The People's Library of Occupy Vancouver

Equity, Access and Openness (@OccVanLibrary)

Why Occupy Vancouver became a Tent City and Lost the 99%

The following is a personal statement by one of the Librarians. The views expressed herein do not represent those of The People’s Library or Occupy Vancouver.

One Occupier takes a mid-day rest at The Library while another browses the collection

Occupy Vancouver has gotten a lot of flack for its tent city, but don’t blame us for that. Five thousand people descended on the Vancouver Art Gallery on October 15th because they were fed up with the status-quo. They consisted of young, old, students and trade unionists. They all had one thing in common: the growing economy has left them behind.

That’s because our economy is entirely based on unsustainable development. Vancouver’s celebrated urban policy is based on building and tearing down glass curtain condos that last 5-25 years. This is not a model of development worth exporting, and its bound to collapse. It’s also only a matter of time until anaemia from open-net fish farms will collapse Pacific salmon stocks, and tar sands tankers destroy the natural beauty and ecological wealth we have in Western Canada. These projects are negative-sum games that benefit a few large developers and corporations, (Canada’s and Hong  Kong’s 1%) while causing ecological and economic devastation for the multitude of small businesses and communities dealing with the externalities! (Our 99%)

It’s an economy that has created what Vancouver Magazine calls “Generation F”: a mass exodus of talented, educated young people on the losing end of Vancouver’s housing bubble. Its an economy that has deprived our First Nations of their traditional lifestyles, forcing them off their reserves. It’s also an economy that has put thousands of people out on the street.

It may be true that a number of homeless took advantage of the free food, medical services and security that came with the Occupy Vancouver site–but what do you expect in the homeless capital of Canada?  What do you expect from the city that tears down more social housing than it builds? What do you expect from a city whose government has reduced its social housing mandate for mega-developments to 0%?

The tent city wasn’t a creation of Occupy Vancouver’s organisers. I think more than anything, it speaks to the selflessness of the hundreds of volunteers that put their own pet projects on hold to advocate for the desperate need of the angry, bitter and hurt people that showed up at our protest and demanded a piece of our public space to inarticulately air their grievances.

Our critics tell us that the system isn’t broken, that you can still get things done by writing an email to your MLA. Explain that to the guy washing the windows at your favourite coffee shop some time. I’m sure he’ll be relieved to hear it. And unless you count the window washers who shine the “glass city” day after day, I think you’ll find, as we have, that the wealth has not “trickled down.”

Why did Occupy Vancouver get taken over by homeless? Don’t blame the city for scaling back social housing. It must have been the anarchists.

14 responses to “Why Occupy Vancouver became a Tent City and Lost the 99%

  1. Ben K November 24, 2011 at 11:07 am

    A lot of time at many GA’s was spent talking about how to maintain the homeless encampment, rather than about how to act against the broader economic problems that the movement purports to address. That certainly helped to cause many sympathetic observers in the “99%” to become fed up as they watched OV antagonistically spin its wheels. Although you didn’t say so expressly, perhaps that’s what you’re alluding to in the second half of your headline.

  2. Jack November 24, 2011 at 11:08 am

    Buh-bye. Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out.

    Sorry if that sounds harsh, but really, what did you expect? What you folks seem to be oblivious of is that everything you are pointing out is old news. Do you really think OV is pointing out anything new? Do you really think people aren’t aware of the income disparity? It’s been this way since the beginning of time and will always be thus. Life is unfair, deal with it as best you can. And for god’s sake stop your incessant whining!

    Signed the 99%

    • The People's Librarians November 24, 2011 at 1:01 pm

      We provided $600k in services and pressured the city into housing 35 street homeless. I’d call that a win.

      “Courage, my friends; ’tis not too late to build a better world.”
      –Tommy Douglas

      • Jack November 25, 2011 at 12:23 pm

        You provided nothing. You cost hard working taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. Money that could have been spent taking care of a lot more homeless than the 20 or so you had at your little squat. Face it – if there are any homeless sleeping outside in the cold this winter because there’s no money to open a shelter then you guys can look in the mirror and thank yourselves.

    • elliot B November 24, 2011 at 9:14 pm


      Occupy Vancouver, and the bulk of any equality-oriented activism that is now coming to light, is not declaring that their protest is a totally new venture. It’s only new that people are losing their fear to speak out against this long-standing, seemingly invincible inequalities in our financial system. Jack, since you are so aware of the income disparities that surround you, why don’t you do something about it?

      I myself hate whining. I have little patience for those who have nothing better to do than stand around and wallow in self-pity. But sometimes I stop and think that I can help, and those times change my life. Life is full of pains, suffering, and unfairness; but is that it? Are regular people even responsible for inequality?

      A citizen is the highest rank in a democracy; the government works for the people. If you are comfortable in a non-democratic situation, I encourage you to travel and witness inequality without representation in other countries.

      be happy,
      elliot B

  3. not occupy November 24, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    You also made the city spend 20,000 cleaning your mess. And for what? So you can all take a month to lounge behind the art gallery.


    • The People's Librarians November 24, 2011 at 4:24 pm

      We built and staffed a 24-hour library to promote our beliefs and policy solutions. That’s not what I consider “lounging.”

      I think the easy solution would have been to recognize our Charter Rights in the first place.

      • Jack November 25, 2011 at 12:22 pm

        No, you put a handful of donated books onto a shelf. That took about 15 minutes.

      • Howl November 25, 2011 at 2:18 pm


        Librarians do a lot more than that. Not only did we have to build the shelves, but we sorted hundreds of books a day, familiarized ourselves with the collection and helped people find the books they were looking for.

        We didn’t just stack books, we facilitated a space for discussion. It’s a shame that you clearly never got to see that yourself.

  4. raincoaster November 24, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    I wouldn’t say “a number of homeless took advantage of the free food, medical services and security that came with the Occupy Vancouver site”. “Took advantage” is a loaded phrase.

    As a former Census worker, I’m intimately familiar with the reality of homelessness in this city: estimates vary between 3000 and 10,000. If Occupy Vancouver provided a place from which they would not be rousted, a place where they could be fed, a place where they could be heard, that’s to its credit.

    It is, on the other hand, against the haters that they found poor people so distasteful to look at.

  5. raincoaster November 24, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    I should probably clarify.

    At one point I was working on OccupyDTES as a way to both provide specialized services to that sub-group of Occupy Vancouver and to (frankly) remove them from the main site. When you’re at the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, your desperation generally prevents you from engaging meaningfully with higher questions, and so meeting the basic needs of housing, security, and food were the main goals of Occupy DTES.

    Three days ago I was informed that Occupy Vancouver had found shelters for 35 of its homeless members, and that the occupants of Tent City were there by choice. That basically rendered the Occupy DTES project redundant, and I’m glad to hear it.

    From what I’m hearing from all sides including the media, it seems that Occupy Vancouver can take credit for re-opening of formerly closed Shelter spaces, and you know, saving human lives is non-trivial.

  6. Jack November 25, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    OK so now I’m even more confused… was OV about protesting income inequality, or was it about finding homes for Vancouver’s homeless? Because those are very different goals. Even if by some miracle you waved a magic wand and income was distributed more equitably, that would have zero effect on the homeless. The homeless don’t work, don’t earn an income, and as such would not be impacted by any changes to the global economic system.

    I understand that people want desperately to believe that OV was some sort of major movement, something significant. However the reality is quite the opposite. A couple dozen people spent a month sleeping in a tent annoying the very people they claimed they were representing. That’s it and that’s all that will be remembered. Sorry, but that’s simply the reality.

    And as so many have pointed out, the 20 or 30 people that made up OV are hardly the ones to lead us to the promised land!

  7. Howl November 25, 2011 at 2:13 pm


    I’m afraid that’s simply not true. Homeless carpenters built our stage and hard-on-their luck sound engineers set up and ran our audio equipment every day. When they weren’t volunteering at Occupy Vancouver, they were standing on Cash Corner looking for work.

    Unfortunately, when you look like you’ve been living on the street, or when you have a mental illness, all the skill and good work ethic in the world won’t get you a job. At least a few of us showed that if you work hard, a few yoga moms, punks and university students will lobby the hell out of the city to get you a home.

    So perhaps we didn’t reach the 99% with a clear, coherent message. I, for one, am looking to move on to bigger, more inclusive projects. I’m still looking to reach the 99% and to put education back in the center of this movement.

    Whatever project I get on board with next will look a lot like the project that we worked on at Occupy Vancouver: a focus on teach-ins, booking university professors to talk about their work, promoting peer-reviewed evidence that corporations are corrupting our political system and destroying our universities. That has been my pet project from the start, and if you had taken the time to see that for yourself, you would have found a nuanced and multifaceted community with a lot of different ideas.

    The Tent City was the easy story for The Province to cover, so they ignored the day-long seminars, of which only a few have been archived here. We held them every Saturday and Sunday, and they brought hundreds of interested people. Perhaps a few of the organizers had fallen for that narrative. Perhaps a few were too eager to pose for the cameras.

    Others of us had different ideas, and we’re putting those ideas into action moving forward. With 35 fewer homeless people setting up tents, and few prospects for a permanent site, I think it will be that much harder for the media to deny that we’ve come together to discuss a number of serious issues.

    • David Xiao November 27, 2011 at 5:26 pm

      “a focus on teach-ins, booking university professors to talk about their work, promoting peer-reviewed evidence that corporations are corrupting our political system and destroying our universities”.

      sounds like my kind of occupy!

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