7) DISCONTENT CITY NANAIMO CONFRONTS FASCISTS AND RIGHT-WINGERS
By James Chumsa-Jones
Sunday, August 5 a confrontation took place in Nanaimo outside the homeless
camp known as DisconTent City between protesters
wanting to dismantle the camp and counter-protesters.
group called Action Against Discontent City organized
the protest on its Facebook page, which involved
marching past City Hall to the tent city. They were approached by a local
chapter of the Soldiers of Odin, a right-wing “street safety” patrol, to act as
security at the protest, which they welcomed openly. The Alliance Against Displacement and organizers of DisconTent
City staged a counter-protest in anticipation to defend the camp.
DisconTent City is located on 1 Port Place Drive and is
estimated to have around 175 to 200 homeless residents,
some saying it is the largest tent city in British Columbia. In March, homeless
residents and advocates pitched up tents in front of Nanaimo City Hall after
city council voted against allocating $7 million of provincial funds towards
supportive housing. This protest camp only lasted a week when police evicted
the homeless occupiers off the lawns of City Hall, forcing them to relocate in
a public park. On May 17, organizers and homeless residents cut the chains to
the entrance of a fenced off empty lot between Esplanade and Front street and
moved into the area, naming the new camp DisconTent
DisconTent City has been a site of contention in Nanaimo
since its founding and local opinion has been polarized. Many housed Nanaimo
residents have shown their support by visiting the camp and offering donations
such as spare tents, food, and bottled water bought from the neighbouring Thrifty's store. Those sympathetic to the camp
include low income workers who have either experienced or are on the verge of
have expressed their discontent toward the tent city on social media and have
harassed homeless residents from the Thrifty's rooftop parking lot that
overlooks the camp. Vigilantes have even thrown rocks and bottles into the
camp, injuring one woman.
DisconTent City still manages to stand despite constantly
being under attack. Along with the growing number of homeless camps in BC and
Canada, it is a symptom of the problem rather than the cause. That cause is low
wages, high rents, and unemployment caused by a capitalist system that benefits
the rich at the expense of the poor.
public has had to answer the call by camp organizers to rally in its defence on multiple occasions, such as on May 29, when an
injunction was filed by the City of Nanaimo ordering campers to be evicted that
morning. A citizen lamented in a letter to the local newspaper after the event
that “activists ran around holding a Canadian flag upside down” and that a YCL member supporting the camp “waved an old communist
USSR hammer and sickle flag and paraded around smiling.” Supporters were called
to rally at DisconTent City again on July 26, when
Fire Chief Karen Fry threatened to shut down the tent city due to the tarps in
the camp being a supposed fire hazard. August 5 had the largest number of
supporters show up, since the camp has never before faced a threat as great as
the Soldiers of Odin.
noon people were already gathered outside the gates to defend DisconTent City. The number of supporters
for that day were around 150. Several community members on the opposite
side of the street came to witness the commotion, distancing themselves from
the counter-rally while the song “Which Side Are You On” played from speakers
organizers had set up. Those attending the counter-rally were from the
community as well from out of town; some had travelled all the way from
Victoria just to show their support.
Salish elder and matriarch Rose Henry also travelled with family to support
Discontent City. She identified herself as a member of the Snuneymuxw
First Nation and welcomed everyone to the territory, making it clear that the
only ones not welcome were racist white-supremacists, giving full support and
permission for the homeless residents to occupy the land. Rose Henry also
performed a prayer and took part in leading the demonstration, instructing
everyone to hold hands and form a circle on the street.
Soldiers of Odin finally arrived to the protest with a Canadian flag, red maple
leaves on their black outfits, and RCMP escorts for their protection,
presenting Canada as the white-supremacist colonial state that it is. This was
contrasted by the upside down Canadian flag flown within the camp and the
Indigenous campers and elders in the counter-demonstration.
Mika Ranta founded the Soldiers of Odin in 2015 in
Finland as an anti-immigrant street patrol gang. The president of the Vancouver
Island chapter, Conrade Peach, denies that the group
is white-supremacist or neo-nazi. “Those are baseless
allegations; I defy anyone to produce evidence of my club being anything other
than Canadian patriots.” Fascist movements throughout history have always been
hyper-nationalist and often used the excuse of patriotism to hate outsiders and
minority groups. In March 2017 the SOO tried to disrupt an anti-racism rally in
Vancouver, and protested outside a mosque in Surrey.
engage!” DisconTent City organizer Amber McGrath
repeated over the speaker system when the Soldiers arrived, warning campers and
supporters not to provoke violence. “Homes not hate, smash the hate, we will
not negotiate” Ivan Drury chanted for the crowd to repeat. Some camp defenders
such as organizer Kevin Donaghy could be heard
replacing the second verse with “smash the state.” Drury has organized tent
cities in Maple Ridge as well as Nanaimo, and was listed in Vancouver Magazine
as one of the 50 most powerful people from the city.
brought picket signs to the counter rally with images of peace symbols and
hearts attempting to combat the hate with love. “Everyone deserves to be
loved,” Amber McGrath shouted, instructing counter-demonstrators to throw up
their hands and greet the Soldiers with peace signs. A few, some homeless residents, gave the Soldiers the middle finger instead.
Those more serious about fighting bigotry had zero tolerance for the
white-nationalists and brought signs that read “NAZI PUNKS FUCK OFF” as well as
banners, flags, and shirts with anti-fascist imagery.
the small disagreement of tactics and rhetoric, the counter-demonstration
remained united and managed to turn away the Soldiers of Odin without any
police arrests or violence. The overall atmosphere at the end was positive when
the Soldiers eventually departed, which reinvigorated support for the camp.
formed Nanaimo chapter of Food Not Bombs provided free sandwiches to campers
and counter-demonstrators, making its debut at Discontent City that day. Local
YCL members have been helping with the food justice initiative and are also in
the process of forming an official YCL club.
itself has not been known in recent years for having any strong left wing
movements; the local Communist Party club has remained active, but has not run
election candidates. The NDP has a stronger presence in Nanaimo, with Leonard Krog as MP and Sheila Malcolmson
as MLA. The NDP's youth wing, the Young New Democrats, is also quite active at
the local Vancouver Island University campus. Pele Gouda, YND club leader at
VIU last semester, participated in the counter-rally and even posted a video of
himself on Facebook days
prior urging people to support the camp. In the video he says that “Nanaimo is
facing a potentially pivotal moment in [its] political identity.” Gouda was at
the counter-demonstration, but Krog and Malcolmson were nowhere to be seen, even though Krog's office is just down the street from Discontent City.
Green posted on Facebook after the event announcing
they were “[v]ery happy to have stood with
anarchists, communists, socialists, First Nations people, a Wobbly, and at
least one person in a Green Party T-shirt, all standing up to a proto-Nazi
attempt at intimidation.”
The presence of the Soldiers of Odin in Nanaimo was a wake up call to locals who previously assumed that white-supremacists were not a real threat at home. It was a call to action for those previously apathetic or passive in their political stance. DisconTent City itself is an example of a local government that ignores the needs of many. The confrontation also presented to the public what sort of people oppose DisconTent City — racist Canadian nationalists — and who support it — Marxist-Leninists, anti-capitalists, and progressives.
For left leaning folks it was an opportunity to openly reveal themselves, and actively fight for their principles out in the open. It revealed just how many people in the community have revolutionary views against capitalism and colonialism and the need to stand in solidarity with each other. The confrontation at Discontent City was not just a small victory for working and Indigenous peoples, but also for the left in Nanaimo.
(The above article is from the September 1-15, 2018, issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading socialist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $45 US per year; other overseas readers - $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 706 Clark Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5L 3J1.)