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Demonstrators Disrupt 2010 Olympic Torch Relay

2010 Olympic Torch Relay Starts Off Disgraced, Delayed, and Disrupted

by, October 31, 2009
Occupied Coast Salish Territory

The 2010 Olympic Torch Relay sparked controversy after its official lighting in Greece on October 22, 2009, when it was revealed that one of the runners in a seven day relay around the country was disgraced Olympian Fani Halkia. Ms. Halkia was disqualified during the 2004 Greece Olympics after winning gold in the 400 meter hurdles, only to later test positive for steroids. She had been banned by the IOC for two years. IOC, Vanoc and Greece officials brushed off the controversy, but Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson called it a 'disappointment' for the broader 'Olympic movement.'

The official Canadian 2010 Olympic Torch Relay also got off to a rough start on Friday, October 30, 2009, arriving 90 minutes late at Victoria International Airport due to bad weather. After it was flown in onboard a Canadian military Polaris jumbo jet, it was transferred to local Indian Act band chiefs. The flame, still carried in a miner's lantern which was lit in Greece (very symbolic considering BC's multi-billion dollar mining industry), was then paddled in a band council canoe into Victoria's inner harbour. From here it was used to light a cauldron and one of the 12,000 official torches made by Bombardier (shaped like a giant marijuana joint; Bombardier is the second largest military manufacturer in Canada). The torch was then ran around the city for the rest of the day by celebrity athletes, corporate employees, and citizens specially selected to run one leg of the relay.

Meanwhile, some 150-200 people gathered at Spirit Square (formerly Centennial Square) at 2 pm for the Anti-Olympic Festival of Resistance. This event was organized by No2010 Victoria, a coalition of grassroots community groups in the city. The festival featured speakers, singers, performers, puppets, banners, a marching band, and many in costume. Speakers represented groups from local Native tribes, university students, anti-poverty & homeless rights advocates, needle exchange workers, seniors groups, environmentalists, and others.

Around the square were as many as 30 cops in total, standing around in groups of 4-6. In three buildings overlooking the square (one of which was City Hall) more cops could be seen in the lobbies and moving up and down stairs. On one building, two black-suited cops stood on the roof observing the crowd with binoculars.

At 4:30 pm the Zombie March Against the Olympics began. At this time, there were probably 40-50 cops, from both the Victoria Police Department & Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) assembled in the square, all wearing yellow rain jackets. These police followed the march on the sides and to the rear, at times mingling in the crowd (along with undercover cops). As the protesters moved through the downtown area, there were additional groups of police, including seven cops on horses from the Vancouver Police Department, who then also attached themselves to the demonstration. Overhead, an RCMP helicopter circled for the duration of the protest. Altogether, several hundred police were involved in security operations at both the protest as well as the Provincial Legislature building (where the big concert-type event was to occur in the early evening).

.: Protesting the privatisation of public assets.: Protesting the privatisation of public assets

The protesters followed a designated flag and a large red banner with 'No Olympics on Stolen Native Land' emblazoned around the 5 rings. Medics were dispersed throughout the crowd, with arm bands and kit bags. Legal observers from the BC Civil Liberties Associations, decked out in bright orange shirts & carrying clipboards, as well as some video cameras, were also spread around the crowd.

The assembled ghouls & zombies, which quickly grew to some 400, along with the pigs and spooks, 'snake marched' throughout the downtown streets, snarling traffic for over two hours during rush hour. The main city intersection outside the Royal Bank of Canada on Douglas street was blocked for 30 minutes, with buses being turned around the street (RBC being one of the main financiers of the Tar Sands in northern Alberta and sponsor of the Torch Relay & Olympics). The group also made stops outside the Hudson's Bay Company department store (the first colonial government of the colony, from1849-59, and now a corporate sponsor for 2010), as well as Bastion Square (where many Native chiefs & warriors were hanged by the government in the past).

As the sky darkened and it began to rain, the march worked its way down side residential streets, which turned out to be part of the Torch Relay route. A thin, sporadic crowd of spectators lined the route, some of whom cheered the protesters. The main slogans used in chants were 'No Olympics on Stolen Native Land', 'Homes Not Games', 'Whose Streets? Our Streets!', and the crowd's favourite '1,2,3, 4... Fuck the Olympics!'.

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To help communicate information throughout the crowd, 'call & response' was used, in which those who can hear the speaker repeat short statements he/she makes by shouting them, so that those in the rear can hear the message. Frequent warnings were given for the crowd to stay together.

A few more intersections were blocked for 10-15 minutes as the march continued, until organizers informed the crowd that the torch had been rerouted and that sections of it had been cancelled because of the protests. From here, the march began another long trek to the Legislature buildings (Victoria is the provincial capital of 'British Columbia'). As it neared to within 1 block, another 50 or so police could be seen blocking an intersection. Some 25-30 of these then moved towards the crowd, which had stopped.

At this point, some organizers directed the crowd to turn around, but some refused and began to chant 'Whose Streets? Our Streets!' After a couple of minutes the police line dissolved into the march, which then continued on towards the Legislature. The steady drizzle had by now turned into heavy rain.

When the protesters reached the Legislature buildings, they were routed through crowd control fencing and into the soggy, muddy, lawn area where the small, thinned out pro-Olympic spectators were gathered. Here there were even more cops. The protesters then worked their way forward until the red banner was to the left of the main stage. A large 'Poverty Olympic' flame prop carried by the protesters was tall enough to block one of stage lights, which helped illuminate it.

As the protesters arrived, the concert had a local Native performer doing pop songs and trying to hype the crowd, with a loud powerful sound system and fireworks (along with a flaming cauldron that would periodically erupt into a huge fireball).

Although the Olympic sound system was loud, the combination of the protester's marching band and chants succeeded in disrupting the event, with some citizens later complaining their 'once-in-a-life-time' experience had been ruined because of the protest (as well as those of some of the torch relay runners).

When the last peformer had finished, the emcee rushed through his final remarks while the crowd chanted even louder: 'No Olympics on Stolen Native Land!' After a few minutes of reorganizing, the march withdrew from the Legislature lawn and walked back several blocks to Spirit Square, followed by 20-30 cops. After reaching the square, having marched for over 4.5 hours and rallying for seven, the protest dispersed in small groups.

There were no reported arrests. One media account stated that marbles had been used at one point in the march to restrict the movement of the horse mounted cops. Despite the police, government & corporate media hype about 'violent protesters', and the heavy police presence, the cops were clearly under orders to act in a restrained manner and to avoid provoking a major confrontation. Protesters also showed restraint, with no acts of vandalism or direct action other than blocking the streets and making noise at the concert (both of which were effective).

For the anti-Olympic movement, the Victoria torch relay disruption was a victory, and it is hoped that this action will inspire other communities to carry out similar protests against the Olympic Torch Relay as it passes through their area.

Mobilize Against the Olympic Torch Relay!
RBC Out of the Tar Sands!
Stop Coca Cola's Human Rights & Environmental Violations!
No Olympic Police State!
No Olympics on Stolen Native Land!

Resist the 2010 Corporate Circus

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