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Tent City Activists Go Homeless

Harassed from Plaza to Field to Community Centre to Gazebo to Occupied Building

by Joseph Jones

Marching Toward the Olympic Village  [Photo: Murray Bush]
Marching Toward the Olympic Village [Photo: Murray Bush]
From Plaza to Field  [Photo: Murray Bush]
From Plaza to Field [Photo: Murray Bush]
Drumming in Solidarity with Occupiers  [Photo: Murray Bush]
Drumming in Solidarity with Occupiers [Photo: Murray Bush]

Also posted by Joseph Jones:

By noon on 26 February 2011, people anticipating a tent city filled the wide sidewalk outside the Pantages at 144-156 East Hastings Street. A series of short speeches set the mood. Especially vivid was an account of how condo king Bob Rennie is reported to have looked across rooftops toward the Olympic Village project to declare, "My Village!" (Rennie has just relaunched his marketing effort.)

Then a crowd of about 200 headed north on Main Street, some with equipment-laden buggies. Destination, Olympic Village – with a brief pause to call attention to the area where developers chomp at the bit to condoize Chinatown and bury the street in shadows. As marchers headed west toward False Creek, an anti-Olympic arrestee surveyed the throng and exulted: "Biblical!"

Going past Science World, the group then skirted the Olympic Village on Ontario, turned west on 1st Avenue, and went along Manitoba to enter the plaza. As music blared, tents and canopies began to pop up. Around the edge of the area, orange plastic fencing suspended itself from temporary human posts. At least twice, yells and jeers drowned out an official who tried to issue orders through a bullhorn. Toward the saltwater to the north, a gathering of police vans and engineering trucks emblematized the infrastructures of control.

After some discussion, activists picked up assembled shelters and other equipment and hauled their show two blocks to an empty grass field east of Manitoba and north of 2nd Avenue. The new terrain offered a little more shelter from wind that was driving icy precipitation across the open expanse of False Creek. Set-up commenced, and soon tents and canopies stood scattered across the western end of the field. Orange fencing created boundaries to the north and east.

A park bench toward the rear of the area served as base for a food station, which distributed sandwiches. Later on, under a nearby canopy, urns dispensed hot coffee and tea.

At all times, groups of police roamed at will throughout the area. Incidents included an allegation of public urination, objections to presence of propane tanks, and an admonitory tour by a fire department official.

Police brought in the owner of the private property, already having displayed their eagerness to enforce any request for dispersal – a request they obviously solicited. (It seems likely that the "owner" of this field enjoys the scam of paying next to no property tax in return for providing a grassy space – usable by the public only until that status becomes inconvenient!)

After a ten-minute warning to leave the area, the tent city group discussed its options. Several time extensions proved necessary. Eventually a decision was reached to dismantle and meet up elsewhere. As large tarps were folded, accumulations of snow pellets pooled in their hollows, and winds billowed them like sails.

Police probably overheard talk of reconvening in warm public space at nearby Creekside Community Centre. When the group reached that location around 3:30 pm, police stood lined up in front of a locked-down main entrance. (The sign on the door said open 9 to 5 on Saturday.) Meanwhile, acceptable members of the public could be seen continuing on with their frolics in the gym.

Now numbering around 70, the group reconvened for an extended period under the gazebo near Science World. Police surveilled from vans in the parking lot and from a distance on the seawall. Several groups traversed urban wasteland to reach the McDonalds on Main Street. Who would have thought that a McDonalds could be more public and hospitable than a community centre?

The tent city contingent headed back toward the Olympic Village. At this point the ground had gone white with accumulation of snow. As the group once again turned the corner at Ontario to head west along 1st Avenue, at a point midway along the block, someone opened up a door into the building. People surged through the entrance. A police van sped up to the scene and disgorged a squad. With no verbal warning, police assaulted at least one bystander on the sidewalk, acting like a football team racing for a touchdown. A few minutes later, a cop was offering to call an ambulance for the older person whose back had been thrown against the corner of a brick wall!

Twelve activists occupied raw retail space (perhaps the Urban Fare reported to have abandoned a situation that has slid downscale?) and used masking tape on the inside of the glass to call for "Homes Now!" Supporters outside drummed on a 45 gallon steel barrel that should have been warming a tent city. A lasagna supper appeared to feed the group of 40 to 50. Fresh faces arrived to take the places of others who were leaving.

The original gathering of supporters on the west side of the block could peer through blue-screened glass and make out some of what was occurring inside. A male police officer, checking the ID of a young woman, was seen to unnecessarily place his right hand on her left shoulder as she stood quietly, hands at her side. Shortly afterward, she sat briefly on the bare concrete floor, with her legs crossed.

At various points around the entire block smaller groups formed and reformed. Accordion music enlivened one of the gatherings. One occupier was released through a door on the south side of the building. Information had been taken, and a follow-up letter from the police seemed probable.

Eventually two groups concentrated outside the grills enclosing garage openings to north and south at the east end of the block. Police on the scene numbered at least two to three dozen. (At that ratio, each pair of protesters was matched by one officer!)

Inside the garage, police officers milled around and fooled with plastic bags full of personal belongings. One arrestee was left to stand handcuffed for a long while behind the van. An officer at the south entrance said that all occupiers faced two charges, breaking and entering and trespass. Around 7:40 pm the police van left the garage, hauling the arrestees off to the police station.

This reporter then headed for home, ready to unwrap (five layers and long johns) and unwind after walking and standing in subzero conditions since noon.

A report posted by Murray Bush at Vancouver Media Co-op on the same day concluded the story in timely fashion: "All eleven activists were released late in the evening without charges." One of the arrestees reports that the last individual left custody around 9:30 pm.

Conclusion #1: There are no public spaces in Vancouver – at least not for all publics. When McDonalds provides the city's most welcoming venue on a cold winter day, something is getting weird.

Conclusion #2: Back-of-envelope accounting indicates policing costs of at least $15 to $20 thousand to repress tent city activities on February 26. [Update of Feb 28: A person at the scene reports this fact obtained through conversation with police – $80 per hour for a 9 hour shift.] A sustained campaign might make it more financially rewarding for the City of Vancouver to direct resources toward housing rather than policing. (At City Council on the evening of February 17, Geoff Meggs put a price tag of $250 million on housing the homeless. That is about 3% of spending on the Olympics, and about half of the funding so quickly designated to reroof one amphitheatre.)

Conclusion #3: Vancouver's overarching policy of enforcement looks like KIQ – Keep It Quiet. If the Olympic Village is to look like a safe haven for a tsunami of offshore money, it cannot be tainted by occupation – or even the stigma of repression of occupation. (Recall the Vancouver Police Department criterion for a successful Olympics, as expressed by commanding officer Steve Sweeney: A truly successful staging of the Games would be measured by visitors having no recollection at all of the policing effort.)

[Thanks to Murray Bush for provision of photos. See all of his two photo collections posted on February 26 as Tent Village on the Move and Tent Village Arrests.]

Other Coverage:

Video by Sid Tan: 2011 Olympic Village Tent City

Story with photos by Matthew Van Deventer: The Short Lived Occupation of an Empty Department Store

Personal recollection by arrestee: Working in Immanence

Video by Stephanie Law: Tent City Won't Be Silenced

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Seems obvious that police

Seems obvious that police presence is much less relaxed now that the Olympics are over and the "eyes of the world" are no longer upon us.

What an ordeal. I only got there later in the day, but admire those who stuck it out for the duration and had been there from Hastings street.  Particularly proud of the brave occupiers.  

Homes not Highways are what is needed.  

Feds and Province too!

Thanks to the people who organized this and pulled off a sucessful action in very difficult circumstances!

At the same time as this action was going on, the provincial Liberals were on their phones and computers chosing a new leader. Now we need to put some pressure on the province and feds to come up with funding, and not let up the pressure on the City to come up with the land for 10 sites before the next municipal election.

We need to remember that 10 empty sites would not be much of a victory for the people sleeping out in the snow.

all warfare is based on deception

Good brief account.  One point: the police didn't need to 'over hear' the plan to move to the community center as it was loudly and clearly announced over a megaphone by one of the organizers.  My first thought at that time was: they'll close the center now to deny us access.

On a larger scale the same can be said of the overall action: for months the tent city was advertised as taking place at Olympic Village.  Some people had assumed this was a deception, that another target was planned.  This clearly wasn't the case.

In the history of tent cities in Vancouver, there hasn't been one that i'm aware of that announced its intentions and was successful.  Last year's olympic tent village was promoted as a rally with no mention of a tent village.  Instead, there was a 'secret' plan to occupy the empty lot on Hastings street a the end of the rally.  Mission accomplished.

One example of an announced tent city was APC's 2003 effort: their posters implied they'd be setting up a tent city at the Woodwards site.  The rally was held across the street in Victory Square park.  The pigs massed at Woodwards.  Then it was announced that the tent city was to be set up in Victory square.  Mission accomplished.

At that time, the city had to refer to the Parks Board to get injunctions to remove occupations of public parks.  APC targeted Parks Board meetings and disrupted two, which effectively delayed the issuing of an injunction.  As a result of this action the city amended statutes to enable them to more quickly obtain injunctions.

One of the first uses of this new statute was in the fall of 2006 when the APC squatted an empty building owned by the city.  For this action, they had announced their intention of storming city hall.  On the day, police locked down city hall with a large force.  Instead of marching into city hall, the rally marched a few blocks and occupied the empty building.  Mission accomplished.  In this case, the squat was evicted the next day by the Crowd Control Unit in helmets and shields, enforcing an injunction obtained very quickly by the city.

my thoughts too

ignoring the overall ineffective strategy of whining that activism usually takes - you politicians provide us with such-and-such PLEASE! or (an empty) ELSE! - the tactics of this tent city were a joke from the beginning. Telegraphing moves that the bourgeoisie and capitalists have to resist, makes the proposed 'action' into just a joke of stunt. I mentioned this to a couple of the organizers in the fall, but to deph ears, because activism in this country is still all based on appealing to the middle class population through stunts (that's the 'radical' part) to pressure the liberal state (when it is) to give us some crumbs... When we should be focused on getting our own real power and economy so we are autonomously providing for ourselves, within our radical methodologies/processes.

We quickly realized back in the day that direct action really sharpens the security state and makes it and the other industries more profitable and efficient. It has it's place in the tool box, but it isn't the only tool.

Hey Greg & Zigzan, appreciate

Hey Greg & Zigzan,

appreciate the analysis,

We long talked about this strategy and determined that a high profile threat of a tent city looming over the project months in advance made a lot of bang for minimal buck. I agree that finalizing on a site so close to the village threatened the longevity (and apparently even the establishment) of a tent city, but this was balanced with not wanting to be ignored. I agree that strategically taking a lot in the vicinity that was more secure would have aided in it's establishment, but in the weeks lead up we recognized that between the weather and our known support higher profile/shorter term was perhaps the smartest choice, and that's what we went with.

Discussion is underway, city wide, for a long term action elsewhere, although it will depend on if people are motivated and get involved. I'm very interested in ways we can autonomously provide for ourselves, please share your thoughts on this!


Photos from the rally.

I've got some photos from the rally.

I'll have a sound slide video to accompany it shortly.

Thanks for taking a look....

Conclusion #3: The city hates

Conclusion #3:

The city hates us and will not peacefully let us reclaim space, why should we expect this? Why have we ever expected this?

They (the city) will do whatever they have to do to remove activists, allies and homeless folks from reclaimed space, whether its temporary arrest or actual dibilitating charges. Although I stand in solidarity with all the folks patricipating and organizing this much-needed tent city, I hope folks realize that things to be escalated, from our side not theirs.

If we really give a shit about housing in Vancouver, about our friends living on the streets, and about the outrageous and disgusting responses of the city, we need to be fully prepared and equiped to defend space once it is liberated. THEY WILL NOT TOLERATE US, WE NEED TO FIGHT BACK! A tent city needs to be prepared to stay up, through police attacks, lack of public support, cold etc...

If we don't take the threat of repression seriously, we are just playing into the games of the state where they will continue to target activists and eventually pressing charges that will remove them from our communities. Accumulating charges should not be the goal of this action, the goal should be securing a space for the people who need it. Its obvious that these chosen tactics (peacefully occupying etc..) are not effective. We need to rethink, replan, regroup and be prepared to fight back with a vengence. As Zig Zag says, warfare is based on deception. This is war, we need to fight to WIN.

Our friends on the streets, our freinds who struggle with mental illness and drug use, our queer friends, racialized friends, female-bodied friends, etc all face violence from the city and the cops everyday. We must look past our comfort and privelege and be prepared to stand with them until the end, not just until we risk losing our jobs, our homes or our freedoms. Of course, if we are to do this, we must understand the risks we face and meet  them accordingly, not just with tactics we have been so comfortable in.


In solidarity from a very cold, occupied Jibuktuk, 

Sol Quintata

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