Seven years ago, almost to the day, a secretive group of pampered, aristocratic, well-fed elites visited Vancouver. They were there to see if British Columbia had what it takes – unlimited and exorbitant funds, disdain for the poor and a willingness to create a legacy of oppression and injustice – to host the 2010 Winter Olympics.
They were delegates of the International Olympic Committee, the non-transparent body that, through TV rights, corporate sponsorship, bid fees, corruption and extortion, makes billions (tax free) from each Olympics.
I had just founded a ragtag group of artists and activists to protest Vancouver’s Olympic bid: “Billionaires for the Olympics”. We pulled out our fox furs and leopard skin coats, gilded our ski poles, dusted off our champagne glasses. One of us had a white limousine (he used it for his performance art pieces), someone else made a torch that featured billion dollar bills going up in smoke. In our very first action, we closed down an Olympic Parade on Granville Island. We handed out flyers detailing the monetary, social and environmental cost of this 17-day party:
This [Olympic Bid] comes on the heels of massive cutbacks to the social safety net by the BC Liberals. If there is not enough money ofr education, senior citizens and legal aid (to name a few) why is there money for the 2010 Olympics?
In the intervening weeks and months we made many appearances. People joined us – other actors and performers – wielding cigars and fancy hats and monopoly money. We got some good press, but reporters were frustrated that we wouldn’t give real names, always just Ivanka Strumpet, Max Profit, and Mike McMoney. Onlookers looked, and then looked again – were we the obscene subtext of the Games or were we protesters? We were both – mixing up the message, helping people to read between the lines.
I’ve never had so much fun protesting something. There was joy and passion and creativity among us. My brother Roman, a street musician living in the Downtown Eastside, had died just a year earlier. I was doing it for him, I was doing it for us.
Our only regret was that more artists didn’t join us. I guess they couldn’t have foreseen that 90% of arts funding in BC would be cut in 2009, just months before an Olympics for which the government was happy to blow $7 billion. They couldn’t have known (or could they?) that every single artist appearing in the Arts Olympiad would be required to sign a muzzle agreement, saying that “The artist shall at all times refrain from making any negative or derogatory remarks respecting VANOC, the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Olympic movement generally, Bell Canada and/or any other sponsor associated with VANOC”.’
In 2007, long after I’d moved away from Vancouver, Billionaires for the Olympics was revived, and appeared at the unveiling of the ugly Olympic Clock that (dis)graces downtown Vancouver. In their press release, they quoted their own Max Profit “I think it’s great that we’re helping you spend all that money,” said Profit. “That money was in danger of going toward social housing and feeding lazy bums! If they don’t like it, let them eat snow!”
In the end, the Billionaires “won.”
Welcome to todays’ opening ceremonies, a spectacle that costs $1000 to attend and that’s just for the cheap seats. Welcome to the streets of Vancouver, where peacable activists get interrogated and harrassed, to a Downtown Eastside where housing for the homeless has never been so inadequate (while upwards of $115 million was spent housing elite athletes), to a highway to Whistler that decimated forests and wetlands, cost over $600 million, and even cost one First Nations elder her life.
If you didn’t or wouldn’t or couldn’t join our protests seven years ago, then protest now. Make your presence known at today’s march in Vancouver. You might even want to gather some friends, don a tuxedo or a ballgown, and chant, “Luge, Not Legal Aid!”
“TAKE BACK OUR CITY” PROTEST MARCH AGAINST THE OLYMPICS
Fri Feb 12 3PM
MEET AT VANCOUVER ART GALLERY, MARCH TO BC PLACE