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Victory in Vancouver against the Nazis

Over 5000 at Vancouver City Hall
Bradley Hughes

August 21, 2017

Faced with the threat of a Nazi rally in Vancouver, faith groups, Indigenous activists, cultural groups, and trade unions brought out over five thousand people to stand up to an anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rally organized by two local Nazi groups. A new coalition, Stand up to Racism Metro Vancouver, in five days organized a wonderful anti-Nazi rally. By the night before the rally, Vancouver’s mayor, BC’s new NDP Premier John Horgan, the BC Government Employee’s Union, the Federation of Post Secondary Educators’ unions, faith groups, cultural groups and many others had joined the call for people to join the rally. The BCGEU organized a feeder march, Working People Stand Up Against Racism, that was joined by hundreds. The numbers were so large that the entire front of Vancouver’s city hall was filled and the crowd spilled out onto 12th Ave. The small number of Nazis were forced to skulk around the edges of the anti-racist rally, and congregate behind City Hall with the garbage dumpsters.
Solidarity with Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, and Squamish nations
The speakers at the rally represented the breadth of Vancouver society and the depth of disgust at the actions of Nazis and other white supremacists. The rally opened with a welcoming from Melanie from the Point family and Christie Lee Charles, both from Musqueam. Every speaker afterwards acknowledged that the land we were meeting on belonged to the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, and Squamish Nations.
The speakers included: Ren Winona from Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Jessie Kaur - Kaur Project, Edward Liu - Richmond anti-racism activist, Bob Chamberlain -Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, Haroon Khan -President of Pakistan Canada Association & trustee of Al Jamia Masjid, BC's first mosque, Ravi Kahlon -NDP MLA, who brought greetings from Premier John Horgan, Grandmother Buffalo - Indigenous elder, Morgane Oger - trans rights activist, Martha Roth - Independent Jewish Voices, Mariana Suaifan - student & Syrian refugee, Nour Youssef -Student & Muslim social justice activist, Sejal Lal – South Asian Network for Secularism And Democracy, Zara Liberte Aldunia - worked with Nobel Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu, Kayode Fatoba - organizer, Harambecouver Parade, Jean Swanson - anti-poverty and housing activist and candidate for Vancouver City Council, Eagle Eyes - Indigenous rights and climate justice activist, and Annie Ohana - Social justice teacher and rally co-organizer.
Fighting white supremacy talked to one of the rally organizers, Isabelle Rowe-Codner to find out why the coalition organized the rally. She told us, “It was important to organize this rally because we didn't want a Charlottesville on our hands. We're very much under the impression that hate speech becomes hate crime, and that if you let these social divisions grow, they will. Ignoring this would have been brazenly irresponsible, and ignorant of the realities of those affected by white supremacy. “ Ms. Rowe-Codner pointed out that , “This means not just creating a culture of tolerance and understanding, but perhaps most importantly, addressing and changing the societal conditions that bring about racism and white supremacy in the first place.” Ms. Rowe-Codner is a member of the International Socialists.
Lisa Descary, who also helped organize the rally is a teacher from Richmond and also a member of the International Socialists. We asked her why the rally was so successful. She told us that, “Obviously, the timing of our counter-rally happening to coincide with the horrible events in Charlottesville meant that when our little group put out a call, media helped us by talking about our rally and interviewing us (the organizers). This helped get the word out. But we also were able to reach many people by putting as few barriers in the way of potential rally attendees as possible; if you were against the Nazis and the far-right, you were welcome at our rally! Some activists suggested that we post instructions on how to cover your face to avoid being identified by the fascists, and wanted to talk about how to physically confront the Nazis, but we stayed away from those approaches; instead, we made it clear that this was to be a non-violent protest that would not physically confront the far-right 'protesters' (if they even showed up.) We had marshals who were trained in de-escalation and safety tactics ready to help out, and we publicized that broadly. And we reached out to every large organization of working people that we could think of; faith groups, communities of people of colour, unions, and anyone we knew who had done anti-racist work with us in the past. It also didn't hurt that both the mayor and the premier endorsed our rally; the number of RSVPs on our Facebook page really grew after that!”
Another of the rally organizers, Sarah Bjorknas, a CUPE Activist and member of the Vancouver Catholic Worker explained to what the rally accomplished, “I think we relied on our best instincts to do the right thing, broadened our circles of solidarity, encouraged people to push themselves past real and perceived obstacles, and hopefully challenged the complacency of white privilege in our city. “
Ms. Rowe-Codner is optimistic about the future, “ Just celebrating it's one week anniversary, Stand Up to Racism Metro Vancouver hopes that it can continue to help build this extraordinary movement which we've seen take on a passionate life in the past week. We will continue as a organization, gaining tremendous support from the city around our rally. “
Building on success
Ms. Descary added “Going forward, we hope to build an ongoing anti-racist coalition, perhaps modelled on the Toronto group, East Enders Against Racism or Stand Up to Racism in the UK. With the more than 50 new contacts who signed up to work with us at the rally, we hope that this group could take on the challenging but important work of fighting not just the far-right, but other, less publicized manifestations of racism in our communities. We are very excited to start that work in the Fall! If you are in Metro Vancouver, and you are interested in being an organizer with this new group, please contact us by messaging our Facebook group, Stand Up to Racism Metro Vancouver.

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