Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The War at Home, Up Close

The War at Home, Up Close
by Kevin Annett
East of Main, on occupied land called Vancouver

The iron fence went up quickly around Oppenheimer Park this week, closing off the last remaining common ground left to the people of our community: homeless mostly, half of them aboriginal, none of them with anywhere else to go save a piss-soaked alley, now that the walls have once again fallen and enclosed a green and quiet space.

It's fashionable these days among white folks to talk about "solidarity with native people", now that even the government is babbling about "reconciliation". But when the walls come down, and the killing starts, none of the whites are anywhere near the destruction. Not one.

There's been lots more violence this past week in Vancouver's downtown eastside, now that the park is gone: pimps and dealers beating their women even bloodier than normal, half-conscious Indians whacking away at one another, and the cops everywhere, stoking the crime. It's all how the war continues and drives out the expendables from what will soon be cute little boutiques and fancy condos, tailored to the Olympic hordes about to descend and kill forever this last free and open space for the destitute.

I watched the destruction for a few days, as city workers hammered up the iron fences around two square blocks of former parkland, and lots of people passed by as they moved their few belongings from what had been their home. One of them, Donna, a thin and tottering native woman from northern B.C., paused to talk.

"I hear women screaming most nights in the alleys towards the waterfront. It makes my blood go cold. It's the same noise that came out of that house on Campbell street where a john took me one night and was gonna cut my throat but I kicked him and got outta there. But a lot of girls died in that house."

I said something about cops being involved in the disappearing of women.
Donna grimaced and nodded.

"Everybody knows that. A mountie raped me over and over one night in the back of his car. He said he'd have me snuffed if I ever said anything. I know the same cop done it to a few of the women who Willie Picton had out at his farm, he was out there, he brought the girls out there to be killed and filmed."

I sat in the dying rays of the sun today as they angled red and beaming off the north shore mountains, and lit up for a moment all the tired faces of people suddenly searching for a safe place to sleep. A crowd of do-gooders chose that moment to descend, yet another crowd of concerned white, plump faces just wanting to help. I said to Donna that we should do a walk about their neighbourhoods and hand out candy and condoms to all the rich folks in Shaughnessy and West Vancouver, and stand and gawk at them as they prune their gardens and sip martinis on the veranda, and ask them how we can be of help to them.

She giggled briefly, then asked me if I wanted a blow job for ten dollars, which is enough to keep her in crack for a half a day.

There are a lot more white people in the hood these days, new shopkeepers and social workers and lawyers and nurses, doing studies, asking opinions, shoving needles in people, making plans that result in the destruction of our last free space. They call it development. I hear bones breaking and voices crying from alleyways.

The army's moving in, too, double the number of Canadian troops now in Afghanistan: over 4000 troops will be in and around Vancouver for the Olympics, doing what they do, which is to spread violence and fear. Even the transit cops are armed now.

Upstairs, above Co-op radio, a man is screaming his rage as I write this, yelling over and over to the four walls that some cocksucker killed his dog.

It's hard to sleep in the downtown eastside, where the noise and sirens never stop, anymore than does the relentless searching and dealing and conniving along its rat infested streets. I didn't sleep last night, because my friends are out in that mess, and half the night passes in searching for those not seen in days and feared lost. Just today, Harry Wilson, one of the first residential school survivors to tell his story a dozen years ago, sat all bloodied and bruised outside First United church after once more being beaten when he tried to sleep there, while the night staff looked on and did nothing.

Two nights without sleep causes the nervous twitching to begin, the sudden uncontrollable jerking of the muscles, the quick blackouts and long mental blanks as your mind tries to work. Serious heroin addicts can go a whole week without sleep, impossibly, but I've seen it. At three nights without sleep, the vomiting starts, and the hallucinations.

There is no rest for all the men and women evicted from Oppenheimer Park this week. Where can they go? Like the denizens of the Gaza strip, our people are hemmed in to a concrete prison where they are shot at, poisoned, experimented on, injected, milked like cattle and eventually killed off. The government calls it improvement.

I used to try practicing what some like to call "activism" in this battleground, but saw quickly how mere protest means nothing in the face of planned extermination. Yesterday, someone scrawled on the iron fence around the park, "An Insult to our Community", but the cops had ripped the slogan down by the next day. Some of the middle class staffers at nearby community centres are talking about holding a candle light vigil at the iron fence. And so on.

Old habits die hard, especially in those who aren't affected by the violence, and who therefore never have to assess their methods and assumptions, like all the political activists I know. The usual litany of polite petitioning or Saturday afternoon strolls called demonstrations that tie up nothing have less than no effect on the slaughter of our neighborhood and its people: I say less, because after doing nothing, the "activists" go home (they don't actually live down here) feeling they have.

What might stop the killing? Maybe pulling down the whole iron fence one day, and keeping it down. But that means challenging all the sacred cows drummed into our heads, like damaging property and being violent, which I understand are no nos - at least, when the poor do them.

I imagine fifty of us smashing the iron fence to bits and then sitting there and stopping anyone from re-erecting it. That before all else would be to declare that it's we who own this land, and it's we who alone can protect it. For that's the only way enclosures and evictions have ever been fought and ended.

Nobody has pulled the fence down, of course. The destitute are too busy trudging around sleepless, and the activists are too busy talking.

But the war continues, and the casualties mount, and so something must be done, and soon, before we're all locked away or dead somewhere.

I don't think I'll sleep tonight either. Will you?


24 June, 2009

Kevin D. Annett is a community minister, author and award-winning film maker who lives and works in Vancouver's downtown eastside. His website is:


Blogger Frank Partisan said...

I've been to downtown Vancouver. I can only picture what it's like. Downtown Minneapolis's mall, is what Vancouver's is based on.

8:15 PM  

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