One month ago today I was sitting at the same place writing Activists & Buggy Whips, a paper that came out of the frustration of how the many people organizing Occupy Vancouver had refused to use the word ‘denounce’ in reference to violence. I was confounded at the time, had no idea why this simple idea was such a struggle to get consensus on. Had I only known then what I know now…
This all began when someone posted a provocative video on the OV Facebook page on October 10th. The video was of Harsha Walia, who was viciously defending the concept of ‘Diversity of Tactics’- an ambiguous mix of violent & non-violent methods of protest. D0T could include anything from holding a flash-mob dancing on the sidewalk, to smashing the windows of a bank. As a person who is 110% anti-violence (it never solves anything), I felt the imperative to get clarity on this issue.
So, as I mentioned in the linked paper, I went through days of abuse and attacks as a result. It was ugly, people were telling me that I was a typical ‘white male’ and I should ‘check my privlege’ and shut-up. This went on for days- curiously, this is the same method of attack that Harsha used against the man she was debating against- and the audience actually clapped in her support!
Yes, you heard that correctly- she was defending violence, and used a man’s race & gender as a tool to squash his political opinion. A lot of you are probably realizing that this is not only wrong, but it is actually a crime to do so! Unbelievable she would take this tactic- but that’s the problem, DoT gives one carte blanche to do whatever it takes to get acceptance for one’s point-of-view. Rather unaceptable if you ask me…
The harassment continued until three days later- and my gender/race were used against me ad-nauseam. This continued until I pointed-out it was illegal to use gender & race to discriminate against someone’s political opinion. Suddenly, the attacks ended. And, Harsha wrote a nice paper that softened her position. But, her paper was still somewhat ambiguous, saying:
” These gatherings have been explicitly nonviolent from the start and in hundreds of cities across the continent. Obviously this is the right tactic for this moment.”
By this point I was exhausted- the attacks had become so harsh, and so pointed towards me, that at one point they had sent me to tears. Having grown-up in a feminist-led household, I’m quite a sensitive guy, and it seriously hurt to be called a racist and sexist- it simply just isn’t who I am. So, I mistakenly accepted the ambiguity and decided to move on.
From there, I began to introduce the idea that OV needed a code-of-conduct. Initially I recommended what we referred to as the Eight Rules– a precursor to what later became OWS8 in New York. This turned into another argument- this time, confirming the truth behind Godwin’s Law. The final argument was that had the Jews had not acted 100% non-violent, they would have perhaps not faced the Holocaust. This really was pushing things a bit too far…
Sunday, November 6th, was a tumultuous day for OV. The troubles began early in the afternoon when a number of people appeared wearing all-black, balaclavas, and some carrying large black flags (see the picture above). Curiously, it was this day that I first saw Harsha since the planning meeting…
Later that evening I watched the General Assembly over the Livestream- this was shortly after the incident with the #SacredProvocation. It was bizarre- first, it was more efficient than any GA I’ve seen. They slammed-through a large number of amendments, including one to pay $300 per week for wood for the fire! And, I believe, they voted to give $50 p/day to the new First Nations people who joined us. It was obvious to most that the movement had been hijacked!
The next day, I got into a conversation with one of the police officers who has been assigned to OV. I had got to know him due to an issue where an outsider was making threats to ‘de-occupy’ OV, and was identified trying to recruit others through Twitter. We spoke about the threat, and how it had seemed to disappear- then, the conversation turned to what happened that evening. He said that the VPD were aware that a “highly organised and potentially violent” group had hijacked OV. He said the police are watching them very carefully. I’d already suspected this, but the cop said this independently without my mentioning the problem.
I now have no doubt our concerns about being hijacked are true- but, the details of who and why are still foggy to most of us. But, it is not a big secret- the fact that the GA voted to pay for the #SacredProvocation says it all. The only thing worse than to start a fire would be to attack the police. And, the people in black costumes began doing that on that Sunday also- before they were asked to stop…
So, once I had confirmation from the police (from an officer who has told me straight-out he is a member of the 99%) , I took the next step and asked Harsha to confirm or deny if she had a connection to the ninjas.
I was told that she is a “good person” who works hard for the DTES, and doesn’t deserve to be questioned like this. But, all I asked was to confirm the ambiguity of her last statement- not a lot to ask really, considering she appeared on the same day as the people in costumes. Not much to ask because of her video, and not much to ask considering she was talking with a couple of them. But, was I ever wrong…
People who were friendly towards me told me to stop- that it was not allowable for me to ask her confirmation she is still against violence “at this moment”. I was publicly called insane, someone contacted a family member and repeated that message. It became obvious who was for and who was against my questions.
This issue was discussed on the Facebook page for about a day and a half. Then, just when it looked like she had no choice but to give an answer- zap, the thread had disappeared. Someone erased it.
Now, we are one month into the occupation, and we still don’t have a code-of-conduct, and the ethos behind our movement has been thrown to the side by a small group who seem hell-bent on ending the movement. There are a couple, faint, lights of hope- but, it looks likely that Occupy Vancouver 1.0 is just about over. We’ll see what happens in court tomorrow…
i am so saddened.. but it is what it is. what a waste of a perfect storm.
Indeed- but, the storm is not yet wasted. It is my hope this will lead the evildoers to march out the way they came in. One can hope…
i know but i’m so scared now of continuing in this direction, it feels like such a waste of energy to work for/with something that’s so vulnerable.
Occupy Vancouver 2.0 won’t be vulnerable, there will be a non-negotiable code of conduct! All that is happening now is that the rats will be cleared out!
ok but how will you ensure the code is respected at all times. and if you find offenders – how will you protect yourself from them?
.. or rather how will you remove them?
There will no longer be silent consent. If people want to continue, they will make sure it is clear these tactics are no longer acceptable…
I am all for a code of conduct. Emily, is noone really participating on the original OV forum anymore?
There are still people participating from there- but, many have left after all the craziness. Stay tuned, Occupy Vancouver 2.0 is coming soon!
I have posted stuff in the past few days but the conversation has really died down. I feel left out :( I am someone who can’t be at the GA’s so I appreciate the opportunity for input and discussion, and some way to do online voting or something. Anyways, good to know that the original spirit of OV is a live and committed to staying positive and peaceful.
I’d say that about 80-90% of the people are keeping alive the original spirit of OV- but, there are those who are doing quite the opposite. Last Sunday, after the stormtroopers came out in their ninja costumes, and the #SacredProvocation was set, a lot of the good people hightailed it out of OV. This would be sad- however, as they are busy building Occupy Vancouver 2.0, I still have some hope…
Stay tuned, I will have more information on next steps soon. And, thanks for writing, look me up on Facebook so I know who you are there!
Thanks Greg…I’m not on FB because of the type of work I do ( social services, which is usually gov’t funded). I’m actually looking for work right now, so I have to watch what I say– I have to stay politically neutral in the workplace for the most part, and I can’t influence opinions of my clients–it’s a code of ethics thing (please bear with me–thanks for understanding) but I assure you I am a friendly. I am a supporter of the occupy movement and building a better world for everyone. Hopefully, I can help out. I have a hunch there are many Vancouverites like me who want to help however they can, but have to set some boundaries also. Will we fit into OV 2.0?
I sure hope Occupy Vancouver 2.0 will be safe for more people to join. The primary principle behind that movement will be that it starts with a code-of-conduct, and the code is non-negotiable! So, if it isn’t, then we will have not been successful…
I’m also a professional- work on the design & operations of large-scale IT systems. I’m also an ethicist, studying for my Phd (on a 6 year program it seems, so busy with life…). So, I totally understand your position- and, I am motivated to make this next one more respectable. And, hopefully, the ethics in the code-of-conduct will dissuade those who like to dress like ninjas from attending… :-)