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In Vancouver

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On Saturday, a 23-year-old woman called Ashlie Gough died from a suspected overdose at the Occupy Vancouver protest site. Before the weekend, the city’s mayor, Gregor Robertson, had been treading carefully around the protest, stressing the need to avoid violent confrontation; his main opponent in the election due on 19 November, Suzanne Anton of the right-wing NPA party, had been demanding its closure. Both showed up for photo opportunities at the site on Sunday.

After the news of Gough’s death broke, Robertson declared the tent city a ‘health and safety hazard’. The Fire Department had been plodding about on the site last week and expressed strong concerns, which the occupiers resisted at first but later complied with. On Sunday evening the mayor released a statement which included the following ‘imminent life safety risks’:

enclosing of multiple tents with flammable tarps, tents positioned close together, and piles of personal belonging and other debris that contribute to the fire risk – all of which interfere with access by first responders;

evidence of propane use and other flammables within the encampment structures – something which has increased with the colder weather;

increasing use of IV drugs on the site.

He also said:

An ongoing Occupy Vancouver protest movement that expresses itself publicly can do so without an encampment on public space.

This is rather missing the point of the Occupy movement, which isn’t about holding a bake sale under a banner between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m and taking your dustpan home with you. But nor is it some kind of scruffy set-down for complaining crusties and lazy anarchist nutbars, who are about to go up in flames. I was underwhelmed the first couple of times I went, a few weeks ago, put off by the borrowed cross-border slogans and the offers of ‘free hugs’. But things have developed since then. With its emphasis on co-operation and collaboration, education and participation, the tent city is probably the most civilised place in Vancouver.

Comments on “In Vancouver”

  1. Bob Beck says:

    That may be — this is, arguably, not the friendliest of cities — but those protestors who have packed mayoral-election debates have not necessarily done the movement any favours.

    Nothing much wrong with heckling candidates — that’s part of the game — but if I can believe this morning’s CBC Radio report, even some community workers from the Downtown East Side were shouted down at last night’s meeting.

    I wasn’t there and can’t speak to that. Be all that as it may: the unspeakable Ms. Anton is possibly the least persuasive demagogue in the city’s history, but may yet be able to whip up enough hysteria on this to become mayor. If any protestors then smugly insist that there’s no difference between her and Robinson, they’ll lose my sympathy altogether.

  2. Bob Beck says:

    Oy. I meant of course “Robertson.” It’s still early, here.

  3. Bob,

    I say more about this on my blog mrsokana.wordpress.com. I am particularly perturbed by the scapegoating of the mentally ill and homeless and how their presence on the tent city site has been spun to suggest the protest is no longer legitimate.

    On the debate interrupting tactic, I watched it and found it v performative the way it shifted focus from the candidates (who are performing and it reminds us of this) and we never quite knew where the “performance” would settle because of the echo-feature. I was curious about the layering of audiences. The non-human mic audience who are present and the youtube audience and how neither really knows where the focus will land. This is redolent of a tactic within that movement which is not to state central demands.

    Many will dismiss it as downright rude or disrespectful. I would challenge that it ought to be examined as reflective of the fact people are “generally fed up with the state of things” and that includes the non-stop spin that politicians employ and deflect with and is a re-employment of that tactic. The terms of protest are changing and a new generation are no longer willing to protest only on comfortable, predictable terms.

    • Bob Beck says:

      Listening to Ms. Anton’s latest thoughts on this — which were reducible, more or less, to “it’s a mess” — I thought of a quotation from (I think) the sociologist Lorne Tepperman: “Canadians have so little experience of disorder that they fear it above all else.”

      This fear, or visceral reaction, is at the root of much of the commentary on the Occupy protests, whether from Anton, Gary Mason in the Globe and Mail, or even Robertson and other relatively progressive types. (I’m amazed that the egregious Barbara Yaffe, in the Sun, has so far spared us her wisdom on the subject, than which none will be more conventional). I was grateful to hear Judy Rebick say the other day, in effect: well, this is a radical movement, and radical movements involve some shouting and rudeness, but there are far worse things that can and do happen, all the time.

  4. The tension towards the act of protest being demonstrated demands thoughtful interrogation.

    As one generation makes new demands on protest, another (or is this even generational?) demands or insists on more familiar ideas and uses sometimes other examples of protest to dismiss the current one.

    I noted the first 20 or so comments below an opinion piece by an occupier in the Globe & Mail today appeared to indict the protester for the ability to turn up. There was a chorus of insistence it was a hopeless pursuit with little demonstrated understanding of what “it” may actually consist of. This blanket dismissal, which for many is based on media representations of what might be happening rather than turning up and finding out, is virulent. (values are invoked, heck one commenter invokes the euro-zone crisis, but what’s striking is how the commenters are so absolutely assured that this form of protest cannot work.)

    I return time and time again to the idea or image of people (en masse) sitting down at the point of transaction and I can’t help but wonder if this is what so terrifies.

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