I love the city of Vancouver. I used to trek into the downtown core every week on my way to St. Paul’s Hospital, and I loved meandering past the striking window displays, smiling at passersby, and generally enjoying the treat of a small trip out of the suburbs. Today, as I sit in my home, nearly an hour outside of Vancouver, watching news coverage on my television, I am horrified by the violence going on in my beloved streets in the aftermath of the Canucks’ loss in the Stanley Cup Final. Police cars set ablaze, inebriated individuals lashing out every which way, windows being shattered, stores being looted, police in full riot gear, tear gas, smoke. Were I a young child, I might have nightmares about the Armageddon downtown. As an adult, I suspect I might have those same nightmares. I am already frightened of aggression: as a young woman, I have been instilled with the fear of drunkenness and violence out on the streets, but that fear, of men lurking in the night, does not compare to the terror of a mass of bodies bursting in ripe rage. I simply do not understand. And my body shudders at it.
This past spring, we saw Greek citizens rioting against their government’s impending financial collapse; Iranians, Libyans, and Egyptians rioting for freedom and liberation. But these Vancouver rioters were not organized towards any particular goal. There was no air of a means towards an end, simply the frenzy of Western, middle-class ennui. I fear not only the injuries sustained by those caught in the crossfire, but I worry about how this impacts a new generation of Vancouver citizens. I worry about the bystanders, many of whom jauntily took cell phone footage of the fracas instead of attempting to aid police in restraining those committing blatant acts of crime. Most of all, I wonder about the identity of these rioters: are they brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters? Do they inflict even a fraction of this rage and violence upon their families or communities? Do they throw objects at their televisions when provoked by a sports teams’ loss? Do they put their fists through the wall when they are criticized?
As a woman who carries a great deal of untapped rage and anger within her, I too, understand what it is to be provoked. I know that blind joy of throwing a dish, or punching a pillow, or kicking a stray can out of the way because it is SIMPLY IN MY WAY. But the impulse to hurt others or to carry out acts of destruction has never entered my body, as much as I might fantasize about trashing my room. This is not about sports, not about the demographic of a particular civic space – this is about bodies under siege, bodies so fueled by both alcohol and a lack of empathy and decency that their power (perhaps only numbering 1000 out of the 150000 estimated to be downtown tonight) has wreaked havoc on a space.
Elizabeth Grosz has noted that the relationship between bodies and cities is a complex interweaving of geography, corporeality, and affect, and just as cities can leave their imprints on the bodies of their citizens, so too can citizens leave their imprint on the body of their city. As Georgia, Granville, Beatty, Robson, and other streets are swept tonight, let us not forget how those who will move through these streets tomorrow will be impacted by the violence enacted against/upon the asphalt and glass.
With peace and a sense of convergence as an act of community, rather than of coercion or cruelty, let us tend to ourselves and our streets tomorrow.