Say What?

Folks, I’m scared.

I’ve unwittingly stumbled onto something about Occupy Vancouver that may just be the most important story about this movement yet.  If you read my article Titled Yellow Card you’ll know the story. Harsha Walia is the person who injected the term “Uunceded coast salish territory” into our statement of unity- possibly the most divisive issue ever to hit the OV.

Will follow-up more soon but, for now, please have a look at this video. If you have any information that can help me with this, I’d appreciate if you could share.  There are still a few missing puzzle pieces missing.  If you have any information that you think may be helpful, please let me know.

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14 responses to “Say What?

  1. All I can offer is my impressions… she talks extremely fast. Too fast. Too many qualifiers and over-qualifiers, and a few very clever, equally high-speed conflations disguised as comparisons. I don’t care to listen to this kind of more than once. However, to comment on some of her points, I do not think it is true that all tactics are equal or share some sort of neutral starting point for regarding them – nor, for that matter, will all tactics ever be equally effective. She switches back and forth between those ideas a bit too freely, almost incomprehensibly, which is troubling. Although there can never be absolute certainty about the outcome, one can just as legitimately speak about likely outcomes of various tactics without committing a sin of some kind.
    And despite her apparent attempts to legitimize (notwithstanding such carefully placed phrases as “at a distance” and “without endorsing”, which I doubt), the simple truth is that some tactics are classifiable as – and in reality – non-violent protest, some are not. Property damage is not traditionally considered non-violent.
    She began the entire sprint by insisting that she would be very specific, but it seemed to me that as she picked up speed, she was more facile, more heated, and less and less specific. She first brings up an image of black bloc (apparently males?) as protecting other protesters from arrest, which she lauds, but in her next mention, they are breaking windows. I don’t know enough to assess what her remark about the art gallery was about, but I found a bit off-putting as well.
    Otherwise, it was interesting to watch people’s faces…

  2. “Who Does She Work For?… Folks, I’m scared.” Don’t be silly. I’m met some pretty extreme people in the world of activism in the past and Harsha is not one of them. Smearing other activists you disagree with is not useful. This leads to infighting which wastes activist energy pretty much every time there’s a major action in Vancouver in which reformists and radicals participate.

    Radicals believe that direct action is a moral imperative in the face of a threatening, destructive force. While you may disagree with that, radicals are not going to go away and co-existence is the only way to not divert your focus from the big picture. Tactics correspond to personal morality and, rationally, individuals should be responsible for their own actions, rather than OV as a whole.

    The sensible thing to do to coexist with radicals is talk to them and try to work out some way where you’re not stepping on each other.

    • Thanks for your input Mike. Perhaps it is just a coincidence that Harsha showed-up on the same day as the Black Blok people. Perhaps it is just a coincidence that on the same day we had the major provocation of setting a fire (will write more about fire, I was there for it), and perhaps it is just a coincidence that the Blak Block people got into a (short) physical clash with the police that day. And, perhaps it is just a coincidence that many outsiders have commented to me (and elsewhere) that Occupy Vancouver has now been hijacked, and perhaps it is a coincidence that the police told me a story I have already discovered on my own.

      It feels like less of a coincidence when one watches Harsha’s video on Black Blok. Less of a coincidence when other members have left after being threatened by Harsha’s supporters. And less of a coincidence when one confirms that the people who came in as FN ‘elders’ may have a bad reputation within their bands and are not officially appointed that title. And perhaps it is a coincidence that on the day of the incident there was a new person running the GA and they passed some self-destructive amendments- like to pay money for the ‘sacred fire’, the fire lit by two FN people while three other FN’s got very angry and said it was being lit for provocation.

      From the very first day, OV was labeled a ‘Non-Violent’ movement. Black Bloc tactics are not welcome here, and they have been incredibly damaging. Because, on that Sunday, the only pictures we saw of OV in the press were of people carrying black flags and wearing black masks. Then, later that day, there was the fight with the police and fire department where people were biting cops and stealing their ammunition (2 days after Media Coop released a video warning police not to bring weapons to the VAG). And, I watched these people lie to the media about the event the next day.

      I’ve been told by a professor at NYU that if you want to identify provocateurs, you only need to look at who is involved in, or asks others to, or promotes people doing things that could hurt the movement. Sunday’s events were the perfect example- don’t you think?

      • If you are right and Harsha is some kind of black-bloc puppet master, public infighting is still expensive PR-wise. Any non-participants who hear of infighting are going to conclude that OV is out-of-control. If you can work something out with the black-block community behind the scenes – perhaps agreeing not to denounce them in exchange for them agreeing to try to keep heat-y actions off the OV grounds – that would be optimal. Maybe you’re already tried this and it hasn’t worked out?

        Whether you’re right or not about a hijack attempt, the “OV is hijacked” meme is already being espoused by the police and media and this meme will likely be used by the police to justify forcible eviction to the public. The more this meme spreads the more it will color the public’s view of OV. A lot of OV’s PR responses have been great: after the overdose bringing in InSite for example. Responses like this show OV isn’t out-of-control.

        Anyways, just some thoughts you can take with a grain of salt. Respect for your OV work and I acknowledge that my perspective is limited because I’m not there.

        • Q: Why do I air our dirty laundry out in public by asking Black Bloc supporters to be accountable?

          A: If I don’t ,I will be as bad as those who try and cover-up what happens at Gitmo! And, our movement will have failed…

      • Greg, you seem very confused or are actively ignoring things in order to continue this attack on someone that you seem to not even know much about.

        First of all, people that have been in Vancouver and doing progressive work know Harsha very well. She has done a great deal of work supporting the DTES, migrant and indigenous communities in the city and around the province. Most of the campaigns she is involved in explicitly call for the events to be family friendly, supporting people with disabilities, elders and non-status people.

        And you have read her responses to these issues. She explicitly says: “For me, supporting a diversity of tactics has always implied respect for a range of strategies including non-violent civil disobedience.” It is clear that you have read this article (http://rabble.ca/news/2011/10/acknowledgement-occupations-occupied-land-essential) and are ignoring her own words.

        So for you to continue fixating on this seems to draw your character more into question than Harsha’s. Why are you going after one person so agressively? Yes, you don’t like to see violence, and whether people agree with you or not is irrelevant. No one has declared that OccupyVancouver will be a space for violent resistance. I don’t remember anyone even making such a suggestion.

        What you are actually doing is playing into the media framework that wants to divide the movement. And you pretend that people like Harsha are scaring people from participating. But, the reality is, you are scaring more people by creating an issue where one does not exist.

        Yes, some people showed up at the Sunday demo in black, but there was no confrontation (aside from one initiated by the police with a woman that needed to sit after speaking) and there has not been any presence of tactics you are uncomfortable with through this space.

        You sound more and more like a conspiracy theorist trying to link your campaign (don’t know what it is against exactly) to Harsha when know link exists. Yes, she gave her opinions about diversity of tactics on a video that you have as your only line of arguing. But as she clearly states in her article and in the video that tactics should simply be given equal consideration – she was not supporting one over the other. Again look at the quote above. Anyone watching the video or reading this article can see that is clear. She has been one of the strongest voices advocating for safe and inclusive planning of demonstrations, understanding that the actions of a few can criminalize and impact more vulnerable people.

        So why are you creating conflict – where one does not exist – and scaring people that would otherwise participate? You are very negatively impacting the movement, you need to see this and stop.

        I have seen your comments in so many places since this began and you still haven’t provided any legitimate argument of why people should be demonizing Harsha when the community knows her for the very grounded community based organizing she does. Now you are making desperate attempts here to get more info on her here on your blog and again, still getting nothing to back your arguments. Maybe it’s time to take a step back and realize you might be misreading this whole thing, take a breath and focus on the movement people are trying to build – if you actually care about it.

        • Thanks for repeating the same things everyone else has. Still, when the person who is on-the-record supporting smashing windows (she says this on video) we need to have that person denounce these ‘tactics’ if Occupy Vancouver is to keep itself clean. Most Canadians find any mention of violence -including property damage – to be criminal and abhorrent. I must look at anyone who doesn’t as suspect. A quote from Harsha:

          “…It’s not about smashing windows, but it is about smashing windows…”

          In her essay retorting people’s criticism, Harsha made an incredibly ambiguous statement:

          “It is important to recognise that a belief in supporting a diversity of tactics means not ruling out intentionally peaceful means. 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.”

          “This moment” was when she wrote the article one month ago, many moments have passed since then. What Harsha declined to say was that this tactic isn’t right for any moment at Occupy Vancouver. There is an important distinction…

          If you read the article above, Harsha was the first person who violated democracy at Occupy Vancouver. She did this by inserting the ‘unceeded Salish’ comment. This is a major issue- she never apologized for it nor promised to not do the same in the future. Any time someone violates our democratic principles it cannot be ignored.

          I should also mention that Harsha is involved with the Anti-Poverty committee- an organization that not only is widely regarded as a wart on our city’s society, but also one that has a history of violence/property destruction:

          http://users.resist.ca/apc.bkp/speakers_list.html
          http://downtowneastside.blogspot.com/2010_02_17_archive.html

          On the issue of the FN people involved, I have been told (but not confirmed) by three reporters that the ‘elders’ involved at OV are not recognized as elders in their own communities. My understanding is that they are from the DTES, and there is unconfirmed information that they are being paid a $50 bursary each day. Additionally, they have been setup with a special tent in-front of the stage, with chairs and a table. We are supposed to be an egalitarian society- so, how is it there are people who are treated with more privilege than others? Once again, this is disrespectful of our democracy. And, I understand, none of these people are members of the Coast Salish.

          I was there when the ‘sacred’ fire was lit, as were some other FN people. They got really angry about it, said it wasn’t right to desecrate a sacred fire in the name of a provocation. And it was a provocation, they asked me, and others, if we would join training how to protect it with a human ring- before it was lit. Then the fire was lit to be raging, and the VPD & VFD came-in as they expected. Sacred provocation, and I am not the person who coined the phrase.

          So, one has to ask oneself, what was the purpose of this provocation- and who was the mastermind behind this event? Dontcha think?

        • Q: Why do I ‘create’ conflict?
          A: Well, I don’t, conflict creates itself…

          Q: Why do I encourage conflict?
          A: Because, without it, our democracy would be a lie…

  3. There are a lot of things grossly wrong with your post here, but you’ve already proven yourself to be an agitator, so I wont devote too much energy to explaining how many kinds of misinformation and falsity there are in your string of attacks against Harsha Walia.

    For one thing, to answer your sarcastic question, Harsha Walia is one of the country’s leading activists for migrant justice, indigenous sovereignty and against violence against women. She works at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre as a Programming Coordinator.

    As far as information about this video goes… first, maybe you should have done your own homework, instead of posting an attack and only then asking for an explanation. But, this video has nothing to do with the Occupy movement, it was posted after the Feb 13 2010 Heart Attack march that was part of the anti-Olympic Convergence. That march was explicitly advertised as confrontational and in no way was “hijacked”. There is lots of information about it out there, including on my blog.

    Conflating a debate that happened over a year and a half ago, with the suggestion that she is arguing in favour of a black bloc at Occupy is just foolish. What Harsha actually said about diversity of tactics at Occupy Vancouver is this:

    “On the heels of the Olympics and G20, another recurring issue is that of diversity of tactics. Despite a history in community-based movement building, based on a post-Olympics debate with an ally whom I respect, there has been unnecessary and misinformed fear-mongering that those of us who support a diversity of tactics “fundamentally reject peaceful assemblies.” For me, supporting a diversity of tactics has always implied respect for a range of strategies including non-violent civil disobedience. As G20 defendant Alex Hundert, who has written extensively about diversity of tactics, told me, “It is important to recognise that a belief in supporting a diversity of tactics means not ruling out intentionally peaceful means. 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.”

    Neither Harsha nor I are arguing that black bloc tactics should be used in conjunction with the occupy movement. In fact, we are arguing that people should respect the “non violent” nature of the encampments, the GA and the various peaceful marches that have occurred. You should be aware though, that Oakland is not the only city that has employed “more than pacifist” tactics in their marches. Early on at OccTO, for example, there was a march where graffiti was dispatched and some garbage cans and newspaper boxes knocked over; it did not change the meaning of the movement, nor did anyone get bent out of shape over it.

    And while you have before suggested that recognition that OccVan is taking place on unceded indigenous land was some kind monumentally divisive notion, sooner or later you will have to realise that you are out of touch with progressive politics (and history itself, for that matter).

    First, BC, unlike most of the rest of so called North America is unceded land–not conquered, nor treatied–which means that the government has never even obtained internationally recognised title to the land. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is fairly explicit about what that should mean; that Indigenous Nations should be thoroughly consulted with, and need to approve any development that happens on or that will affect their lands. When Indigenous peoples try to assert their rights, they are often met with violence at the hands of the state. As a citizen, you have a part in that violence–we all do.

    Second, statements of recognition that these “occupations” are happening on stolen (or unceded) land has been a major feature of many encampments all across Turtle Island. Vancouver is in no way exceptional in this regard. And in Vancouver, that principle has been established though the GA. If you couldn’t live with recognising that this is Indigenous land, and that that has some moral implications, then you sir, are the one who should have walked away from this movement. No room for racists here.

    And that leads me to one more point. The notion that “we are the 99%” should not be taken to imply a political race to the bottom for the lowest common denominator. It should be a marker of solidarity amongst a disparate group of people from a wide range of constituencies that are united in opposition to the so called 1%. While I admit that “99 vs 1” is an absurdly oversimplified narrative, it does seem to be a powerful one that has captured people’s imaginations. The problem is, people like you keep trying to demand that the goals of the 99% need to be your personal demands. The problem with that is that the value of the kind of unity represented by the symbolism of 99%, is not in protecting the rights of those most systemically empowered by the current system, it is about everyone banding together so that those who do not hold those privileged positions are as equally protected by the movement as those who are protected by the engrained values of the system. Put more simply, the value of unity is to be able to use our collectivity to stop the system from abusing those who are culturally and systemically targeted: indigenous communities, racialised communities, poor communities, queer communities, others.

    The Occupy movement is not about you. It is about the ways that people can all come together to protect each other from the wanton greed and destructive excess of those living at the top of the capitalist system, and it is also about changing that system.

    Please stop feeling so threatened and acting so divisive every time someone’s needs other than your own are forefronted. That is what is discrediting the Occupy movement, not the presence of people of principle who have devoted their lives to fighting for social justice.

  4. “Q: Why do I air our dirty laundry out in public by asking Black Bloc supporters to be accountable?”

    What dirty laundry? You’ve characterized much of the evidence backing your theory as “unconfirmed”, including information from corporate media reporters who tend to get much of their information from the police (who, if you’ve ever dealt with them to any degree, aren’t particularly rigorous fact checkers). It doesn’t sound like you’ve even spoken to Harsha in person. That would be a reasonable first step to take before bundling up a bunch of “unconfirmed” information into a conspiratorial accusation.

    • Q: Have I spoken to Harsha in-person?
      A: Yes!

      Q: What was her response?
      A: She refused to respond to my question about her opinion on violence- leaving me with only the attached video as evidence. Strange…

  5. The $50 is not unconfirmed – you can find it in the Nov 6 minutes. What isn’t clear is if it’s $50 per elder. Giving the benefit of the doubt (although it really sounded like it was $50 each but livestream cuts in and out a lot), that is $1500 a month for their transportation and another $1200 a month for their special alder wood.

    The moderator on the evening of the ‘Sacred Fire’ was Tami Stardust, the black dressed and balaclava wearing woman who spoke at the bank rally.

  6. Oops, just realized my mistake – it was Tami Starlight aka Tami Cosmic.

    Sorry. 😦