Saturday Aug 26th -- Over 200 people packed into the Russian Hall in Strathcona for a rally with independent Vancouver City Council candidate Jean Swanson Saturday night. It was a huge celebration of Swanson’s more than four decades of social justice activism for which she was presented the Order of Canada in Ottawa on Friday from Governor General David Johnston. Given that remarks were not part of the ceremony in Ottawa, Swanson took the opportunity on Saturday to talk about the award and the issues at stake. Here is her speech:
This is an indigenous world. For millennia, the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh have built beautiful and powerful societies and cultures here, have protected this land and the life and spirits it sustains. We all have to play our part to make sure that this continues for thousands of years into the future.
Settlers have done a lot of damage by stealing land, forcing kids into residential schools, apprehending them, and creating the idea that indigenous people were inferior in order to justify stealing the land. Settlers like me have a lot of work to do individually and systemically to change this and change it in a real way.
I want to thank Audrey Siegl and Diana Day for their support, for being a part of today, and for fighting for justice for indigenous and all people. Diana is running for school board with COPE and I’m voting for her and hope we all do.
Thank you all for coming to be with us on a Saturday night when you could be at the beach or camping this weekend. After we win on October 14th maybe we’ll save so much money with the rent freeze and free transit that we can all take a nice vacation.
So I officially received the Order of Canada yesterday in Ottawa. They put a medal on this jacket. It was pretty interesting. And my friend Phoenix and I got to go support the opening of Ottawa’s first, illegal, safe injection site which was real people doing important work.
I actually struggled with whether to even accept the Order of Canada. I decided I should because some nice people who have been homeless supported it and because it could come in handy.
One person had been racially profiled and was facing jail and another was arrested as part of the war on drug-users. I wrote letters to the judges saying it would be a travesty to put them in jail.
Another time, we were protesting homelessness in Victoria, and there was a disgusting poor and homeless bashing article in the Maple Ridge News calling us protesters “thugs”, so I wrote a letter back saying, “this outpouring of hate against homeless people in Maple Ridge is truly abhorrent” -- Sincerely, Jean Swanson, Order of Canada, “Thug”.
So I’m not comfortable making things about me. What matters is all of us fighting for a better world together. But let's see if we can use this moment, even a little bit, to shine a light on the issues, to shake things up. Because we certainly need that in Vancouver and the world.
In Ottawa, we didn’t get a chance to make a speech, so tonight I’ll say some of the things I would have liked to say there:
Dear Ottawa, I'm honoured but I wish that instead of giving me this award you would just end poverty and homelessness.
It’s not complicated. Tax the rich and use the money to house and serve the rest of us.
For the 40 years that I’ve been organizing, governments have been dismantling social services. That means literally legislating poverty.
Poverty kills. It's legislated murder. Homeless people have half the life-span of housed people, for example Darryl Mikasko, and Michael who sold Megaphone Magazine and countless others.
The culture of poor-bashing is deadly too. Even people who are working poor often resent those who are on welfare. So that when working people lose their jobs, and they have to go on welfare, they often get feelings of self-hatred and often think of suicide and unfortunately often follow through. Just last week a friend of a friend lost his chance for a job and took his life. Poor-bashing kills. Let’s join together to make sure every soul has a home, and good income, and dignity!
258 precious human beings died from opioid overdoses between Jan and July just in Vancouver. Our friend Tracey Morrison was one of them. This is a genocide, and we can’t rest until everyone has access to clean drugs and treatment on demand!
Rents are astronomical. A one bedroom apartment in Vancouver costs an average of $2000 a month. And the government just said 4% rent increases are now allowed even though rents are going up so fast they could be $4000 in 4 years. The province is pushing this and the city is quiet about it. This brand new increase amounts to an extra $70 a month and $843 a year for the average two-bedroom apartment. There is a new NDP government in Victoria, and together we can and will force them to stop these rent hikes!
Renovictions. Landlords tell tenants they have to get out so they can renovate. Then, when the renos are done, or sometimes when they’ve just slapped on a quick coat of paint, the rents are jacked up way too high for the tenants to move back. The city has tools to deal with this.
Gabe, our amazing researcher, ferreted them out. He also found this line that explains why the city isn’t stopping renovictions when it can: The city wants to consider “impacts on the development community”. Give me a break.
If that wasn't bad enough, we have an electoral system which can't possibly reflect the needs and interests of the most marginalized people. In Vancouver 60,000 people are new immigrants who haven't become citizens yet - but they are permanent residents. They live, work, and pay taxes here. But they can’t vote.
Homeless people can’t register to vote in advance. And we don’t have advance polls in the poorest neighbourhood in Canada. Homeless people can’t take the bus to vote because it can eat up their food money.
Our goal is to make sure that permanent residents can vote, and that homeless folks are registered to vote, in time for the 2018 elections!
We also have to fight for Chinatown. Heritage is more than buildings. Heritage is human beings who live in Chinatown who are being pushed out with high rents. Heritage is Lee Loy BBQ Meat Co. and the Golden Wheat Bakery. Heritage is the working class culture of a place where racism excluded people for decades from living anywhere else. We need more social housing and community spaces there for the residents and youth who are working together so brilliantly and lovingly.
We can change all of this together. We can create a city that’s affordable for everyone. We can set up a social safety net and remove the stigma around relying on it because it's ok to be on welfare. We can make this city a truly affordable sanctuary for all - and not just for the mega rich.
And to those who say this isn't possible or practical, this is what I say: If we use imagination, courage, persistence and a willingness to take the first step it is possible. Martin Luther King Jr said: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
Some ideas might not seem feasible until you take the leap. Then the idea of what’s possible expands. This campaign is that very leap into new territory, expanding our concept of what’s possible. It’s a challenge to 40 years of austerity and a call for what we really need, not merely what we’re told is possible.
A society free from homelessness, poverty, inequality, racism, and environmental destruction is not only possible, it is absolutely necessary.
And what better place to start than here at the local level, what better time to start than now. When we succeed, these ideas will become infectious and spread to neighbouring cities, provinces and countries.
This campaign is about winning a Rent Freeze -- no rent increases at all for at least 4 years.
And this campaign is about providing clean and safe drugs, and good treatment options on demand and finally getting an Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre that indigenous people have worked on for over a decade..
It's about cutting the police budget, and civilian oversight of the police to prevent criminalization and violence against racialized people and folks who use drugs or have mental health issues.
It's about working toward a free transit system and a TransLink that’s democratically accountable.
It’s about free internet for all. Our young people in particular shouldn’t have huge bills piled onto their already massive student debts.
It's about saying no more to a world with homelessness. For real, this time - no more empty promises!
It's about creating a truly livable Vancouver, where artists are no longer renovicted from their studios.
It’s about pushing the limits of democracy to tax the rich to pay for these changes.
For decades the city has been saying it doesn’t have the money or the power to do what’s needed.
But that isn't true. The City has simply refused to use its existing powers. It’s virtually criminal negligence that the city doesn’t have progressive taxation, the ability to tax the rich at a higher rate than the poor. And now we have an NDP Green provincial government - we must demand they give Vancouver the powers to implement fair, progressive taxation of property.
This is a chance we can't squander; we must demand they fix the Tenancy Act and amend the Vancouver Charter to give the city more powers. We need to push the limits of democracy that have been set by capitalist governments. We can do this if we stand together and imagine together and plan together.
My special partner Sandy wrote a poem called “We need a new map.”
Drawing a new map
is like singing.
Voicehandler asked Loon
why she talked so much
and Loon replied,
“Well, Sir, I’m not just talking
to my own ears.
The spirit-beings tell me
they have no place to live.
That’s the reason I keep talking.”
Loon sings the sacred
into the world
and creates a new map.
Sing your song, friend.
Tell your story.
The map we inherited
isn’t any good.
The old roads mislead. We need a new map.
The young folks in this campaign are talking and singing like Loon. They’re drawing a new map. Their map isn’t like the old map. It has dank memes on the way and they like rhymes like Jean Against The Machine.
Their map - our map - yells out what we need and fights tooth and nail for it.
Our map is full of art. What campaign have you heard of where people create their own buttons at a rally and where someone is making jean for council wallets out of recycled file folders? Our new map is involving lots of people in lots of ways.
Thanks for joining us so far. I’m honoured that you folks think I can do this and I hope I can live up to your expectations. I’ll try hard. I hope you can continue to be involved in the campaign in a way that suits you.
Together we can win a Vancouver for the many, not just for the few.
Together we can win a Vancouver for the poor, for renters, not just for mansion owners.
Together, we can build a Vancouver For All.
Thanks so much for coming and let's have some fun tonight and then go on to win this election. Onward for justice.