While the Paralympic Games in Vancouver will not end until March 21, the largest part of the Olympic fever has flared and faded. Being of those obsessed with the Vancouver Games, I am now left with one less distraction. But the web sites I checked and the videos I watched were of a very different nature than those most people consumed. My attention was focused on the anti-Olympic convergence that took place on unceded and occupied Coast Salish Territory (commonly known as Vancouver) between February 15-20, 2010.
Due to my staunch opposition to the corporate carnival named the 2010 Olympic Games, I spent many hours explaining myself, debating and becoming frustrated with family members, friends, and strangers. As a coping method, I wrote a little about it. In an effort to reach a broader audience, that draft later materialized into the words you are currently reading. This article, however, is not written in order to expose and detail the harmful impacts of the Games. I feel that although those negative effects were not given a credible amount of coverage, the average student not already aware of them can easily find more information by searching the Internet (for example, for “no 2010”). My intention is to deconstruct some of the arguments I faced and give voice to what is an ignored, misunderstood movement.
The most common and certainly the most frustrating statement I heard was: “Why protest? It’s not like you’re going to stop the Games from happening.” Whether or not you agree that the colonial, hyper-capitalist nature of the Games have an adverse affect on the marginalized groups and environment of the host city, the argument that protest is worthless simply holds no weight. We were all taught as children that being silent in the face of oppression creates an atmosphere of complicity, making those who stay silent no worse than the oppressor. Yet when privileged groups do not feel implicated in current forms of oppression, this rhetoric is ignored. All of a sudden, protesting the inevitable Olympics is painted over as futile.
I never imagined that the Games would stop completely. That said, silence was not an option. The collective direct action to disrupt the Games and garner attention for key issues achieved tangible results due to direct action (not limited to the protests and blockades across Canada and in Vancouver). The establishment of Tent Village, an improvised settlement in a parking lot in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, added additional weight to the affordable housing movement. As a result of their actions, 40 homeless residents of Tent Village have been housed in B.C. housing units across the Lower Mainland.
The efforts to highlight the ongoing colonization of indigenous lands within Canada (exemplified by the slogan “No Olympics on Stolen Land”) was quite effective. It is hard to quantitatively measure the results of the Convergence since it is a part of a larger movement playing out over decades, not weeks. I can confidently say, however, that the movement succeeded in holding its own weight and making its presence known during the Games.
Another misunderstanding I often encountered was rooted in the merits and concept of nationalism. The social and environmental struggles exacerbated by the Games were often dismissed in the name of “building national pride.” The definition of Canadian identity and nationalism withstanding, to view the “building of pride” as more important than police repression of impoverished communities and the loss of stable housing, is simply offensive. If you truly cared about your country, then you would try and make it better – not just wave a flag.
It is unjust that Canada’s social programs will continue paying for the Olympics’ $6-billion debt for years to come. I stand in solidarity with those adversely affected by the Games and extend a challenge to those who were apathetic toward the movement. Please take the time to research the many faces of the Olympic Games and hold your own conversations about them.
Julia Fishlock is a U1 Chemical Engineering student. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.