Hurting the cause -

Hurting the cause

Violence turns the locals against anti-Olympic protesters


Hurting the causeVancouver, a visiting writer once remarked, “can dress up and act quite sophisticated when she wants.” Never has the city looked as chic as it did last week, with streets festooned in the colours of an Olympic celebration and lineups for star-studded parties winding around its city blocks. But when masked protesters descended on the downtown core on the first day of competition—smashing windows and spray-painting cars—Vancouver flashed another side of her multi-faceted personality: one that likes to drop the gloves.

No sooner had the black-clad demonstrators broken windows at the Bay department store and TD Tower than average folks began abandoning the safety of hotel rooms and waterfront condos to defend the city’s honour. “These people are trying to cause damage to Vancouver,” said 29-year-old Jon Reisenger, a Canadian who lives in Spokane, Wash. “The less of this mess the news media can see, the better it is for Vancouver.” Reisenger, who came to the Olympics as part of an organization that provides product discounts for athletes, spent his morning righting the newspaper and mailboxes the protesters had overturned and dragged into the street. At times, he verbally sparred with the marchers, laughing off their threats to do him harm.

One group of angry residents managed to isolate a male demonstrator who had a green bandana over his face. “I came out here and I did good,” he said defiantly. “And I’m going to go home tonight and sleep like a baby.” “Why don’t you take off that mask if you’re so damned proud?” someone shouted back. And with that, the protester stormed away.

Even some of the locals whose interests the protesters purport to represent lashed back. Brannon Brassard, a resident of the city’s hard-scrabble Downtown Eastside for the past 15 years, dismissed the spectacle as an excuse to run riot. He bristled when a middle-aged, seemingly middle-class woman walking with the marchers asked if he “believed in homelessness.” “Lady,” he said with a shake of his head, “I’ve been homeless.”

The hostility comes as something of a surprise, as polls leading up to the Games suggested the public sympathized with Olympic critics and their grab bag of causes. In one B.C.-wide survey, fewer than one out of two polled figured the event would have a positive impact on their province. Callers to Vancouver radio shows complained about traffic interruptions, the cost to taxpayers, and the disruptions caused by the construction phase of the Games.

But the crankiness dissipated as athletes and visitors began flooding into the city. And when an opening-day protest forced a diversion of the final torch relay, causing a group of veterans to miss the event, sentiment toward the demonstrators soured. By the following morning, when the window-smashing took place, members of the public were literally cheering on the riot squad as it clattered through the city’s west end, blocking off the troublemakers with bodies, batons and shields. Three people faced charges, and the general attitude was best summed up by a woman reading the paper at a nearby diner: “They come here to break our windows. I’d like to see someone break their legs.”

Police could take at least partial credit for the turn in public opinion, as their refusal to get dragged into physical confrontations won favour in a city that remembers vividly the pepper-spraying of peaceful protesters during an APEC conference in 1997. They also employed an effective divide-and-conquer strategy that involved splitting the most unruly mobs into smaller groups, leaving them scattered and conspicuously less confident. Jim Chu, the city’s police chief, said the officers aimed to pry away the harder, “criminal element” who “hide among the legitimate protesters.”

All of it has left more peaceful demonstrators—representing causes ranging from environmental conservation to Aboriginal land claims—in a quandary. They won’t get much attention unless they force some sort of confrontation. But the self-styled anarchists willing to step over the line are angering their intended audience—if not outright scaring them. Even the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, a supporter of the right of protesters to use the Games as a platform, abandoned its practice of sending observers to ensure police don’t abuse their authority when it heard last week’s march might get ugly. “We have to assess everything for the safety of our observers,” spokesman David Eby told the Vancouver Sun.

Jasmin Mujanovic, a 23-year-old marcher who watched things get out of hand last Saturday, wasn’t about to apologize for his more militant comrades. “There are more homeless people in this city right now than there are athletes,” he said. “Nobody’s crying for them.” Perhaps. But as long as their advocates keep stirring the city’s inner tough guy, that seems unlikely to change.


Hurting the cause

  1. There are a lot of troubling things in this article. Most prominently is the idea that structural "violence" is automatically a bad thing. Why is breaking windows an abhorrent act of violence, while our nation's systemic violence against Natives, homeless and mentally ill is somehow acceptable. If we live in a society where breaking windows = evil, and poisoning the water of indigenous peoples = business as usual, then something is seriously wrong. Also troubling is the idea of "citizens vs. protesters". The protesters ARE citizens. And, arguably, better citizens for taking an active role in society rather than sitting back and accepting whatever our gov't and corporate sponsors shovel down our collective throats.

    • Protesting is exercising your rights, these criminals were breaking the law. Don't pretend they're the same. And if they truly do care about social causes, then they shouldn't have the incredible stupidity to alienate the very public they need to get onside to deal with the very real social issues facing our society. A good citizen works to improve society by volunteering their time and donating their money to social causes, and getting politically involved to hold our political leaders accountable. People who run around smashing things are overgrown toddlers, who haven't realized that there's a difference between gaining support, and just demanding attention.

      • 1.I don't deny that the black bloc that broke windows were breaking the law and deserve to be arrested. And, in truth, it is not a tactic I chose to use because it does alienate people. It does, however get attention, and given the National media's unwillingness to cover the anti-Olympic demonstrations in any kind of meaningfull way (see above article), I understand the decision to use more extreme tactics in order to be heard.
        2. You say that "A good citizen works to improve society by volunteering their time and donating their money to social causes". Most activists I know volunteer a huge amount of their time to social causes. There seems to be a common misconception that activists do nothing other than protest on behalf of the causes they passionately support. I'm not sure where this comes from.
        3. Taking part in a political ystem that one deems illegitimate would be quite hypocritical, no?

        • The national media did protesters a favour with their limited coverage of protests. Most people could agree with the proposition that it seems wrong to spend money on games and parties when others are homeless and in need. However, the protesters' answer to these problems was a mishmash of Marxist revolutionary ideology that's been rejected by the majority of the planet as hopelessly wrong-headed. (Hey, even China's Communist party isn't Marxist anymore…) So, by covering the high level complaints, national media gave protesters a veneer of respectability and legitimacy that would've been lost if the audience had listened further. It's like the Weekly World News editors used to say: why spoil a perfectly good story about alien conspiracies by asking what insane asylum the story was coming from?

        • I for one don't want to live in a communist society. In a social-capitalistic society there will be rich and poor. By ensuring there is a negative (being poor), you give incentive the majority of the population to work hard and do better.

          No system is perfect, but if you don't like it vote. If things don't go your way tough. If my government wants to give me, the hard working average hardworking person a party once in 20+ years, I'm for it. The national unity that came about because of these games strengthens our local communities.

          Being the host to the world is a good thing for "us". When a protester doesn't feel they're being listened to they start to yell as though we are deaf. I give to organizations that I feel benefit the things I believe in. Some of them are environmental and some are social, but if I choose not to believe in your POV or follow your thinking, it doesn't give you or anyone else the right to be violent or destructive.

          You feel you're starting a revolution, but the revolution was the people in support of that which you are protesting against. Think about that. Maybe the 130,000 people in d/t Vancouver yesterday and the 13+ million that watched these games for the last 14 days are right and you are wrong.

          This was a bad fight, it's time you bow out, and protest in front of the parliament, write letters, and get your vote counted. And, if it doesn't go your way again, be an adult and don't throw another tantrum.

    • Calling Canada's policy toward Indians, homeless, and mentally ill systemic violence is straight blood libel, a falsehood designed to incite hatred. How does free tuition for Indians constitute violence?

      Violence, or the threat of violence, to advance socio-political goals is terrorism as defined by the UN and the criminal code of Canada and most other countries. Nice going, genius, you just outed yourself as a terrorist supporter.

      • Oh dear, oh dear. It must be difficult living in your head. Blood libel? Really? Criticism of racist government policies is the same as accusing Jews of putting Christian blood in their Matzah?? Dear lord, how could I be SOOOOO misguided???

  2. These were "idealists" right? About 10,000 similar idealists flop in and around Santa Cruz, California. They check the free press and UC Santa Cruz bulletin boards for people who want to buy their idealism, usually for around $10 an hour plus transportation and meals. I wonder who hired the Vancouver idealists?

  3. The Majority of Vancouverites wanted the games. The majority of Canadians wanted the games. Plain and simple. Those so called protesters represented a very small minority of people who didn't want the games. Like a bunch of 8 year olds having hissy fits they decided to be loud, violent and annoying to get our attention. Well they got our attention didn't they! They were run right out of town like they should have been.
    I mean could you imagine every time we held a democratic election and the losing side would take the streets protesting the fact that they lost. Its ridiculous!
    In order to protest something there has to be real reasons for a protest. There are drug addicts in Vancouver (oops I mean homeless people) we are very aware of this. Losers running around screaming (oops again I meant protesters) and yelling are not going to change that fact.
    Now holding a professional press conference inviting media to attend to address problems about the drug users (ahh you know what I mean) to bring awareness to whatever goals you are trying to achieve sure sounds intelligent. Maybe instead of the usual 'we need more money' (which as long as vote in this province they will not get it) try some real solutions. Try admitting that 80-90% of these homeless people are drug addicts. A HOME WILL NOT SOLVE THAT PROBLEM! Once you can admit that then you are capable of devising some real solutions.
    I am quite sure the protesters are the same losers that had our mental facilities shut down in the 80's. Maybe that was a bad idea. Sending mentally ill people out into the streets to fend for themselves. Is it really just coincidence that the rapid deterioration of the downtown eastside coincided with the closure of those facilities. Add some new drugs to the mix (crack and meth) and the perfect storm was brewed.
    Protesters, start using your brains instead of your black hoody's and maybe, just maybe you could actually produce some good for once.

  4. I am so fascinated by the response to my original support for the protesters. According to the commenters here, protesters are "losers, terrorists, whining babies, layabouts, idiots, socialists, marxists, etc….". I would not expect Macleans readers to agree with the protesters. What surprises me is this sentiment of "it's okay to disagree, as long as you disagree silently". Democracy is not a competition, it's a process. At least, it's supposed to be. I would love for all those who think that these activists are violent, jobless losers to actually go to a planning meeting for a demonstration. Those in Toronto could attend some of the G20 planning meetings. I think you'll be surprised by the thoughtful, caring, intelligent people you meet.

    For those who think that structural violence against corporate buildings is worse than systemic violence against First Nations, I reccommend you visit a reserve. The farther North you go the worse it gets. I 'll bet you never knew we had a third world country within our borders.

  5. This issue must be resolved before they harm innocent people. Hopefully the government is doing something about this.

  6. There's something that needs a special attention and I agree with you, they need to act now.