Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Conflicted Feelings Re: Friday

Should I commute to Vancouver to be part of the anti-Olympics demonstration on the 12th, meeting (of course) in front of the art gallery at 3pm? I have to come into the city in the next couple of days regardless, but it doesn't have to be Friday. Much as the idea of taking back our city appeals to me, I can't quite make up my mind on whether to go to this one.

Arguments in favour:

1. I should turn out to be physically present to support the "side" of this whole sorry plight that I THINK I most sympathize with - the people I perceive as the good guys.

2. If things turn ugly - and I am almost certain they will - good people may need my help, and history will need witnesses, since the mainstream media is biased as hell.

3. Part of my disinclination to go stems from laziness, apathy, despair, and a sense of the total pointlessness of the gesture. These are not states of mind I ideally want to base my actions on.

4. We live in an age where real, organic human community is being discouraged and dismantled left and right. People - including myself! - stay in their own little cubicles (apartment, workplace, car, whatever), expressing their need for community and communication to an increasing degree online, through various new technologies that - while they do reinforce your own identity - often do so at the expense of extracting you from the people who are actually physically around you. The various lines out of our cubicle both compensate for our alienation and reinforce it, and because they're gadget-dependent, require participating in the marketplace in a way that getting to know your neighbours simply doesn't. Better yet, thanks to cellphones, laptops and such, you can now bring your cubicle with you everywhere you go - so you can not only ignore your neighbours, but damn near anyone who isn't on your contact list. ...In such a world, there is something fundamentally healthy and pro-social about the idea of getting together with other human beings to work towards a voluntarily shared goal; protest marches can be one such manifestation of this, important in what they do to bring you together with your fellows, even if the cause is long lost. There is catharsis, fellowship, empowerment to be had. Rare things, these days, not to be underestimated.

Mind you, my own personal favourite way of amassing with others is the Zombiewalk; but if you look at that great Zombiewalk photo of me from a couple of years back - if you can read through the fake blood on my shirt - I have "Tombs Not Games" written on it (you might have to take my word for it):

Photo by Femke, Zombie by Kyla

5. Finally, in the event that things happen of some weightiness, I'm not sure I really want to be left out, y'know? ...sitting here in Maple Ridge watching a fuckin' riot on TV...

Arguments against:

1. In terms of doing any good for the city itself, it seems a pointless gesture. The Olympics are here. It's a done deal. While protests and actions leading up to the Olympics may have had the effect of encouraging VANOC and the city to tread carefully and be mindful of the Wrath Of The People, at this point, there doesn't seem much that a mass protest can accomplish for this city, ESPECIALLY if it turns ugly. The old "Battle In Seattle" argument was that the protests empowered smaller voices to speak up against things they didn't like in the WTO agenda, but the only thing we'll be able to stop IF we take things to that level are fucking sports events. Big woo.

No: the damage, as I say, has been done. We have a massive debtload, imperilled or cancelled funding for socially-minded or arts-oriented programs, and a divide between the "enfranchised rich" and the disenfranchised average folks/ poor that seems as bad as it's been in my lifetime - tho' I'm thinking of the ideological divide more than the economic one. We have an unrecognizable, mutated Granville Street and an unnecessary rail line to the airport and so forth, screaming as testimony to the misplaced priorities of the city. We have countless unique little businesses and venues closed; never mind my constant weeping about Noize To Go, Richards On Richards, The Cobalt, and other victims of the city's vast greed-driven real estate/ development shakeup that I will forever associate with 2010 - I even miss Macks' Leathers! Not being gay or into bondage, I never once went in there until they had their 'closing out' sign up, but I was well used to bemusedly peering at their constantly kinky window displays. I quite liked knowing that gays into S&M had, basically, a store for them - not many cities in the world do, and Vancouver has now joined the number of cities in the world that don't, making it less unique, less like the Vancouver I knew and loved - which is the case with so many of the changes the city has seen. We also have a plethora of private security guards directly charged to serve the interests of capital, on the one hand, while on the other, we have a miserable and disenfranchised homeless/ mentally ill/ addicted population that are still in many cases not being given the help they need (tho' depending on who you talk to, the situation can be spun as being better or worse now than it's been in the past. My own subjective impression is that there have been a lot fewer people sleeping in doorways this past year than there were in years previous, but maybe they've all been made into Soylent Green?). Like it or not, this is the new Vancouver, wounded deeply and hastily sprayed with thick makeup to keep the bruises from showing. The tourists will never know the difference, but surely those of us with an attachment to the city should be thinking about healing our wounds and rebuilding, not about increasing the costs of the games even further. We're the ones who will be paying them, after all, not the IOC or VANOC or such...

2. So never mind what good demonstrations could do for Vancouver, at this point: not much good CAN be done. But what about showing the IOC and other cities faced with the choice of hosting the games in the future that people won't stand for being pushed aside and gagged? Assuming that's a desirable goal, it seems to me that in order to achieve it, to really make the point, marching in the street isn't enough - as I imagine the disenfranchised anarcho-cheerleaders who have been spraypainting "Riot 2010" around the city would agree. Marches and chants don't merit a minute of media attention, however sincere they may be; count up the number of millions people who marched against the US invasion of Iraq - me included! - and place your total next to the fact that the US is still occupying that country, to see how meaningful marches are. In the current climate, they're a joke, in terms of producing any sort of tangible result; the system has long since figured out how to compensate for whatever inconvenience they cause, through a clever policy of both facilitating them (with police escorts and planned routes and such), and ignoring them (in the media, say). They might make you feel good - and yeah, raising some shit about the Olympics might do my heart a bit of good - but they don't change much, otherwise.

No, if you want to make an impact, if you want the protest to be noticed (for good or bad), you've got to go further than walking the approved route. Seems to me that you have to actually disrupt shit, which I've read in the news is something various activists are for doing with their protests. While I don't advocate this position myself, it seems so self-evident to me that I cannot but imagine it is equally evident to at least some of the people who are coming out on Friday. It is a view the city certainly seems well acquainted with; they seem prepared to get very heavy-handed if they should need to suppress such gestures. And jeez, man, that polarization scares me a lot. I don't want people to get hurt. I don't want an excuse for riot cops with truncheons and tear gas to descend upon a crowd of protestors. I don't want small businesses and private property to get trashed. And I certainly don't want to get clubbed or gassed or trampled or such, if things descend into chaos. Even if it could possibly do some good - even if there is some point to putting our bodies themselves in the path of juggernaut and saying we will not be moved - the price could be very high indeed. It's easier and wiser at this point to just let them have their fucking games. They've won - they won a long time ago. It's fucking depressing, but they are simply stronger than we are, and there's no point in pretending otherwise.

3. Besides, I have my Mom to look out for. If I don't really want to be here in Maple Ridge watching Riot 2010 on TV - I don't much want her watching it on TV and knowing that I'm in the city while it's going on.

4. And there'd be reason for her to worry, because if I were to go - I could seriously see myself getting neck-deep in shit. I have a lot of anger in me at what has been done to our city these last years. I have anger at a lot of things, actually, from the fact that Vancouver city council hasn't made it illegal for landlords not to tell tenants that they're moving into a building with bedbugs, for example, to the fact that the culture that seems most vital to me in Vancouver, the punk and underground culture, is something I can barely ever get paid to write about... A lot of my anger has nothing to do with the Olympics by any stretch - that medical neglect played a role in my father's death of cancer, that I can't find a speech therapist in Maple Ridge to work with my mother, that I'm in debt and single and living in the town where I grew up, and that I had to throw out tons of my stuff for fear of bedbug infestations to get here... If circumstances aligned themselves so that some of my anger could come pouring out, at the moment, I fear what I might do. When I lose my temper lately, it's pretty ugly. It's probably best for me not to attend a demonstration that I fear might turn into a riot.

5. And I'm not even sure a violent protest WOULD do good - or would be the "right" thing to do. In the eyes of the media, if things did get bad, Vancouver's anti-Olympics camp would be portayed as pathological, loonie-left spoilsports and thugs. And as much as I sympathize with the anti-Olympics voices in this city - I'm not sure that there isn't some truth to that portrayal, to be honest. A student of mine once explained a South Korean proverb to me, that translates roughly as "lie on the bed and spit" - meaning, you snipe at the efforts of others from a position of passivity and comfort. We west coasters are a soft, catered-to bunch, given to taking for granted the many bounties nature bestows on us here - the nice warm climate and the lovely scenery - to say nothing of having all the pot we can smoke and, compared to a lot of places in the world, a reasonably tolerant, benevolent, and responsive state (the fact that Vancouver has kept InSite open for so long, against the obvious wishes of the federal government, is testimony to this). I wonder if our relative comfort - along with our maximal disenfranchisement from the European sources of our dominant cultural values, here on the fringes of the great push westwards - has something to do with how bitchy punks like me are? We're lazy, soft creatures on most days, we Vancouverites, and there's nothing that lazy, soft creatures like to do so much as complain. Vancouverites as a whole seem to be anti-progress, anti-development, anti-business, anti-growth. We respond to news of such things with a deeply ingrained knee-jerk cynicism, mistrust, and anger. Nothing has yet pissed me off so much about the Olympics as the fact that I was woken up by the torch coming through Maple Ridge. Maybe that says something about me?

And fuck, who knows... Maybe there's some good side to the Olympics that I'm simply not seeing. It seems so insane to me that any city would consider this orgy of capital and falsehood a desirable thing, at this point, that I clearly have missed some element of their appeal - maybe part of what I'm not getting is essential to appreciating their value? Certainly my ESL students almost unanimously have thought that having the Olympics in Vancouver is just peachy. There are a lot of people who do, who ally themselves with the side of capital and say what's good for them is good for us, that we all will profit from our six billion dollar debtload in the long run. What is it they're seeing, that I'm missing? Maybe the fault is with me?

The last time I went out to a protest was when some lawyer was trying to get Bush arrested as a war criminal when he came into Canada; I have no doubt in my mind that Bush IS a war criminal, so as silly as that movement appeared - since not even AMERICANS have been able to bring that sonofabitch to justice - I got my ass out the door, to show my support. I'm not personally happy with the perceived negative costs of the Olympics, but I'm not quite as convinced of their evil, as an institution, as I was of the evil of the Bush regime. (Their folly, yes, but not their evil). Am I prepared to get clubbed on the principle of decrying the evils of the 2010 Olympics? Am I prepared to take this one to the man?

Maybe if I'd read Five Ring Circus, I'd feel differently, but right now, my inclination is to sit this one out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, do come join us! :-D

I don't think things will get ugly at all on Friday. OK, maybe on some sectors, but the larger part should be family-safe for all that I know. Saturday might be another story, so just don't come on Saturday. Plus some pro-Olympic people will be there on Friday at the Art Gallery, and we will have the opportunity to talk to each other, unmediated. Some good could come out of that.

The damage to Vancouver has been done, but you can save part of the damage that is going to come to London or Rio. People from Chicago were grateful to us. And we're inspiring for people in Barcelona and Zaragoza (I'm from Spain, so those are the ones I know about). Games are different than wars, these things can't happen without the local population accepting them, the party just moves elsewhere if there's too much opposition during the bid.

We are hitting international news (at least a bit), even without the violence. I find that awesome. And it would be so good that we could embarrass the ICO into being slightly more decent the next time, just think about it...

Anyway, loved your "tombs not games" xD