Vancouver's Post Olympic Community
We live in the age of cynicism. And there are a lot of things in this world to be cynical about.
But Vancouver's Olympics should not be one of them.
There were many skeptics heading into the Games, including myself. We feared that that the IOC expected us to be as timid as Beijingers. We saw attempts to restrict our rights and freedoms. We saw a very tight and controlled message coming from VANOC. We saw a corporate countdown clock installed on the grounds of one of Vancouver's most cherished historical buildings, a meeting place for the progressives of our city. We saw our politicians try to impose some "civil city" nonsense on us. We saw promises regarding homelessness predictably broken. We saw the economic situation make for very shaky VANOC finances, which we are ultimately responsible for. A poll conducted before the Games showed the level of this skepticism, with 37% of Metro Vancouver respondents saying they felt disgust for VANOC.
However, on the eve of these Games, our city inhaled. If we were going to pay for the party, we might as well enjoy it!
And enjoy it we did. We cheered when our athletes were brilliant in the greatest moments of their lives. We fretted when they came up short. We laughed and shook our heads at the seeming myriad of mistakes that were magnified in the media. We sang along at the world class musical events that were occurring every night all over the Lower Mainland. We oohed and awed at the marvelous opening ceremonies and at nightly fireworks shows. We chatted with visitors from all over the world, showing a level of courtesy and respect that has been met with rave reviews in the world press.
For some of us, we did these things with a nagging sense of guilt. Who were we to be jumping on the bandwagon? Were we giving in to the propaganda?
I don't think so. The response in this city could not have been manufactured by VANOC, or controlled, for that matter. It was open, genuine, friendly, happy. We live in a cold, wet city, and we needed a release, a way of coming together for a joint purpose.
In the end, these Games could not be any more different from what we saw in Beijing in 2008. Yes, their Games ran like clockwork. They spent inordinate amounts of money trying to show their best face to the world. But all they showed was a bunch of now empty buildings, a pretty young singer who couldn't even sing, a hollow shell of their true society. The people of Beijing knew their role - stay home, don't do anything to embarrass their great powerful nation.
In the lead up to the Olympics, there were signs that the organizers wanted the same things. Hide the homeless. Unveil a meaningless clock just like Beijing had. Tell us where and how we could express our rights and freedoms. Protect the trademarks at all cost.
To our credit, we pushed back. We rallied behind leaders like David Eby to show that we were going to stand up for ourselves in the face of corporate/government oppression. We were determined to show the true face of Vancouver, warts and all, and we didn't want anyone telling us how to behave. Our society is individualistic, and we abhor any attempts to control us. Tell us we can't protest, and we'll flock to the streets.
But give us our freedoms, and we'll use them positively. Vancouver came together as a community, as an open, inclusive society. We didn't just show the world our city - we welcome everyone in.
Now that the Games are over, we can exhale. And looking back, we're proud of what we achieved. VANOC, for all their faults, did a pretty good job. I think even the biggest skeptics can agree that the doomsday scenarios they predicted just did not materialize. Our much maligned city police showed a surprising level of restraint, all with smiles and good cheer.
Those who would reduce their fellow citizens to drunken idiots show a real lack of tolerance and collective spirit. It's your narrow worldview, not ours. People of all ages, all backgrounds, all ethnicities were on the streets joining hands in celebration. Where were you?
Moving forward, can we forget about the challenges our city faces? Absolutely not. Homelessness abounds. Mental illness and drug abuse are prevalent on our streets.
But maybe we can channel some of this energy into solving these problems? By one count a million dollars a day are currently being funneled into the Downtown Eastside, but what have we achieved?
If we can pull off one of the biggest events in the world, there is no reason we cannot take a concerted approach to solving the problems that have stymied us. But if we keep looking in the past, revisiting arguments that are past their prime, we'll never get anywhere.