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"Full Confrontation with the State"

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Issue: 49 Section: Canadian News Geography: West Vancouver Topics: social movements, poverty, olympics

November 20, 2007

"Full Confrontation with the State"

Vancouver's Anti-Poverty Committee escalates opposition to 2010 Olympics

by Sara Falconer

International delegates at the Indigenous Peoples’ Encuentro in Vicam, on Yaqui territory in Mexico, stand under a Mohawk flag.

Vancouver's Anti-Poverty Committee (APC) has been getting a lot of negative media coverage. So why are they more popular with the public than ever?

"Without a doubt, the APC is enjoying more public support now that we're in full confrontation with the state than when we were just complaining about it," says David Cunningham, one of the group's organizers.

"Full confrontation with the state" is hardly an exaggeration. Earlier this year, the group quickly progressed from noisily disrupting Olympic press events to an "eviction campaign," targeting the Vancouver Olympics Committee (VANOC). In May, the dramatic eviction of VANOC member Ken Dobell from his office was front-page news across the province.

When Cunningham was arrested for "uttering threats" related to the evictions, police lured him to an isolated site by pretending to be a journalist with the free daily paper 24 Hours, a tactic that was roundly denounced even in the mainstream press.

"So many people are pissed off at the Olympics that any type of display of anger, most people can sympathize with," he says. "They're finally accepting direct action as a viable political alternative."

It may not exactly be universal support, with a range of virulent blog posts deriding Cunningham as a "lazy bastard" and worse, but there's no denying that these actions have made the social impact of the Olympics a priority issue for the public.

"As far as municipal political parties go in Vancouver, the APC is bigger than any of those groups. We've got more members and we carry more physical presence," says Cunningham.

On October 14, the APC had been planning to march to and occupy one of the many vacant buildings in the Downtown Eastside to draw attention to the role of the Games in the deterioration of already abysmal housing conditions in the neighbourhood. The night before, the advance team of people sent to prepare the building were violently arrested and threatened with tasers and dogs, according to Cunningham.

"With all of the advance propaganda, the police had locked down the Downtown Eastside prior to the demonstration," he says. "We thought we could slip in under the radar and we were wrong."

APC symbolically evicted Canadian Council for Public-private partnerships director and VANOC board member Ken Dobell from his offices.

"It's important to recognize that these are hotel units," he adds. "We don't pretend that these are decent housing, these are just rooms. But given that people are living and literally dying in the alleys behind this building, it's a step up from the gutter."

Six people, ranging in age from from 18 to 64, were arrested and charged with breaking and entering with concealed instruments. The arrests and subsequent protest against police brutality are the subject of the short Burning Fist Media video "They Came in the Night".

The APC is now holding town meetings in various communities across the city to determine their next steps.

"It's common knowledge that the Olympics are socially cleansing not just the Downtown Eastside, but poor communities throughout Vancouver," Cunningham explains. "But that in itself poses a problem to us because now we're in a situation where people have that analysis, so how do we motivate them into direct political action?

"I guess realistically what APC is after is transforming this protest movement into a community of resistance. That's what pragmatically we need to confront the Olympics."

Their day-to-day work with the poor and Indigenous people who will be most affected by the Games is part of that transformation, as are alliances with groups like No One is Illegal and Native Youth Movement. They are working together to organize a large-scale convergence against the Olympics in February 2010.

"First and foremost, this convergence is an anti-colonial showdown," Cunningham explains. "We don't believe it's Vancouver-specific. The colonial juggernaut that is the 2010 Winter Games is something that will affect all of North and South America."

In October, an international delegation of 1,500 Indigenous representatives in Sonora, Mexico, unanimously agreed that the Olympics, as a colonial genocidal institution, posed a great risk to Indigenous cultures. They called for a boycott of the Games and for Indigenous people from around the world to travel to Vancouver for the protest.

It's a bold move on the part of organizers to announce a gathering that is still more than two years away. As the Games creep closer and the level of resistance rises, so too will the heat. Cunningham anticipates direct involvement from CSIS and the military.

"By the time we get to February 2010, it'll just be part of the continuum of protest that's happening now. With that, there's an escalation of surveillance and police repression," he says. "It's our responsibility to continue escalating that resistance into revolution."

"We're pretty clear. We're talking about overthrowing the government. We're not living in revolutionary times, but we have a revolutionary analysis and a revolutionary objective."

Visit apc.resist.ca and www.no2010.com for more information.

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