AMY GOODMAN: The 2010 Winter Olympic Games are underway in Vancouver, Canada. The $40 million opening ceremony was held Friday night, kicking off an event that’s covered the host city in national flags and the logos of the Games’ corporate sponsors. The ceremony was held against the backdrop of tragedy, following the death of a Georgian luge team member during a practice session just hours before.
Unseasonably warm temperatures, meanwhile, are hindering some of the Olympic competition sites. Organizers have been forced to use helicopters and trucks to haul in snow for thinly covered mountains.
Well, our Olympic coverage begins today in the streets of Vancouver, where some say a historic convergence is taking place. Indigenous groups, anti-poverty activists and civil liberties advocates are some of the voices being heard in protest against the Olympic presence. Franklin Lopez of Vancouver’s Media Co-op has been following the Olympic protests. He filed this report.
FRANKLIN LOPEZ: A historic mobilization in Vancouver against the 2010 Winter Olympics has pushed back hard against the International Olympic Committee and the $6 billion sporting event. People of all political persuasions joined together to reject the Olympic industry, holding conferences, marches and carrying out direct actions aimed at undermining the image of the Olympics, an image critics say obscures the negative social and environmental impacts the Games bring with them. The primary slogan of the resistance movement is “No Olympics on stolen Native land,” referring to the immoral and illegal occupation of indigenous lands by settlers.
After years of organizing and mobilization, the anti-Olympics convergence got underway in Vancouver this weekend. Following dozens of protests and disruptions across Canada, the Olympic torch was blocked from passing through Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Here’s Melissa Elliot of Six Nations explaining why they blocked the torch.
MELISSA ELLIOT: With these 2010 Olympics, VANOC and the IOC, in partnership with Canada, is trying to create a false illusion. They’re creating a false illusion that Canada is good and has positive relations with our people. But we are here to break this illusion, to tell the truth, by declaring the following. We are not Canadian. We are not a defeated people. This land was never surrendered. Our nations and our people still exist and will continue to exist.
FRANKLIN LOPEZ: Next, residents of Commercial Drive, a historically progressive street, showed their collective resistance to the torch and what it represents.
PROTESTER: The people at Victory Square reportedly chased the torch as it continued to move. It’s on its way here now, or at least it’s on its way down Hastings.
FRANKLIN LOPEZ: Hip-hop artist Testament was present to lend his support.
TESTAMENT: Alright, well, we’re here today, because there’s been a call out by people of this community to stop the torch coming through Commercial Drive. So, many of my friends live in the neighborhood, so it’s a great place. So we want to avoid having the Olympics come through here with their bull [expletive] RBC and their bull [expletive] propaganda, their bull [expletive] Canadian flags. And we want to—you know, we want to reclaim this neighborhood. So, it’s what people are doing. We’re taking the streets. We’re taking this over. We’re blocking the torch. And we’re going to – we’re going to stand here. We’re going to stay here. We’re going to, like, occupy the [expletive] intersections and force them to reroute it.
FRANKLIN LOPEZ: Even the disrupted torch-bearer, Carrie Serwetnyk, could empathize with protesters, whose cause continued to gain support as the Games drew nearer.
CARRIE SERWETNYK: I think it’s great for people to have free speech, and I salute it. Some of my friends are there. But I’m a national team athlete, and—I was. And I’m in love with the Olympics, and I think the spirit has really uplifted our country in a better way than just complaining.
FRANKLIN LOPEZ: The torchbearer was loaded into a police car, a fitting symbol of the $1 billion spent on police, military and private security during the Olympic Games.
PROTESTERS: Hey, hey, hey, goodbye! Call and response! Call and response! Repeat after me! Repeat after me! What are we resisting? What are we resisting? Stolen Native land! Stolen Native land!
FRANKLIN LOPEZ: The main event of the day was a family-friendly rally and march titled Take Back Our City, organized by a coalition of groups called the 2010 Welcoming Committee. The evening brought out at least 3,000 protesters representing activists of all stripes, including indigenous sovereigntists and supporters, migrant justice and environmental justice groups, anti-poverty groups, queer rights organizations, and more. Harjap Grewal of the Olympic Resistance Network commented on the success of the mobilization.
HARJAP GREWAL: But we know the Olympics suck. What’s more important is this resistance. What’s more important is, is that I’m absolutely ecstatic that all of us today are going to take to the streets and give them a hit like they’ve never had before. The IOC didn’t know what was coming, but we’re here now, and let’s party!
GARTH MULLINS: Well, we’re going to take to the streets today. We’re going to do this because people said we couldn’t do it. People said you couldn’t have an amplified voice, like this one. People said you couldn’t have protest signs, like these ones. And people said you couldn’t go outside of a designated protest area. Well, the world is my designated protest area!
FRANKLIN LOPEZ: That was Garth Mullins, an anti-Olympic organizer from Vancouver. As darkness fell, demonstrators marched towards BC Place, where the opening ceremonies for the Games were taking place.
On Saturday morning, anti-capitalist activists took Georgia Street in downtown Vancouver in an action designed to block Olympic traffic from Vancouver to the resort town of Whistler. The action was billed as a heart attack, set to clog the arteries of capitalism. A brass band accompanied marchers who carried banners, shouted slogans, and advanced through the streets of downtown.
After blocking the street with dumpsters and paper boxes, a small contingency broke away from the crowd and smashed the windows of the Bay, a company with direct ties to Canada’s colonial past and an Olympic sponsor. Longtime Vancouver resident Maxim Winther explains.
MAXIM WINTHER: If you look at the stores and the industries that had their windows smashed, if you actually look at their history of what they’ve done—the Hudson’s Bay Company, exactly, it was the original government of this land. It was instrumental in bringing smallpox to the local people and, you know, policing the fur trade and, you know, the genocide that happened. Something like 90 percent of the people that lived here were taken out. And so, Hudson’s Bay has a hand in that.
FRANKLIN LOPEZ: Saturday’s actions were met with harsh violence coming from police, who beat demonstrators in the street, kenneled another group, and arrested thirteen.
On Sunday, an estimated 5,000 people turned out for the nineteenth annual Women’s Memorial March to honor missing and murdered women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. This event, led by indigenous women, was not an Olympic protest, but all activists were invited to stand beside them.
More actions are planned for Monday, when homelessness activists will erect a tent city, and an antiwar rally will highlight Canada’s military presence in Afghanistan.
AMY GOODMAN: That report was produced by Frank Lopez and a coalition of over forty independent media activists, including members of The Dominion paper, Victoria Indymedia, B Channel News, Rochester Indymedia, Friendly Fire Collective, Pittsburgh Indymedia, Upheaval Productions, SolidarityResponse.net, Pepperspray Productions and subMedia.tv. For more of the Vancouver Media Co-op’s coverage and analysis of the Olympic protests, you can go to vancouver.mediacoop.ca.