So, I'll admit it. Seven years ago I marched down to the local polling station and voted in the Vancouver plebiscite to decide whether we wanted to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. And I voted No.
Not that it ended up mattering, mind you - but I felt very strongly at the time that my city - my wonderful, weird city - was not ready to host such a huge event. Not with our endemic poverty, our sub-Saharan Africa rates of HIV and tuberculosis and the slashing of our social programs in order to pay for this thing. I still kind of do.
Basically, for Expo 86 Vancouver's the poor of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside were marginalized further and crammed into a smaller area than ever before, making this historical neighbourhood the Western world's most impoverished postal code.
Visitors always ask me why we have so many intravenous drug users and homeless folks to begin with and there are a lot of reasons, but I think that the main one is that we are the only city in Canada where it is kind of warm enough all year round to spend large chunks of time outside. You can't exactly sleep on the street in Winnipeg in February - a lot of people from across Canada who have drug addictions and mental disorders - and often both (the dual diagnosis) make their way here, a bustling port town on the Pacific Rim with a sordid opiate trade history and lenient policies (even safe injection sites.)
What myself and the other left leaning people of Vancouver were worried about in hosting the Olympics was that Expo 86 would repeat itself and we'd have an even larger problem in the city. And in a way that has happened - millions upon millions of dollars have been spent on infrastructure while the most vulnerable people in my city languish on the cold, wet streets - unable to get into a treatment bed even if they want to.
The homeless are not the only ones affected- even social programs like books for the blind have been cut (how evil and heartless does that seem to you?). Festivals and events are being cancelled due to lack of funding. My provincial government no longer gives grants to students. This isn't even mentioning the destruction of stolen Native land to build roads (and commodification of Native images used to sell mascots and products.) The list is endless and appalling.
It's clear who is going to benefit - the foreign companies such as Coca-Cola, McDonalds (you try eating that crap and being athletic - not gonna happen) and Samsung will all rake in millions while we locals spend 2 hours - yes, you heard me, 2 hours to get transit to get to work.
BUT - and here it is - it's happening. Whether I am saddened and scared for the state my city will be in when it is over, it is happening whether I think it's moral or not and I am actually really excited. People will be here from all over the globe! Estonians! Argentinians! Belorussians! South Africans! So many more!
It truly is a once in a lifetime event, and I will be telling my grandchildren (oh lord - someone who will be raised by someone who will be raised by me.... may god have mercy on their souls) about this in 50 years. I only wish that my Grandpa, a huge Olympics fan, was here to see his city host them.
And while transit will be terrible and traffic horrendous, despite my political angst I cannot wait to put some wine in a travel mug, bundle up and walk downtown on February twelfth to just soak up the energy and the craziness during the Opening Ceremonies. Violet Dear does love a party...
I am deeply ashamed of the poverty left unchecked in Vancouver and I think that we should focus on fixing our problems before inviting the world in to see them - but I am also proud of my outrageously beautiful city. Like, extremely proud. It's a pretty great place to be from(and as a born and raised local I am as rare as a unicorn.)
So gang, tune in in the coming weeks. I'll let you know how it's going. And it just might be a travel mug full o' wine doing the talking.....