Setting the Record Straight on Violent Protest and the Olympics
“Will you go on record denouncing violent protest?”
You can bet that any member of the Olympic Resistance Network, and most anyone publicly opposed to the Olympics, has heard that question at least once -- whether it's from newscasters, neighbors, family, or co-workers. In the lead-up to the Anti-Olympic Convergence in Vancouver this February, it's understandable that people want some solid answers.
Unfortunately, they are asking trick questions.
The concept of violent protest is linguistic smoke and mirrors. Not only are most so-called “violent protests” actually instances of police violence, but the term “violent protest” has been over-used by headline-hungry media to the point of meaninglessness. Ask someone to define it and they hem and haw. Some will point to images of black-clad youth with covered faces, shouting slogans in the streets. People like Liberal MLA Harry Bloy will point to “noisy” and “inconvenient” demonstrations like the one at the Victoria Torch Relay kick-off, and will throw in the moniker “terrorist” for good measure.
Others speak anxiously of property destruction, dragging out the tired broken-windows cliché (a rarity at most demonstrations). At best, someone might dig up an example, like the smattering of anonymous arson attacks against the unoccupied buildings of RBC, an Olympic sponsor and financier of the Alberta Tar Sands.
The greatest commonality between these remarkably diverse scenarios is perhaps the fact that in none of them did protesters target human or animal life. This begs the question: What really constitutes violence, and which kinds of violence go unnamed? Ironically, groups like the Olympic Resistance Network oppose the Olympic industry precisely because the Olympics are destructive, violent and disruptive. While the corporate media trumpets headlines about possible “protester violence” as an apologia for police repression, the real perpetrators of violence fly right under the radar.
Take Bud Mercer, for example – the “top cop” in charge of the Vancouver Integrated Security Unit. In 1995, Mercer participated in a paramilitary operation against Ts'peten activists occupying a Sun Dance site near Gustafsen Lake – in other words, against people occupying their own land. In 1997, he pepper-sprayed UBC students protesting the APEC Summit. In 2000, Mercer cut cables to the tree-sit platforms of environmental activists in the Elaho Valley (the activists were saved by back-up cables and branches below them). Doesn't this all seem a bit, well... violent?
Or take the clear-cutting associated with Olympic land development. Since trees are living organisms and not privately owned, there has been precious little uproar over the 100 000 of them that have been logged from critical habitat at Eagleridge Bluffs, Whistler, Skwelkwek’welt (Sun Peaks) and in the Callaghan Valley.
But if setting fire to a single building is a criminal act, what about razing a forest? If concern about “broken windows” is genuine, where was the outcry during the demolition of social housing at Little Mountain last November? The City of Vancouver shattered at least a couple thousand panes of glass, not to mention a vibrant community and over 200 low-income housing units. I have yet to witness a protest as ambitious.
Perhaps this month, while waiting hours for over-burdened transit or idling in Olympic gridlock, Vancouverites will find time to ruminate on the true meaning of “disruption.” Perhaps, after the thousandth tale of police brutality in the Downtown Eastside, we will begin to address the real meaning of “violence.” Or perhaps, on witnessing the scale of ecological devastation on unceded indigenous lands, some well-heeled tourist will have a momentary understanding of “destruction.”
Remind me again who we are denouncing?