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Occupy Vancouver Occupies Everything

Report on Nov. 12 March for Social Housing and Autonomous Spaces

by Zig Zag

Housing rally outside former Pantages Theatre, Nov 12, 2011
Housing rally outside former Pantages Theatre, Nov 12, 2011

Also posted by Zig Zag:

On Saturday, November 12, 2011, a crowd of some 200 took to the streets from the Occupy Vancouver site to march for social housing and autonomous spaces. Promoted as a “tour of inequality and excess in a city of glass,” one of the main mobilizing themes was “housing is a right, not a commodity.” More radical voices called for the establishment of autonomous social spaces and housing, against state control or influence. About 10 protesters wore the 'dreaded' black masks, so maligned of late by city and police officials. There were approximately 12 cops that followed the rally, including four on motorcycles and a couple of bicycle cops.

Having heard that the rally was to start at 12 noon, I arrived to find a small group at the Vancouver Art Gallery (site of OV) and eventually learned the rally was now scheduled to start at 1:30PM. Waiting in the pouring rain, and later finding shelter next to the food tent, I had ample time to ruminate on scheduling problems at previous OV-associated events.

Eventually, after a brief introduction by organizers, the march moved out towards Burrard Street and then north to the waterfront area, the site of several new condo developments. Stopping at the intersection of Burrard and Cordova Streets, some participants spoke out against housing as a commodity and real estate speculation that leaves some 70 percent of the condos in the area vacant (while hundreds sleep on the streets or in shelters throughout the city). The crowd listened and joined in a few chants as it was lashed with cold rain and wind coming off the harbour waters.

As the protest passed the new Fairmont Pacific Rim complex, a hotel with corporate storefronts, the crowd was asked if they wanted to occupy the hotel lobby. Soaking wet from the rain, the crowd enthusiastically endorsed this proposal and began making their way towards the lobby entrance, taking the long way. The cops also made their way to the lobby entrance, arriving in force ahead of the main group of protesters. As hotel staff locked the doors, more speakers were heard addressing the struggle for social housing and against the rampant gentrification of Vancouver.

While the speeches were being made, I discussed the attempted lobby occupation with one of the masked protesters, who described it as a mistake to publicly announce actions. “This just alerts the cops and makes us less effective,” he said.

After the speakers at the Fairmont Pacific, it was then announced that we'd make our way to the Woodward's complex, the former department store that is now a major base for gentrification in the Downtown Eastside. Woodward's was occupied by activists in 2001 and also saw a months-long tent city after the violent eviction of the squat by riot police. Today it is a condominium with corporate storefronts and just a few units of social housing.

As we approached W2 marching down Cordova Street, I wondered if the cops would also move ahead and lock it down. But they didn't, and we moved through the doors into a large, open, space inside the building. While the crowd dried off and warmed up, there were more speakers, including representatives from the Downtown Eastside Neighborhood Council.

As I listened to the speakers, I couldn't help but notice the massive photograph looming over the indoor courtyard: a re-enactment of the 1970 'Gastown Riot', when the cops and hippies clashed in the nearby Gastown district. A hippie underground in the 1960s, Gastown is now a high-scale yuppie tourist market that borders the Downtown Eastside.

After the W2 'occupation', we moved across Hastings Street, to the former site of the Red Gate. Here, one of the former members of the artist's space explained how it had been regulated out of existence by city hall, and then evicted when the owner sold the building to developers.

After this speaker, the protest moved east on Hastings Street, and then 1 block south to Pender Street, arriving at the offices of Bob Rennie, a major real estate developer in the Downtown Eastside. Police quickly lined up in front of his offices, and no effort was made to enter. But to the right of the offices was the Everything Cafe, also owned by the Rennie family. Protesters began flowing into the cafe, eventually filling it.

Police at first hesitated to enter the cafe, and when they did stayed near the doorway, observing. The officer in charge then muttered that there were “too many people” and abruptly left. Some in the crowd immediately questioned the accuracy of this, as no accurate count had been made nor were there any signs posted specifying the number of people permitted to be in the cafe. After five minutes or so workers in the cafe announced it was closed. Shortly after, a man, apparently the manager, arrived and ordered the mob out, to no avail.

After perhaps ten minutes of occupying the Everything Cafe, an agitated man dressed in a business suit arrived and attempted to force his way into the cafe while demanding police evict the protesters. When asked who he was, he claimed to be the owner (reportedly the son of Bob Rennie). After struggling unsuccessfully to force his way in, the man then pulled the fire alarm, which was located next to the door. A police officer grabbed the man and pulled him away.

By now, several more patrol cops had joined their cohorts in policing the rally. They stood outside the cafe and did nothing but observe.

With the fire alarm now ringing inside the cafe, it was generally agreed to move on to the next, and final, stop on the march. This was the 100 block of East Hastings, at the site of the former Pantages Theatre, now demolished ruins awaiting the construction of a new condo development. As the rain continued to pour down, the final speakers were heard, including local residents from the Downtown Eastside.

As the crowd dispersed, a group of six officers also left and headed east on Hastings towards Main Street. When they passed the entrance to the Carnegie Center, they spotted one of the formerly masked protesters and chased her inside. In the lobby of the center were more comrades, however, who confronted the police as they struggled with the woman. Numerous patrons of the center gathered around, several voicing complaints against the conduct of the cops. Surrounded and outnumbered, the police abandoned their effort and withdrew.

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Thanks Zig Zag for your

Thanks Zig Zag for your writing and observations.

I'm just going to clarify a few details -

- W2 is the name of the community media arts centre in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. It is people-powered, meaning mostly run by volunteers who care about making positive change happen. It's one of the few benefits achieved by the Woodwards squat. The protest march actually occupied the Woodwards Atrium. I think we need to respect what W2 is doing - they are trying to keep the DTES community involved in the complex and it helps to remember that difference.

- The ruins are of the Pantages Theatre, not of a hotel. It's a crying shame what happened there and was a direct result of city staff interfering in a community development project.

- in Canada, we spell it "Centre". I know it's a small thing to retain Canadian spelling, but it might be all we have.

Thanks again!



I'm sure that confusing the W2 media center with the Woodard's 2.0 was an honest mistake, but to keep invoking the Woodsquat when talking about W2 is just ludicrous. I've met people at Occupy Vancouver and elsewhere, who were part of that squat and will tell you straight up that they were not fighting for what W2 is or represents.

See -


Work for unity and victory, not divisions and losses

I don't know who posted the reply to Zig Zag's action report. But it's sad to see Stimulator use it as an opportunity to drag out his tired sectarian attack on W2.

W2 is a community-run organisation working to build something out of a massive gentrification development that has harmed our neighbourhood. Out of 35 RFP proposal submissions in 2005, W2's coalition space proposal was selected by a community jury, City staff and Council in 2006.  Before and after Woodsquat, the Woodward's struggles generated 400 units of housing (PHS, Progressive, and Lore Krill) but in the end, the Squat's demands and the City workshops on Woodward's future resulted in few community wins in the development which is largely gentrified space. We know this because we've been at the frontlines trying to make something good out of a poor deal.

It's been an imperfect struggle since that time to survive the challenging timeline that worked against victories for community space, and W2 was the only community group still standing from the RFP process. (Only because of our defiance - not by some conspiracy theory). While we've made strategic mistakes (noteably not communicating enough with our political allies) we steadfastly worked for years to protect community access to the City-owned Woodward's heritage building space. Strategically, we thought this construction process would have been completed long before the Olympics.  Overall we are proud of the work we've accomplished (largely with volunteer labour) protecting almost 10,000 sf in that one building (community meeting rooms, public washrooms, cafe that employs locals, CJSF and Coop Radio studios, etc). We're especially proud of our work considering that the City was likely going to turn some of this heritage building's publicly-owned amenity space into commercial real estate back in 2007. By 2009/2010 we pressured the City to complete the space for community-access. When W2 publicly acknowledges the City Mayor for the City finishing the heritage building, that is what Stimulator characterises as W2 colluding with capital. We finally opened the W2 Media Cafe in September 2011.

W2's interior space is on the east side, facing the Atrium that Zig Zag describes in the 'occupation' of the Westbank-owned property. The anti-gentrification rally was never at W2, it was in the Westbank-controlled Atrium. W2 encourages everyone to re-appropriate the Atrium as a public space (not just for basketball, but as a public plaza.)

We have worked day-in and day-out for years to turn it around so working class and marginalized peoples would have "something" from the Woodward's Squat, and that it would be progressive space for the two decades of our City lease. We prefer actually learning how to protect key spaces (Woodward's, Red Gate, Pantages, etc) so the DTES doesn't become Yaletown because all we managed to do was agitate for change, while criticizing people trying to fix broken promises and overturn the betrayal. Protest is crucial, as is popular education, but parallel to direct action, we also have to teach ourselves how to do something about our problems. That's how social housing is built, and community infrastructure etc. Simply expecting neoliberal governments to build community infrastructure because one has a correct ideological critique of the issues or can organise a rally, is not adequate. We also need parallel processes of trying to build what we need, location by location. W2 is making public otherwise privatized Woodward's space, and we're also publicly speaking truth to power, acting in solidarity with the other gentrifying attacks on Chinatown and Pantages, etc.  

Slagging other progressives while we're collectively under attack, is similar to the distracting provocative and petty divisions that frequently grind down Occupy Vancouver.  

This commet is disturbing. It

This commet is disturbing. It migh do you well to read some other writing by zigzag. I don't feel that your comment is clarifying much at all. However, it does seem to be putting words in zigzag's mouth. I'm not sure what exactly zig zag's opinion of the w2 is but in no way did I get the feeling that this text was supportive. From what I have oberserved it seems that the w2 space is a tactic of the city to control social unrest or at least dampen it down in that neighbourhood. Kinda like the token amount of non-market housing that was included in the building.

"in Canada, we spell it "Centre". I know it's a small thing to retain Canadian spelling, but it might be all we have."

"but it might be all we have"...give me a f*****g break. Canada is the institution that is responsible for all this bullshit. Colonialism, capitalism, industrial civilisation and you're asking us to spell centre with re not er. Get over yourself.

Hi Jake.I'm the first

Hi Jake.

I'm the first commenter. I have read Zig Zag's writings and I appreciate all they have to say. I am thankful for their objective and yet passionate words about the subjects they write about.

I made my comment only to clarify a couple details - first that the Occupied march did not occupy W2 but actually occupied the Woodward's Atrium. Zig Zag noted the correction. Obviously there is disagreement about W2 - but I didn't mean to make any comment about Zig Zag's opinion - I just wanted to make sure the distinction between W2 and Woodwards was made, and I gave my reason why. 

The 3rd detail - the spelling of a word - okay, point taken, it's not a big deal. As I said, just a small thing.

I do want to encourage Zig Zag in continued writing. I really admire the time taken to explore the issue from an honest point of view.







Thanks for the corrections,

Thanks for the corrections, I've edited the story and removed the previous errors...

Staying safe

Thanks, I was at the rally but unaware of the incident at Carnegie.  Before I left the rally I made sure a friend had a safe exit planned.  It shows how important it is to have friends around.  Pigs only attack when they can overpower an individual or small group.  And thanks to people from Carnegie for stepping in to help the cops understand they can't always push us around.

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