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Decolonize Vancouver: Potential Highs and Lows

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Decolonize Vancouver: Potential Highs and Lows

I've never been a huge fan of large crowds in small rooms.

On Saturday 08 October 2011, I found myself in the basement of the W2 Media Cafe, feeling not exceptional, waiting for the forum to begin on the upcoming Occupy Vancouver action.

A large camera was pointed at my face, with some guy with a leer looking at me through its finder.

Before I could even say hello to an acquaintance I had spotted, he turned to me and said "Fuck this, it's too much," pulled his jacket up to his face and walked out through the crowd.

Before the forum even began, the presence of media was a problem. Several times people mentioned that none of the media there had identified themselves or whom they represented.

I had been quite unsure about attending in the first place, given the history between myself, others at the Media Co-op and W2. The city seems to have an easy time forgetting hypocrisy, and so I'd somewhat agreed to show up and if/when prompted point out the irony of meeting in the building that was the flagship of gentrification.

Before we were even 15 minutes into the forum, someone asked to move to the Woodwards atrium due to lack of space. Hundreds had shown up for the meeting: a remarkable thing to see. A friend from Ottawa who came in later asked me if all I saw were the usual suspects milling about; I had to reply that in fact I didn't know the majority of people at the event. I was elated when I said this.

Others have written on the potential for anarchism at the upcoming action, as well as the disturbing stance some of those involved have taken towards snitching. I'm writing about my reaction to the discussion seen yesterday, between a diverse group of people.

The atrium was soon full of people, waiting as facilitators explained how human microphones worked. For some reason the facilitators wanted to get right into creating committees without talking about what was being planned or a basis of unity. A number of voices talked about the need to address the latter before anything else.

Quote of the night came from the lady sitting in front of me, who turned around and said "It's a bit patriarchal to want to occupy the VAG, doin't you think?"

Nevertheless, people did not seem to want to discuss exactly what was going to be occupied.

It was a pleasant surprise to see everyone so open to the idea of having the unceded Coast Salish territory statement entered into the main text for the gathering. Although, even Gregor Robertson acknowledges Coast Salish lands (but without the unceded part). The group did nix the idea to change the name of the event coming up to "Decolonize Vancouver."

Before the first part of the meeting was done, someone whispered to me that two of the people standing on the stairs going up to nowhere were undercovers. Not a huge surprise given how ready the organizers were to speak to the police. A number of people called out the issues with doing this, and so the final point on the collective statement included something about safety from police brutality.

What really made me shake my head was hearing organizers, upon being questioned about having a basis of unity and the police question, hastily dismiss these as coming from " a fringe element."

What did make me pay attention and wake up from my dozing was when a facilitator, upon seeing an even split in what people wanted to do, confessed "I have no idea what to do at this point." There was hope yet, I thought to myself.

Someone at the back who was blocked when she asked for the setup of a safety committee for people within the demo (from issues such as sexual assault) decided to start the committee regardless: a brilliant instance of what real self-facilitation within a leaderless movement meant.

The very last image I had of the meeting before it split into committees and I zoned out was of one of the facilitators making a heart sign at the gathering and telling them they were just a fraction of those that would be there on the 15th. Watching her took me back to seeing protesters during last year's G20 convergence throw up peace signs, not too long before the police attacked them.

I've been organizing in this city since 2009. I went to my first student demo at 15 and never really looked back. I'm bringing some hope and optimism to the 15th, but also a level of caution that comes with having seen the importance trust and safety play in what is being planned.

 

_

Edit: I changed the paragraph about Woodwards to make plain my thoughts about the building's prominence in gentrifying the downtown east side.


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isaac (Isaac K. Oommen)
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same story in toronto

Thats very interesting, thanks for posting. It's very similar to what I saw at the organizing meeting in Toronto, which i wrote about here http://megantron.blogspot.com/2011/10/no-consensus-on-occupy-toronto.html There also they were eager to break into small groups right away before anything at all could be decided. But they also insisted on 100% consensus and refused to allow any votes to happen and basically ignored the crowd when it didn't seem like it was going their way. Has this somehow become standard organizing practice?  I think that it was the least democratic meeting I've ever been to, and if this is the standard I'm a bit worried.

Thanks for your writing. You

Thanks for your writing. You shared your experience very well. I appreciate your perspective and feel confident you will do well. 

I sound like a fortune cookie!

But seriously - I look forward to what will happen next in the world today.

To the commenter from Toronto - the thing to think about is the term "they". Who are "they"? We're all in this together. Trust and participate. Be brave.

There's that fortune cookie again ~

Thanks, I'll watch for your writing.

tf

 

 

thanks, i'm glad you are

thanks, i'm glad you are reading it. "they" refers to the facilitators. I'd rather use 'we' but since I feel like the ignored the crowd and just steered the meeting wherever they wanted it to go, i feel that the 'they' usurped the 'we'- i'd rather be the latter.  That's my perspective anyway.

moving forward

>insisted on 100% consensus

yes, there was no consensus on Megan's proposal to vote, so the meeting moved on. According to Megan, the meeting began and ended with her proposal to vote. But for the rest of us... the meeting went on, and planing for the Oct 15th OccupyToronto is progressing. I hope Megan will reconsider and join OccupyToronto. We are 99% of the population, and there's plenty of room for friendly disagreement, but I think there's definite agreement that Bay Street is the problem.

In Solidarity

If I disagree there is no 100% consensus

Exactly, there was non consensus on my proposal to vote and there was also no consensus on consensus!

This was my perspective from the meeting on my blog, not journalistic coverage of the event so I do focus on my experience of the meeting. I'm sure not everyone had the same. BUT. How can you have 100% consensus if one person (me) disagrees? I don't think you can. This is why i'm against 100% consensus so that if I disagree with everyone else just because I'm being contrary, the meeting can still move forward.  If i felt this way, and many others have posted around that they felt similarly, then how can you claim to have 100% consensus? I am really not understanding this.

Thanks for the invitation to join, I'm still very much planning on being involved in the movement, I just think we need to set up a democratic process now while the thing is still young. I also think that we, the people at the meeting, need to elect the facilitator so that they aren't just self-appointed. 

 

 

I was there for about half an

I was there for about half an hour. Before the meeting started, I was sketched about the number of cameras around. And then, surprise surprise, they had to move the meeting from its downstairs basement location (with no cell service) to the atrium, where idiots couldn't stop twittering and posting pictures of the event. I left when a twitter pal let me know he could see pictures of me there. And the OccupyVancouver people LIVESTREAMED it without telling anyone ahead of time and without consent. I feel so fucking violated and sold out by this assembly.

Very Mixed Feelings

I have very mixed feelings about "Occupy Vancouver."  On the one hand, it is great to see young folk, especially those who are not the "usual suspects," organizing new areas of struggle.  I generally believe it is preferable to allow younger organizers, especially those new to the struggle, to make their mistakes while learning from them, rather than criticize or attack them.

However, there are also some very troubling aspects with OV and it would be irresponsible for more experienced activists not to point them out.  For starters, their decision to "invite" the police, presumably as a way to forestall any potential problems, is a completely counter-productive strategy.  Police are not interested in ensuring you have a "successful" event or to facilitate your "democratic right to protest."  Their sole purpose is to gather intelligence and monitor your event with the aim of controlling (or repressing) it. 

My guess is that OV will stay within the acceptable bounds of protest (for example, by limiting itself to the grounds of the Art Gallery).  As the weather becomes chilly and wet and people start drifting away, the "occupation" will simply peter out with organizers calling it a day (while perhaps claiming some symbolic "victory").  If there is a "hardcore" that refuses to leave, the VAG or city will simply obtain a court injunction which police will, of course, enforce at their convenience.

Most people have heard of "good cop-bad cop" (if for no other reason than watching it depicted on TV cop dramas).  It's a shame more activists don't seem to understand how the tactic actually works.  While the nice, pleasant and seemingly cooperative "public affairs" cop chats amiably with you, handing out her card to organizers saying "just call my cell anytime you have any problems, we're here to help," the hyper-violent and tooled-up cops from the "Crowd Control Unit" are on standby, temporarily out of sight and mind, but ready and willing to act if symbolic "protest" becomes actual resistance (say, by taking the adjoining streets as part of their "occupation").

The disrespect shown to experienced activists (such as the ludicrous claim to have "looked for but not found" such folk, as well as the attack on Chris Shaw) speaks to a certain level of arrogance, even contempt, regarding the previous work of others, as well as their experiences and perspectives, by OV organizers.  Perhaps this is because they regard such people as "anarchists" and thus not worthy of consideration, or even welcome at the event itself (at least if certain public proclamations of organizers are to be believed)?

To any anarchists or anti-capitalists who plan on attending this event (especially those who are leafleting or otherwise displaying any of the symbols of anarchy such as masks, black and red flags or shirts/patches/buttons that have the word "pig" on them), please exercise caution.  It would not surprise me to see organizers pointing out "anarchists" and "trouble-makers" to police or otherwise draw attention to their unwanted presence by, say, "non-violently" surrounding them in an effort to marginalize or exclude their participation.

Finally, the frankly neo-colonial attitudes of at least some OV organizers is disconcerting.  Over the past number of years, it has become standard practice for organizers in "Vancouver" to acknolwledge that they are, in fact, organizing on land that has been violently stolen from its original inhabitants.  This has come after decades of often poor relationships between the largely white (European-descended) left and indigenous communities.  To see another non-native group of activists repeat this dynamic by refusing to even consider a simple name change (no doubt wanting to cash in on the current popularity of the "Occupy Wall Street" brand) leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

 

 

 

 

 

Not involved yet, but my thoughts.

I think that the distance from existing activist communities and especially specific causes is a very deliberate decision on the part of the Occupy movement to attempt to build a broad and inclusive coalition.   While issues of colonialization are always present here in Vancouver, the suggestion to rename the event Decolonize Vancouver is absolutely an attempt to co-opt a global movement by local activists, and I'm glad that it failed, despite the good intentions.   Decolonization is a discussion that I'm sure we will be having on October 15th and onward, as working towards economic and environmental justice necessitates it.

The police issue is a sensitive one, especially here and now in Vancouver.   There is a very real sense that things could go absolutely sideways fast, as the VPD are still in damage-control mode from the riot, and will be under heavy public scrutiny on Saturday.   They want things to remain peaceful just as much as they do, this is a major event and any arrests will be reported globally, and they know that.   With all that in mind I think the decision to bring them into the loop was the right one, as it offers the opportunity for non-adversarial interaction.  Unfortunately the biggest issue here is Robertson's total silence on the event - he needs to set the tone, and is tragically absent.

Stay uninvolved

Decolonization is a discussion that I'm sure we will be having on October 15th and onward, as working towards economic and environmental justice necessitates it.

Or, at least we will continue saying that we'll eventually have it, while not ever really having it.

With all that in mind I think the decision to bring them into the loop was the right one, as it offers the opportunity for non-adversarial interaction.

History proves you wrong.

Unfortunately the biggest issue here is Robertson's total silence on the event - he needs to set the tone, and is tragically absent.

Yeah maybe he'll give you shares in Happy bloody Planet and you can sing kum-baya together as the police lines advance.

Stay uninvolved?

Isaac - Stay univolved?

There are big risks involved in every moment of social turmoil. So maybe it is safer to just occasionally throw in a snide comment on the internet.

Maybe we can arrange for some nice neat, pure turmoil with a guarantee that you will get your way next time. More at  http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/blog/edoherty/8366

At someone who isn't involved

At someone who isn't involved but wants to write about best practices (I.e. the commenter I was replying to), yeah.

Nothing doing on the turmoil - there's plenty already and I don't remember asking for any. And yes, a lovely comment you linked to. I remember reading it for the first time on FB and thinking it was an excellent idea, from someone who isn't here at the moment.

Great thoughts on the subject

Great thoughts on the subject from Stainsby.   Occupy is an enormous educational and outreach opportunity and offers the possibility of a broad coalition in the future... it's important that we don't strangle it in its infancy with in-fighting.   It hasn't even begun yet and people have already written it off, and that's tragic and counterproductive.

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