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Tactics for Democratizing Media During the Olympics and Beyond


Hendrik Beune walks into the cafeteria at the Carnegie Centre in Vancouver, scratches his cell phone number on his business card and passes it over to me. The back of the card has an imprint: Biluminous Solutions = ethological reporting! (his exclamation mark). He explains its meaning as, "Observing how something relates to its environment is like finding sources of light in the dark." Beune and April Smith are directors of AHA Media, self-described hyper local citizen journalists. "My wish", Smith says, "is that AHA Media be a democratic system that is made for messages from the Downtown East Side."


Smith and Beune have deep ties to the community in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) of Vancouver. They believe that the democracy of information, new media, and social media are good things for this community of marginalized residents. "We can support each other by showing what is happening in the DTES and broadcast it out on a local level, national level, and to the world," says Smith. They both agree that this is especially important during the Olympics. John Douglas, a poet working with AHA Media doesn't have much faith in CanWest and other mainstream media portraying what will be happening on the streets of Vancouver during the Olympics.  "According to them, the 'world is coming here to party'. My take on that as a veteran Single Room Occupancy inmate is that the rich 5% of the world are coming here to party."


Single Room Occupancy (SRO) accommodation in the DTES is in disarray. Douglas explains that he lives in a building where there is no security. Anything of value that is left in his room will be taken the moment he leaves. Given the opportunity, he'd like to put his poetry online, but he won’t risk having a computer. Beune sees bridging the digital divide in the community a key for reaching those in SROs and aboriginal youth.


The W2 Community Media Centre in the massive Woodwards redevelopment is helping bridge the divide. The result of persistent of strong community advocacy, W2 is poised to become a cultural hub for the arts, community groups, and residents in Vancouver. Construction delays have slowed the opening of the Centre in the heritage portion of the development, and in the interim it operates out of a space across the street. They're in the process of getting ready for the Olympics.


"W2 is all about using intelligent tactics to provide a place for Vancouverites to tell their stories", says Irwin Oostindie, executive director. Although partially embedded in the Olympics in their relationship with the Cultural Olympiad, they are comfortable with the dialogue that will result from the games. "We're an independent cultural institution that provides guaranteed access for its citizens for training, access, broadcast, and sharing their stories," says Oostindie. With partners in alternative, independent, and citizen journalism, they expect to be here long after the Olympics leave.


Global marquee events such as the Olympics create complex tensions within a host city such as Vancouver. This tension is manifest on the streets of the city, within the venues of the site, and in the critical and celebratory conversations that take place around the event. Beune believes there will be demonstrations at the Games about free speech, and media activist groups have plans to be there.


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