Game On!

The games have finally begun! The past few days have seemed a bit dreamlike as the countdown got closer and closer. But it really happened as yesterday brought us the opening ceremonies for the Olympic games in Vancouver.

What an interesting experience, full of diverse people in the midst of contrary experiences. After the torch was diverted from Commercial Drive I headed downtown to the art gallery square, a common meeting point for political action by the citizens. There were a lot more people there to protest the Olympics than I thought would show up. The original forecast was anywhere from 1000-1500 and I heard estimates for the turnout as high as 5000. This seems a little high to me based on my experience with Critical Mass and I would have estimated anywhere from 2500-3000 on the ground in front of the gallery.

The vast majority of people were there with peaceful intentions, but a small few in the crowd were obviously prepared for things to turn ugly with vinegar soaked masks and hoods over their heads.

The march headed down to the stadium with some police walking alongside but wasn’t confronted with a major police presence until it came down Robson and reached Beatty St. Here the police had placed 2 lines of uniformed officers with 1 row of police horses behind. This was their “do not cross” line. There were no riot police in sight but I can’t imagine they were far away should the need have arisen. Spotters could be seen on the buildings above keeping an eye on things.

It was a strange standoff. The police saying “no”, the protesters saying “no”, the media waiting, patrons from the nearby bars protesting the protesters, and Olympic tourists and volunteers shuffling down the sidewalks on either side trying to go about their business.

For the most part this is how things stood for the next 1 or 2 hours as the protesters chanted, sang, and danced. The mood was generally positive and festive but the message was serious. As it began to get dark and cold many from the back started to leave. By 6pm only a few hundred remained, the hard-core who seemed prepared to engage the police directly and those who supported them but chose to keep a distance. Parade organisers advised those at the front that any actions they took were considered autonomous and not sanctioned by the group as a whole.

Tired, feeling like I had expressed my piece, and sensing things had run their natural course I decided to leave. Wandering back to get my bike I found myself smack dab in the middle of celebration central at Robson Square. What a difference! The mood here was positively ecstatic as people watched the opening ceremonies on a giant screen projected across the Sears building with daredevils flying overhead on the zip line. Everyone here was oblivious to the sentiment being expressed only a few blocks away and fully in the midst of celebration. I stayed and watched as the athletes marched in and the people cheered, with the biggest hurrah saved for the Canadian athletes.

I couldn’t help but feel a part of the excitement and herein lies my conflict. I couldn’t have avoided going to the protest without feeling like I was bottling up how I feel that this is happening, and yet I enjoy all the aspects of people coming together in celebration and support of excellence. So my next few weeks may look a lot like this as I go from using the Olympics as a platform to state my opinion to sharing in the joy and excitement of the event itself.

Some will say that weakens any message I have to give, but I say it just makes me human. I don’t really have an overarching agenda, just feelings and thoughts about what I see and experience.

Some believe in the spirit of the Olympics. I believe in change and the power of compassion to bring peace and understanding. On my way biking home I saw a giant lit sign that some thoughtful people placed atop a building for all to see. It said:


And I know it will.

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