2nd Annual Poverty Olympics A Huge Success

2nd Annual Poverty Olympics A Huge Success

The 2nd Annual Poverty Olympics were held this Sunday Feb 8, 2009, in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Up to 400 people came out to watch events such as the Housing Hurdles, Sweeping Aside Poverty (curling) and Wrestling for Community. Those who wanted to could get their photos taken with official Poverty Olympic mascots (Chewy the Rat, Itchy the Bedbug, and Creepy the Cockroach).

A short video on the Poverty Olympics Village was premiered, with a satirical look at the $1 billion spent on the official village compared to accommodations used by athletes in the Poverty Olympics. The crowd was also entertained by a choir singing the Poverty Olympics Anthem, and later had the chance to try some cockroach and bedbug cake.

Each of the 'olympic events' was organized by one of the groups involved in putting on the festivities, including the Carnegie Centre Action Project, Downtown Eastside Women's Center (DEWC) Power of Women group, Streams of Justice (a grassroots christian group), and Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (Vandu).

Other local groups that helped organize the annual event include 4 Sisters Co-op, Raise the Rates, BC Persons with Aids Society, and the Downtown Eastside Neighborhood House. All these organizations are based in the DTES, providing services to those most affected by the Olympics.

Along with the funny theatrics, there was info distributed to the people about the impacts of the 2010 Olympics, including homelessness, a mushrooming public debt, and increasing levels of police harassment.

In a letter dated January 21, 2009, the Organizing Committee for the Poverty Olympics wrote to Jacques Rogge and members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), asking them to pressure the Canadian and BC governments to implement the recommendations of the Inner City Inclusive Housing Table-- a group convened by VANOC as a means of honoring its Inner City Inclusive commitments under the Olympic Bid promises of community sustainability.

In particular, this includes increasing welfare rates, ending barriers to getting on assistance, and building 3200 units of new low-income housing.

According to Wendy Pederson of the Carnegie Center Action Project, the IOC's response was that such issues had nothing to do with Olympic Games, as their purpose is to "spread hope through sports."

Check out No2010.com's photo gallery of the Poverty Olympics at:

Organizer expects Poverty Olympics to run alongside 2010 Games
By Pieta Woolley, Georgia Straight, Feb 9, 2009

Poverty Olympics organizer Wendy Pedersen believes the City of Vancouver
and the International Olympic Committee will allow the street-theatre
event to take place during the Olympic Games in February 2010.

One goal of the event, Pedersen told the Straight, is to internationally
embarrass governments into addressing poverty.

“I can’t imagine them cracking down on the Poverty Olympics,” Pedersen
said today (February 9) in a phone interview. “It would be like being
sucker-punched. I can’t imagine they’d be so heartless, so inhumane. So
I’m not going to worry about it, because I don’t believe people would be
that mean.”

On February 8, about 500 people gathered at the Japanese Language School
in the Downtown Eastside to watch the second annual Poverty Olympics.

A police escort accompanied the “torch relay”, which wound its way through
the neighbourhood. It was also accompanied by a small army of media,
including the Vancouver Sun, BCIT journalism students, CKNW, and Channel
M. The Wall Street Journal will also be covering the event, according to

On January 22, Vancouver city council passed a motion that could restrict
citizens’ ability to protest the Olympics on both private and public
property. Council approved 16 Vancouver charter amendments, including one
that would allow the city to “remove illegal signs from real property with
limited notice”.

Pedersen said she doesn’t understand the implications of the motion.

Indeed, B.C. Civil Liberties Association acting executive director David
Eby wrote to council before the decision, noting the impact on activism is
not defined:

The Olympics have a long history of repressed political dissent,
whether considering incidents as recent as Beijing’s notorious
“protest zones”; aggressive enforcement of generic copyright phrases
and words like “With glowing hearts”, “Winter” or “Gold”; or the
dominance of security agendas over social agendas in budgetary and
logistical terms.

This context is best illustrated in the International Olympic
Committee’s Olympic Charter at Rule 51, where the IOC demands limits
from host cities on what it calls “advertising, demonstrations,
propaganda.” In particular, Rule 51(3) reads unambiguously: “No kind
of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is
permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

The Poverty Olympics sells T-shirts with an image of a torch, and the logo
of the event is five handcuff rings arranged to look like the Olympic

In other Olympic protests, similar expressions have led to Olympic
trademark crackdowns.

“They better let us have the parade,” Pedersen said. “If they do something
about us, maybe that will bring more attention. It would be a low blow to
low-income people. I think they’re going to have to be open to some
attention no matter what they do.”

Funding for the Poverty Olympics comes from Raise the Rates; the Canadian
Centre for Policy Alternatives hosts its Web site; and the Carnegie
Community Action Project, which organizes the event, is funded through
VanCity and donations from unions and individuals.

Pedersen said the Carnegie Community Action Project is looking for more