For all the power and spectacle of the Olympic Games, the down-sides may seem to some a necessary evil. But not to all.
“The Olympics have a history of leaving host cities in debt, and relocating the poor and homeless away from the sanitized corridors of host cities,” The Christian Science Monitor noted on Friday. “Vancouver is no exception.”
Though protesters outside Vancouver’s Winter Olympics hoped to make just that point on Saturday, their message seems to have been lost on most media amid a hail of broken glass and the blaring of vandalized cars’ alarms.
“We’ve been doing outreach for years … on how this money could be better spent, on housing instead of for a party and for a security budget,” one of the protesters told the Vancouver Media Co-op in a short video documentary. Vancouver has over 15,000 homeless people, CS Monitor noted.
Indeed, the games have cost the city well over $6 billion in unexpected spending, even though the initial public cost projection were less than $700 million. Added to the city’s troubles was a startling lack of frozen precipitation, for which officials compensated by having over 5,000 cubic meters of snow airlifted by helicopter, requiring some 750 workers according to Reuters Canada.
“What do you think the carbon footprint of a helicopter is, going seven, eight, nine, ten times a day to fly in snow?” another one of the Vancouver protesters asked rhetorically.
Yet, a survey of Sunday’s headlines reveals a common focus on what one of the demonstrators referred to as a “more militant” face of their resistance.
“Police dressed in riot gear were face to face with a group of aggressive protesters near the Lions Gate Bridge and Stanley Park,” The Boston Globe reported. “One spit in the direction of a policeman, while another protester charged in an officer’s direction, only to retreat and hold up his camera as if to take a picture.”
In the Globe‘s video, a protester holding a camera can be heard justifying the destruction wreaked upon an Olympic souvenir shop. “Get informed!” he yelled. “This is nothing for a company like the bank.” Then another comment, calling out a “class war,” with a response of “you’ve made your point” from one of the onlookers.
They became the “anti-Olympics protesters,” in most reports.
“Protesters Smash Windows and Vandalize Cars in Vancouver,” was how The New York Times introduced its piece. Reuters focused on an organizer’s call to “clog the arteries of capitalism,” noting that Saturday’s overall goal was to disrupt the games.
The protesters failed to do so. Vehicle traffic through the city was largely back to normal by noon, media reported.
Police retribution was swift, but there were no reports of activists being tear gassed. Seven were arrested, according to The Toronto Sun. Among them, The Vancouver Sun reports that three have been charged.
Police told media outlets that the protesters were roughly 200 in number. Video clearly shows more than that. The Vancouver Media Co-op added that the activists “overwhelmed” police until riot squads showed up to block their march.
“Members of the Olympic Resistance Network quickly distanced themselves from the so-called anarchists after the event,” Canada’s CTV News reported — but the damage to the protesters’ cause was already done.
“Now is a time for celebration. Now is a time to try and lift Canada up,” British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell said, according to wire service UPI. “And frankly, I think the protesters are self-centered and selfish and in many cases cowardly.”
For activists whose most urgent concerns are with their homeless countrymen and the threat posed to humanity by climate change, the greatest irony is that the label of “selfish” seems likely to stick.
This video was published to YouTube by user ornvideo on Feb. 14, 2010.
This video is from Boston.com, published Feb. 13, 2010.