveledge that allows you make comments like this without thinking about just how rasict and bigoted YOUR comments actually are.

    Look at the property that was broken. Sponsors of the Olympics. The corporations that we were there to protest. When you say innocent people are being cost money. Do you mean those multi-million dollar corporations who they themselves were in the media as stating they were not even phased by what happened? Once again the only people who look like fools are those who sit back in their apathy and allow the violence of the state to steamroll over everyone.

    Of course the goal is to try and get attention and what do you exactly call a “real job”. Why in the World would we pay taxes when we don’t support those who demand we pay them? Why should I pay for things like the Olympics and sending the Canadian terrorist forces to Afganistan to kill civilians? So we can support the government and everything else we hate? That makes no sense. Think about what you are saying and how racist every comment you make is. Have you ever once questioned why you are working and paying taxes? I seriously doubt you have or else you would be outrages at the billions of dollars spent on this Party for the Elite.

    We do not need to be of Native Heritage to realise that we are living on stolen land. If you were at either of the protests you would realise how many people from every different ethnic background of Canada (including many Natives) are pissed off and willing to fight back against the state. How dare you tell the oppressed that they have no right to use violence if they see fit. Are you the one who has had their heritage raped for Centuries?

    Carl, you seem to be living in a bubble… or on a high ivory tower… possibly both. What you fail to realise is that almost every comment you make is racist in some way or another and you fail to even TRY and see what we the protesters are trying to accomplish. The best people like you can say is we are trying to get our 15 minutes of fame and now is not the time, when you have no idea what we are actually thinking. There is no better time than now. You have to be truly blinded by ignorance no to see that.

    “If you are not angry, then you are not paying attention.”

    Great article. I’ll see you on the streets!

  6. bjorn morris
    November 21, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    whattttt the fuckkk

  7. December 8, 2011 at 4:39 am

    You do realize that at the time of the Heart Attack incident, the Hudson’s Bay company was owned by an American Company named Lord & Taylor, right? Regardless of one’s feelings on colonialism, I don’t think this was the best choice of targets…

  1. February 15, 2010 at 3:38 pm

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