On Valentines Day, 2,000 to 4,000 people marched through Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in the annual Women’s March for Missing and Murdered Women. A memorial march — not a protest — it is organized and led by women of the DTES to remember the hundreds of aboriginal women who have gone missing or been murdered in the past two decades. With no other competing agendas represented, it is the very essence of a respectful and focused peaceful grassroots march, and only by chance coincided with the other daily Olympic protests here.
CBC’s coverage of it on “The National” notwithstanding, doubtless this is the first time many people outside of Vancouver have even heard of it.
The previous day, a few hundred people took to the streets to protest an interwoven range of complaints highlighted by the Olympics — stolen aboriginal land, environmental destruction, tarsands, corporate greed, Gordon “Red Mittens” Campbell, Harper, poverty, homelessness, etc. A couple of idiots threw a Province box through a window of Olympics sponsor Hudson’s Bay Co., while others threw paint, overturned trashcans and traffic pylons, spat on police — who showed admirable restraint throughout — and insulted onlookers. Thirteen were arrested and four charged.
The media here and around the world immediately ate it up of course, and thousands hit the “agree” button in the comments section of the CBC story, endorsing those who thought the protestors should be strung up.
Many progressive bloggers were swift to distance themselves from the vandals. They pointed out that such violence only serves to alienate potential supporters. The notoriety that comes with being a self-aggrandizing asshole will only hurt the given cause, they said.
And yet something about all this outrage directed at a few brats has been bothering me ever since. We’re talking rudeness and minor property damage here, right? They spat and broke stuff. When I walked past the broken window a few hours later, it had already been replaced.
Compare this with when Robert Dziekanski, in sheer frustration at his own helplessness, broke up furniture at YVR — it did not stop us from identifying with his plight. When the very few and vastly over-reported stories of property damage in Haiti came to light, we did not condemn the frustrated perpetrators for their actions. Indeed, we thought it remarkable in the face of being denied the basic necessities of life, displayed but refused them, that such incidents were so few and far between. So why the double standard for the Olympics vandals?
It takes hope and solidarity and strength of purpose to witness, non-violently, year after year, as do the Sisters in Spirit marchers. Twenty years now, the core of them have been waiting for action on their missing sisters. They march while waiting for the rest of us to catch up and claim their cause — which includes continuing murders and disappearances — as our own.
I think the angry hooligans from the Olympics protest just don’t think they have the luxury of that kind of time to protest peacefully while waiting patiently for the rest of us to catch up to their sense of urgency about the world. I worry that our rush to condemn them means that we imagine we do enjoy that luxury.