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Free Speech Zone: A Guerrilla Public Art Project In The Face Of Olympic State Security

A first-hand experience of police repression during the 2010 games by Anti-Olympic Artist-Activist Jody Franklin

by Jody Franklin 2010 Olympics

Free Speech Zone: A Guerrilla Public Art Project In The Face Of Olympic State Security
Free Speech Zone: A Guerrilla Public Art Project In The Face Of Olympic State Security
Free Speech Zone: A Guerrilla Public Art Project In The Face Of Olympic State Security
Free Speech Zone: A Guerrilla Public Art Project In The Face Of Olympic State Security
Free Speech Zone: A Guerrilla Public Art Project In The Face Of Olympic State Security

Also posted by brianna chatwin:

 On Thursday February 25th, at 9:30am, Victoria-based multidisciplinary artist & community activist jody franklin attempted to initiate his guerrilla public art reclamation project Free Speech Zone on Beatty Street, but was threatened with arrest by police.  Here is his story:

Shortly before the Olympics began, a block-long public art mural on Beatty Street, one block from BC Place, was painted over, with the words "Beatty Street Mural Coming Soon" stenciled on the wall.  The mural wall is City Of Vancouver property supporting a parking lot that was leased out to VANOC for the duration of the Olympics for the Canada Pavilion.

My intention was to create a painting explicitly titled "Free Speech Zone," a cluster of faces saying anti-Olympics messages, right along the pedestrian corridor between BC Place and Stadium Skytrain station. My purpose in creating this piece was multifold: (1) to start a public dialogue on the suppression of freedom of speech during the Olympics; (2) to create imagery and messages that counter all of the official Olympics, government, corporate and nationalist propaganda that are
pervasive in the downtown core; (3) to test the level of police involvement in the suppression of free speech during the Olympics; and (4) to reclaim a public art space that was erased by VANOC.  It was a conscious decision to take this action in broad daylight, as I believe that neither public art nor dissenting expression should be criminalized, and I wanted to take an action that would inspire other
artists to reclaim the same space in the name of public art.

I arrived on site accompanied by two journalists from the Vancouver Media Co-op, and two friends.  I made a brief statement to the media, and the moment I began to take my painting supplies out of my bag I was approached by three bicycle cops.  When I explained my intention to reclaim the space for public art, the officers threatened to arrest me for mischief, and said they'd arrest me if I so much as opened a can of paint. I realized that doing this painting would be a potentially arrestable civil disobedience action, but I did not want to take an arrest without having my painting up on the wall, so I told the officers that I would not proceed.  We left the site moments later.

I left with my friends and the journalists on foot, and three police officers on bicycles followed us for three blocks.  One of the officers got close enough to us that I turned around and asked "why are you following us?"  He said because he believed I was going to go and try to paint somewhere else illegally.  I told him that I was not going to do that.  Six hours later, following an anti-Olympics protest
in Grandview Park on Commercial Drive, a police officer approached me and asked to question me on the basis of him being in charge of "graffiti management" for the Vancouver Police.  "My colleague pointed you out to me," he told me, and I was surprised to see the officer who threatened to arrest me, and later followed me, was on protest detail.  On Friday night, the same officer tried to play "good cop" by riding up to me and trying to chat me up on the Critical Mass bike ride: four encounters with the same cop in the span of 36 hours.

It was clear to me that this was an intimidation tactic, they were trying to get in my head to scare me away from continuing to find creative ways to dissent, question and resist the Olympics behemoth.
Anti-Olympics protesters have been harassed, questioned, visited, subjected to surveillance and photographed by police officers for months, and the fact that the same police officer who threatened me with arrest the moment I tried to paint, and was later part of the contingent of officers policing the demonstration, may not have been a coincidence. I had been speaking openly in the Tent Village for two days about my intended action, I posted about it to two email lists, I alerted the Vancouver Media Co-Op, and I posted on Facebook, and my action was pre-empted by three police officers who were recognized as being part of the squadron of bicycle cops who had been monitoring all anti-Olympics demonstrations and the Tent Village for the past couple of weeks.

On Saturday, Pivot planned an action at the Canada Pavilion to promote their Red Tents campaign for a national housing strategy.  They received permission to temporarily wrap the entire block in tarps with messages primarily concerned with homelessness.  Part of this block included the Beatty Street mural wall, and there were blank tarps available for people to paint, draw and write messages.  I decided to take this opportunity to do a modified version of my intended Free Speech Zone painting, and I got to do it right in front of the mural wall.  For the entire time I was working on my piece, I had anywhere from one to three cops standing behind me, and it crossed my mind that since I was on their radar in a big way at this point, they decided to station themselves close to me to prevent me from slipping behind the banner to paint directly on the wall.

As part of one of my drawings, I wrote "stop police repression."  I could hear one of the officers grumbling and mumbling to his colleagues about this statement.  Five minutes later, he walked away
and borrowed a spray paint can from one of the protesters, and tagged a tarp with "VPD ♥s everyone" in response to what I had written, and later tagged a second tarp "VPD ♥s everyone especially the homeless."

As the tarps started to be pulled down, I walked past the lineup of hundreds waiting to get into the Pavilion, and noticed there was still a blank tarp that had not been painted on.  I took a can of white
spray paint out of my pocket, quickly scrawled a face, and in giant letters, I wrote "fuck the Olympics."  This agitated several people waiting in line, and people started murmuring, and shouting at me.
The cop who "♥s everyone" tapped me on the shoulder, and had three of his colleagues with him.  He pointed out a toddler to me and said, "do you see that little boy over there?  Do you think this is an
appropriate message for him, or for your cause?"  I almost burst out laughing as he went on about "protecting the children."  I asked, "Is what I did illegal?"  He responded in the negative, so I said, "thanks for your editorial comments, but I'm exercising my right to freedom of speech, and how other people react is not my problem."  I moved on as they followed me down the street again, I guess just making sure I wouldn't write any more messages that would offend their sensibilities.

In the end, I look at the whole mural action and follow-up as a kind of political performance art piece that succeeded in showing how the police have been put in the service of defending the Olympics from any form of freedom of speech that offers a dissenting perspective.

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What a god awful Olympics.

What a god awful Olympics. And now with the U.S. Navy permanently entrenched in the waters around Vancouver, perhaps people will begin to wonder if "where were they when Crosby scored" was worth the permanent security apparatus that now envelopes the Lower Mainland.

Thanks Hockey fans.


You should have asked the cop

You should have asked the cop if he thought the toddler could actually read.

officer loves everyone

Just for the record, I was there and the officer didn't tell anyone they couldn't put whatever on the wall. He actually just asked if "Lick My Clit Vanoc" was appropriate for the families that were around. Especially given that the protesters seemed to want as much positive public interaction as possible. The officer walked away and it was actually one of the protesters, the gentleman who played the bagpipes, who covered the anti-vanoc comment. Was a good protest and got a good message across, but would it not have been more helpful to the homeless persons to use the thousands of dollars wasted on buying all that red tarp and wood on food and shelter? Just sayin'

The odd thing about the last

The odd thing about the last comment is that nowhere in the article or the photos do we see the words "lick my clit VANOC," nor is there discussion about it... this is really kind of left field. 

for the record, a fun fact

i was there too, at the moment the cop was spraying he heart's everyone - and afterwards he was so stoked on his paint job that he had one of his buddies take a photo of him posing in front of it. and he threw up a gang sign. i asked 'was that a gang sign you just posed with?' and he quickly reconfigured his fingers to a 'hang-loose' sort of position, fumbling with his words and actions, saying no it's a surfer thing because he's an old hippy and that he totally 'gets' us guys out here.  

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