Thursday, June 16, 2011

Beyond Simple Idiocy: The Vancouver 2011 Stanley Cup Riots Through Another Lens

Last night as I sat in our Vancouver apartment and watched the hockey game, in the back my mind I guessed there was about a 50/50 chance that the riot that occurred in 1994 under the same circumstances could potentially repeat itself.  At the same time, Vancouver managed to get through the 2010 Olympic Games essentially unscathed with the exception of one smaller incident, so I thought maybe I could give the city the benefit of the doubt.  After the game ended and the cup was lost to Boston, I figured a few windows would be smashed.  I never could have predicted what actually happened; cars on fire, looting, fighting in the streets, total chaos.

My first instinct is to simply denounce the people participating in the riot as drunken idiots with zero respect, plain and simple.  In a lot of cases, that's probably actually somewhat true.  At the same time, it's not helpful to leave it at that.  At least, not for me.  I want to pretense the rest of this blog entry by saying that regardless of psychology or reason, there is absolutely no "excuse" for the behavior exhibited in Vancouver last night. That being said, a riot is not generally just a riot.  There are a number of sociological, psychological, and even political forces driving behavior like what we saw last night. Our best defense and our best offense against these events repeating themselves (again) are to look at these reasons and more importantly, what we can do to address them.  I decided to do some research on the topic to see what I could come up with. 

If any of you have been to Vancouver for something other than a sports event, you know it's not exactly a city known for violence.  In fact, it's known for quite the opposite.  Many cities have areas that you really can't wander into for risk of being stabbed, mugged, what have you.  In Vancouver, we don't really have that.  We do have the Downtown Eastside which is known for being inhabited by the homeless and drug users, but even this area constitutes only a small piece of one street and you aren't really writing yourself a death sentence by walking through there.  Even then, generally your biggest threat is that people will beg you for money or make you feel uneasy.  The rest of the city is generally people drinking Starbucks, reading books, rushing between work and yoga, volunteering, and texting each other on their iPhones.  So why is it that we can't seem to hold it together during a hockey game?  Why can Edmonton and Calgary handle a big loss without destroying their city, but we can't? Why VANCOUVER?  As a resident of Vancouver, the riots disturbed me because they had me asking: am I living day in and day out among people capable of something like this?  I found myself mentally teetering far closer to a "Not In My Backyard" mentality than I ever thought I could get.

So, why Vancouver? If I had to answer this question my answer would be this: Vancouverites can hold themselves together just fine during a hockey game; it's the the people that come into the city from the suburbs and smaller cities in the area that can't (or as a friend of mine recently called them, "the Tunnel and Bridge Community"). Now ok, let me look back at that statement.  And trust me, I'm going somewhere with this, and it may not be the direction you think I am going.  Now is not the time to skim, folks.  I know you are probably thinking "Good job, Monika, blame it on the suburbanites!" or worse yet, "blame it on the OTHER guy!"  Because we all know how helpful it is to simply write off a terrible act as being someone else's fault instead of recognizing that people you are akin with are capable of malice?  Ok, fair enough, but try to follow my train of thought here through a series of points, most of which are formed by armchair psychology of course, but I digress

For those of you who don't know, Vancouver is an expensive city to live in.  In fact, it was recently named the most expensive city in the world to own a house.  Even rent prices are astronomic.  What does this have to do with anything, is it just me bitching again about housing costs in Vancouver? Maybe... but my point here is that most people can't afford to live in Vancouver in the first place. At the same time, Vancouver is the location of many jobs.  The solution to this is the same as in any other major city; people can't afford to live in the city so they move to the suburbs.  In the case of Vancouver, people live up to an hour away by commute in order to be able to work in the city and be able to afford their own home.  So where are they living? Richmond, Burnaby, Chilliwack, Mission, Coquitlam, Abbotsford and Surrey to name just a few.  All of these cities have people driving in and out of Vancouver on a daily basis for work, for hockey games, to go clubbing on Granville Street on a Friday or Saturday night, or to watch the fireworks in the summer.  They drive in to enjoy an event, and then they leave.  Unable to afford to live here or to form any true attachment, Vancouver probably seems like a wealthy, fun place to visit, but unattainable in terms of ever owning anything here or encouraging people to feel any true sense of belonging within the city walls.  Even as someone who lives here, I recognize this and I feel the same way.  I roll my eyes at the sight of every new condo building, knowing full well I could never afford to buy there or even rent there. 

So where am I going with this? To start, here's what I'm not saying:

1. I'm NOT saying that people with less money are the problem, or even that everyone in Vancouver has money.  I'm from Vancouver, I'm certainly not rolling in money, and I definitely didn't take part in any riot.
 
2. I'm NOT saying that people who live in the suburbs are the problem, or that there is anything inherently wrong with the suburbs.

3. I'm NOT saying that Vancouver as a city is an innocent victim to all this, in fact, I think the way we've allowed the economy to develop in this city is a crime in and of itself.  I'd maybe even go as far as to say it's a riot against the working class being led by the rich that are few and far between.  The distance between poor and rich being what it is, and how there doesn't seem to be any end to that is just pouring fuel on the fire. 

What I am saying, and what I feel I can say with confidence is this:

1.  People do not vandalize, or destroy, or light on fire, or riot in a place they consider their "home."  Even the angriest dog has the good sense to not pee in their own crate. 

2.  Vancouver has set itself up as a place to go for a good time but the reality is, the majority of people see it as unattainable, wealthy, and full of people and businesses that can afford to lose a little of what's theirs (for example, I doubt if any tears were shed for the Hudson's Bay Company for the money it will cost them to repair their windows or awnings).

3.  People from the suburbs very likely did not come into the city to watch a hockey game and to start a riot.  HOWEVER, due to the alienation and lack of a real relationship this city has created with people from outside the city, once a riot had been started, there was very little holding these people back from participating.  They were drunk, excited, emotional, and in the thick of it.  Would they have lit their own cars on fire or vandalized their own street knowing full well that the next day they'd have to clean it or pay for it? Knowing full well that their families would be watching them? Probably not.  But why NOT vandalize or riot in a city you can drive away from at the end of the night, especially when you figure all you are doing is harming a wealthy city or  wealthy business that doesn't really give a crap about you anyway?

Let's be honest here about one thing; Hockey fans don't pack ski masks and Molotov cocktails with them in anticipation of a hockey game.  Hockey fans put on their jerseys, pre-drink, find a place to park themselves and then glue their eyes to the game.  The people who pack ski masks and Molotov cocktails in anticipation of the hockey game are the people who are disgusted that so much money goes into team sports, and so little money goes into affordable housing and solving the issue of homelessness in our city.  They are the people who are bitter against the conservative government for cutting funding to social services, they are bitter that the front page of the newspaper for the past two weeks has talked about a sporting event that caters primarily to the wealthy instead of covering topics such as misused spending, they are the people that feel they have no other voice that can be heard aside from violence.  They are angry, and to be honest, they have every right to be.  In fact, I'm angry too.  Do I choose to incite violence as a method of solving the problem? No. But all it takes is a handful of people like this to incite violence and chaos, and then you have all the people I mentioned above there to fuel it. The small minority of people who started this intended for it to happen exactly as it did.  And I have no doubt it had very little to do, in the end, with a hockey game.

I actually wonder if myself, if I had lived the reality of any of these people, could I ever have been capable of what we saw last night?  I'd like to think no, but who can really say?  To quote Dale Carnegie:
"You deserve very little credit for being what you are - and remember, the people who come to you irritated, bigoted, unreasoning, deserve very little discredit for being what they are. Feel sorry for the poor devils.  Pity them. Sympathize with them. Say to yourself: 'There, but for the grace of God, go I."
"Take Al Capone, for example.  Suppose you had inherited the same body and temperament and mind that Al Capone had.  Suppose you had his environment and experiences.  You would then be precisely what he was - and where he was.  For it is those things- and only those things- that made him what he was.  The only reason, for example, that you are not a rattlesnake is that your mother and father weren't rattlesnakes."
The fuel and the fire, they may seem so different at the core, but combine them and what you have is an explosion.


This situation, this riot, this Vancouver; it's a complicated one.  Last nights riots were disgusting. They were representation of the worst we can be as British Columbians, Vancouverite or otherwise.  It's time to ask some serious questions about why this happened; to ask why our city is so obviously disrespected by so many, whether they call it their home or not. Most importantly, how we can make sure it will never happen again.

The above is just a small collection of thoughts and reflections on how these events could be interpreted.  And I'm no expert on any of this.   Who knows, maybe it's as simple as bunch of people acting like idiots.  Maybe we'll never know.






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