As protests in solidarity with #OccupyWallStreet spread across the continent, the “99%’ers” here are beginning to think about what #OccupyVancouver might look like. This is a good thing. Left-wing movements have always known that since capitalism itself is global, resistance to it ought to be global.

For New Yorkers, the most obvious and logical target is Wall Street. Staging a protest camp adjacent Wall Street in downtown New York city is no small feat. New York police are highly militaristic in quashing protests. One can only imagine the intensity of police desire, under pressure from New York power-brokers, to disperse the camp. The bravery of the activists is one of the things from which to draw inspiration.

What does it mean, then, to hold a protest in solidarity with that in New York? In part, it means to be inspired by their courage. That means to take spaces that challenge the real seats of power in our local situation. That may mean taking the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery, but probably not: the reason protests are often held there is that the space is relatively easy to book. An #OccupyVancouver truly inspired by the original would take a space that is non-bookable, that directly challenges power-brokers.

Throughout Canada, there are many appropriate targets: Bay Street in Toronto, the headquarters of tar sands-related energy corporations in Calgary, and so on. In Vancouver, Coast Salish territories, there are many things to consider. Most importantly, the violence of colonization is felt acutely here, where European settlement began more recently than most other regions of the continent. (Indeed, the word “occupy” is often associated with European colonization of the land; it’s possible that the term, with its multiple meanings, may confuse or distract some from the spirit of #OccupyWallStreet: to stage a collective protest that challenges the 1% who run the capitalist economy).

Arguably the dominant function of Vancouver’s economy is that its housing market acts as a ‘sink’ for global capital accumulation. Investors, most of whom are locally-based, store their extracted wealth in Vancouver’s inflated real-estate market. The inflation of housing prices is managed by a realty oligopoly. This has created an affordability crisis for the working-class. While property-owners rely on the development monopoly to keep their home prices inflated, renters, who constitute the majority, are exploited. The city which most resembles Vancouver in these respects is Hong Kong. Vancouver and Hong Kong rank together as the most unaffordable cities in the world, with the median house price costing more than three times the median household income. As a result, residents are being driven out of their homes, onto the streets, out of the city. In Hong Kong, they have clearly identified the seat of power, and began their own #Occupy-like movement earlier this year. The story may serve as yet more inspiration for those thinking about our own solidarity movement.

Toppling property hegemony: “Down, down with the property tycoons!”

Just this past March 26 2011, Hong Kong activists staged a protest in one of [developer] Li Ka-Shing’s supermarkets “because property developers, not the government, were the ‘real enemies of society'” [1]. As an act of creative civil disobedience, protesters filled shopping carts with items, then stood in line without buying anything, to “paralyse property hegemony for an hour.” One protester said: “We chose ParknShop because it is owned by Mr. Li Ka-shing and we all know Mr. Li is the real boss of Hong Kong…We are not expecting this to change the world, or beat down Mr. Li or the property-developer hegemony. But we want to make it a start of a new satyagraha campaign. We used to protest against the government. But it is no use. We target developers because they are the boss of the government and the real enemy of the society.” Another protester, a recent university graduate, said: “Even if we want to rent a flat, the rents are beyond our reach. It is because the influence of developers is too big.” [1]

Readers may know that Li Ka-Shing’s Concord Pacific bought Vancouver’s massive Expo Lands in 1988, developed Yaletown, and still has long-term plans for 10,000 to 20,000 more high-end condos on North False Creek. Concord Pacific, now run by Terry Hui, remains a major player in Vancouver’s developer oligopoly, with most new housing inventory planned beyond 2013 in Vancouver under its control. Concord’s ‘land bank’ comprises a large portion of Vancouver’s undeveloped lands, including much of False Creek, as well as 58 West Hastings – the site of 2010’s Olympic Tent Village. Concord exerts its power over Vancouver housing prices by developing its ‘land bank’ very slowly as high-end condos. These and similar undeveloped properties and empty condos controlled by Vancouver’s monopolist developers (such as the Aquilini Group, Wall Financial Corp., Concert Properties, Holborn Properties, and marketing ‘coordinator’ Bob Rennie) are reasonable targets for #Occupy. So too is the mostly empty Olympic Village.

Anyone who witnessed on 19 April 2011 the seven hours — all morning and all evening — that Vancouver City Council spent cobbling together last-minute amendments to Vancouver’s Street and Traffic By-law (reference Agenda Item 1) should have an excellent idea of how bureaucracy cannot cope with freedom.

More than two weeks earlier on April 7, the issue of “Structures on Streets for Political Expression” had already eaten up an entire afternoon. By one well-placed account, the contentious report first appeared online and available to the public at 1:30 pm on Tuesday April 5. Report presenter Peter Judd made several apologies for the lateness of a document that the City had had more than five months to prepare. The public had only 48 hours of lead time. The five speakers heard on that first afternoon included Clive Ansley, legal representative for Falun Gong, and Micheal Vonn of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

Despite the generality of the bylaw amendments proposed, the report to council (amended version) made clear a desire “to align with direction provided by the B.C. Court of Appeal in the matter of the Falun Gong.” The elephant in this bylaw closet was the ongoing protest outside the Chinese consulate on Granville Street. The bylaw amendment itself adopted a cumbersome and much vaguer designation to generalize its effect and coverage.


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Vancouver’s in-control municipal party, Vision Vancouver, votes as a bloc. You’re surprised? Parties exist to march in step. They call it discipline.

The just updated Vancouver Council Votes web site covers 39 of the most contentious issues to come before City Council 2009-2011.

Most of the contention surrounds “planning” — aka spewing out turgid bureaucratic justifications for handing over as much as possible as fast as possible to the local real estate speculation industry. What else is a poor city to do when so much of its economic base has slunk off to elsewhere?

On four separate occasions, four different Vision councillors have strayed. First, a roll call of the rigid toers of the line: Heather Deal, Kerry Jang, Gregor Robertson, Tim Stevenson. Now to inspect the anomalies.

George Chow on 24 September 2009 opposed the form of development slated for 1450 McRae Avenue. No coincidence — Chow has strong connections to Shaughnessy. (When the earlier main vote took place on 1 April 2008, Chow with Deal joined NPA’s Capri in opposing the sizeable McRae development at the edge of that special region.) Four sessions of previous public hearing saw 53 persons speak in opposition and 7 in support. On the correspondence side, 4 letters supported and 427 opposed. Amusing side note: one of the speakers in opposition back then, Tony Tang, is now the 2011 Vision replacement for George Chow.

Andrea Reimer on 18 May 2010 opposed the rezoning of 2250 Commercial Drive (Van East Cinema). Reimer lives to the south of that location. The developer proposal involved outrageous fudging, perhaps too much for Reimer to stomach. Chase the details on that 2250 Commercial rezoning if you need a purgative.


Michael Barnholden, author of Reading the Riot Act: A Brief History of Rioting in Vancouver (Anvil Press 2005), is associate director of Humanities 101 at the University of British Columbia, member of the board of the Kootenay School of Writing, and managing editor of the literary magazine West Coast LINE.

I have to admit I was taken by surprise. When asked if there would be a riot after game 7 of the Stanley Cup final I said: “No, conditions just aren’t right, there’s not enough anger out there.” The anger I was referring to would be the anger directed at the police and the government, in short, the authorities. I was wrong. It seems there was no shortage of anger. But then, I also thought the Canucks would win the cup.

For me the question that remains is what is the source of the anger? I don’t buy the theory that losing a game results in such rage. The bad apple theory doesn’t hold water nor does mob mentality. Too many bad apples not enough mob. So where does the rage come from? Here’s my theory.

BC has just come through the most vicious ten year cycle of class warfare waged by the BC Liberal government under Gordon Campbell and the election of a new leader in the person of Christy Clark promises more of the same in a new style. What is the evidence?

In the 2008 election, Vision Vancouver and Gregor Robertson recognized that to win an election in progressive Vancouver, politicians needed to talk the talk of progressive politics. For Vision this meant rallying Vancouver around the bold idea of addressing the housing crisis and Ending Homelessness. Electorally, it meant a compromise with COPE, Vancouver’s traditional progressive party. COPE and Vision would work together under the “big umbrella” of progressive change, with COPE running only two councilors.

Today, after three years of a Vision majority on City Council, the progressive spirit chosen in the 2008 municipal elections is nowhere to be found. The party who promised to end homelessness and address affordability has turned out to be its mirror opposite, giving millions in tax breaks to developers, decreasing the corporate tax rate to the lowest in the world, forcibly closing homeless shelters, cutting services, hiring millions of dollars of additional police officers, and deepening the affordability crisis at every possible turn.

This month, the members of COPE will have to decide whether or not to enter into another electoral deal with Vision. Members will be presented with that choice at a COPE general meeting on June 26, 2011. Here are ten reasons COPE members ought to reject the deal as proposed, and instead support an independent progressive party in the 2011 municipal elections:

1. Affordable Housing….


“The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images” – Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord

After the Stanley Cup riot of 1994, a Georgia Straight article, titled “Stupidville” pondered: “[Vancouverites] had better decide what we want this community to be about, besides pretty vistas when it doesn’t rain. What shared tasks can we undertake whose achievement will fill us with civic pride? What conditions are needed to come to unconditionally love this place, not for where it is, but for what it is?” But after 15 years of more pretty vistas and nature fetishism, we have failed to produce “something nobler than a mob heading to Stupidville,” as the Straight hoped.

Many of tonight’s rioters were toddlers during the previous riot, so they cannot possibly be blamed for both. Although each fanatic must face their own responsibility for being swept up in the tide of jingoism, the system that produces Canuck fanatics goes back decades. It is important to analyze this system of fanatic production, in order that “something nobler” emerge one day.

First it is impossible to have fanatics without spectacle. Tonight, we had two spectacles: the spectacle of the Canucks, then the spectacle of the Rioters. Disappointed fanatics, unable to control the outcome of the hockey game, created a spectacle of their own. Meanwhile, sitting at home, you could consume representations of both, without having power over either.

It is often claimed that fanatics turn to hooliganism to compensate feelings of powerless when their team loses, and express their powerlessness through violence. There is truth to this, but there is more: they overcome their powerlessness through spectacle.

It helps to recall that our late-capitalist society is a “society of the spectacle,” where social life is increasingly mediated through representations – corporate media and advertising. We acquire collective experience, and even collective purpose, by gazing at these representations. And in Vancouver, the gaze has been professionally focused on ‘our boys’ fighting the enemy – the Boston Bruins.

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Recently Britain-based artrepreneur Martin Creed [1] brought his band into town to kick off a May-to-October exhibition [2] under the auspices of condo king Bob Rennie. This essay focuses on the Creed-and-Rennie performance at the 17 May 2011 Emily Carr and Rennie Collection Speaker Series [3].

Martin Creed started off his solo evening in the art school spotlight with tortured musings: “I just feel like a wanker, you know … It’s much more difficult to wank in public.” A little later: “You can’t talk … I’ll try and be fast … Ah, fuck!”

Further ramblings included: “I didn’t know what I was doing … It wasn’t making me feel good.” And: “I was trying not to decide what I was doing.” And: “If you walk away and have a reason you can take that with you.” This last, for me, was the most interesting thing I heard from Creed. But the kicker is, will Bob Rennie fork out art cash for that non-object?

Eventually Creed set his sights on dialogue and asked for questions or comments. After a few exchanges, he fell into a back-and-forth with a woman who pursued the nature of his relationship with another artist that he had collaborated with. Creed seemed to use the topic to veer off into repetitive put-on. If that is what he was trying to do, he lacked two of the requisites: stellar status and youth. Stellar is much more than a decade-old Turner Prize. Think Bob Dylan for contrast.

One theme that slipped in and out of Creed’s meanderings was making distinctions and separations amid the flux of experience. Creed did manage to describe the satisfaction of taking a shit and believing that the result was not himself.