Vancouver: Transphobes and Bigots Off Our Campus! De-Platform Reactionaries!

Today RSM members were alerted to the presence of a transphobic rally that was taking place on the University of British Columbia’s campus. The transphobic “rally” consisted of two lone bigots who held a banner reading “God made us male and female. Say no to fake transgender ideology!” Despite no planning or preparation, we quickly mobilized our supporters in the hopes of shutting down this disgusting display of hatred. Initially, the counter-demonstration was disorganized and spontaneous with no clear message or unity. Some students argued that we should be willing to debate with the reactionaries in an attempt to change their minds, while others suggested we simply ignore them in the hopes that they would go away. Members of RSM and its supporters argued for a different approach: a complete and total rejection of transphobia and a push to de-platform these bigots and get them off our campus.

Bill Whatcott, infamous anti-LGBT protestor and one of the two bigots present on campus today

Reactionaries like the ones present today, who religiously defend their transphobia, cannot be debated with, nor can we simply ignore them and hope they will go away. Their aim is to promote reactionary ideas and incite hatred and violence against those who identify as transgender. They use attempts at debate to legitimize their intolerant views and hide behind “free-speech” so they can freely spew their transphobic non-sense. Not only this, but allowing these reactionaries a platform to speak serves to only put trans people in danger. This transphobic rhetoric starts by simply saying “trans identity is not real”, but the natural extension of this line of thinking ends with the notion that “trans people must be forced to not exist”. Therefore, propagation of these ideas almost always leads to violent attacks against trans people.

In response to these conflicting ideas regarding the counter-protest, RSM members engaged in struggle with other protesters, pushing for a counter-demonstration which sought to totally de-platform the transphobes. Despite some reservations by a few individuals, this line of de-platforming quickly gained traction and soon the counter-protest had a clear direction, a goal, greater organization, and unity around our complete rejection of transphobes on our campus.

After some last deliberations, action was finally intiated when an LGBT student took up the call and began chanting against the transphobes. Members of RSM along with other students quickly joined in and surrounded the two bigots, raising rainbow flags to block out the transphobic signs and propaganda. Students chanted loudly “Transphobes Go Home!” and “Trans Rights Are Human Rights!” effectively preventing the reactionaries from being able to spread their transphobic rhetoric. Soon they were unable to distribute their leaflets or talk to anyone, as they were totally blocked off by the counter-protestors. It was not long after the counter-demonstration got organized that the two bigots were forced to leave campus with their tails between their legs, leaving to the cheers of students calling for them to go home and not come back. The result of the transphobes being forced to leave after being unable to spread their message proves that de-platforming is an effective method with achievable results. To push back against reaction, we must do so by any means necessary. We must be militant and unwavering in our commitment to rejecting transphobia on our campus.

Students used pride flags to block the transphobic signs

Despite our success, we wish to also highlight what we feel is another important point in this matter: UBC administration did nothing to protect trans students on campus. These bigots were able to protest almost all day on campus, unhindered by UBC. Not only this, but UBC was actively aware that these individuals were coming to campus and assigned them multiple campus security guards, along with two police officers, to protect them from the justified anger of students. Only through the militant actions of students was this transphobic “rally” shut down. We aim to highlight the clear hypocrisy of the UBC administration and expose their phony inclusivity as being only a marketing tool in an effort to capitalize on gaining favour amongst the LGBT community. The irony of UBC claiming to support trans students while simultaneously allowing and coordinating with transphobes to come to campus is not lost on us, nor other students. UBC, like all other education institutions in Canada, is in service to the capitalist class and is concerned primarily with developing new capitalists and promoting capitalist ideology. Its faux-support for LGBT students shows us as clear as day that it is not concerned with students’ safety, but rather only with its perception as being inclusive.

Security and police did nothing to hinder the transphobic rally, and instead begain filming counter-protestors when students took action against the reactionaries.

Today students learned that we must take matters into our own hands when it comes to protecting ourselves and other students from marginalized groups on campus. We cannot rely on university administration to adequately deal with hate speech and protect its student body. Instead, today we saw a glimpse of what students can accomplish when they are organized and militant in their rejection of intolerance and reactionary ideas.

NO PLATFORM FOR HATE SPEECH!

TRANSPHOBES OFF OUR CAMPUS!

– Revolutionary Student Movement Vancouver

Down with Displacement, Up with Decent Housing!

British Columbia’s Lower Mainland includes some of the most expensive places to live in occupied Canada. Of the 523 municipalities surveyed in the Canadian Rental Housing Index, Vancouver and Burnaby rank last, or close to last in measures of rental affordability and quality of rental units. [1] The lack of affordable housing for working class people has been termed the “housing crisis”. This crisis affects up to 116,000 people in BC alone. [2]

With the housing crisis deepening, activists have initiated a number of actions in the Lower Mainland to raise awareness about it. In Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES), the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and International League of People’s Struggles (ILPS) have organized a “Tent City” since July 9. About 50-60 activists, including individuals who are homeless or are currently living in squalid conditions, have set up tents to occupy 58 West Hastings Street, a site currently owned by the municipal government. [3] “Tent Cities” have also been set up in Victoria and Abbotsford elsewhere in BC, and Kitchener-Waterloo in Ontario.

Furthermore, there was currently an occupation of an apartment, acquired by the developer Amacon, at 5025 Imperial Street in Burnaby, by the Alliance Against Displacement. Tenants in this block of apartments are among an estimated 1,400 people in the low-income Metrotown neighbourhood facing the threat of “demoviction”. Apartment buildings with affordable housing units will be demolished so that expensive condos get built in their place. [4, 5] The occupation started on July 9, and as of the morning of July 20, the RCMP have carried out the court injunction to remove the protestors from the site of occupation. [6]

The Revolutionary Student Movement-Vancouver section, extends our solidarity with the “Tent City” in Vancouver and the occupation in Burnaby. We believe that decent, affordable housing for working-class people is a vital necessity, and as such, resolutely support their demands. We commend both occupations for highlighting how the housing crisis affects some of the most vulnerable sectors of capitalist society. We also commend the actions for highlighting the inaction that “progressive” municipal governments in Vancouver and Burnaby, led by Gregor Robertson and Derek Corrigan respectively, have taken in addressing the housing crisis.

The Homelessness Crisis

At its most visible level, the housing crisis includes the 11,000 people in BC who live on the streets. Although Robertson was elected on a promise to wipe out street homelessness in Vancouver by 2015, there are 1847 people who live on the streets in Vancouver in 2016, the highest in a decade. [7] These figures do not include the 40,000 people who are “hidden homeless” in BC and who get by through living in cars or couch-surfing. As the crisis of homelessness has gotten worse, some cities such as Burnaby and Surrey do not even have homeless shelters, and the number of empty units in Vancouver now exceeds the estimated homeless population. [8, 24]

Some of the most vulnerable sectors of the proletariat, or working-class, are at risk of street homeless. We are appalled when migrants, and indigenous people disproportionately face homelessness and housing insecurity. It is estimated that even although 4% of the Lower Mainland’s population are indigenous, they represent over 30% of the homeless population [2]. When migrants, including refugees, and indigenous people do not have access to basic needs, this highlights the continuing racist, colonial, and white-supremacist nature of the Canadian State. Next, women and other gender oppressed people who are homeless face a vicious cycle. They often need to choose between facing physical and sexual abuse from an abusive partner, or going homeless; and while homeless, they sometimes need to return to an abusive partner for financial support, so they can afford fines just for being homeless! [3, 9] Finally, we are concerned when up to 1 in 5 homeless youths identify as LGBTQ2S and when the number of homeless youth is growing. [2, 10] We are appalled especially when homeless youth face unnecessary stress and abuse as they try to get an education or enter the workforce. [10, 11]

The Gentrification of Proletarian Neighbourhoods

13718521_10205350418759957_4339080494318765082_nThe housing crisis also includes up to 65,000 individuals in BC who spend more than 50% on their income on rent, and who often live in substandard, cramped conditions. These individuals are considered at risk of homelessness since housing is considered affordable if it uses 30% of a person’s total income [2]. Housing insecurity, however, does not come out of nowhere. The continuing displacement working-class communities experience in Vancouver and Burnaby is because of policies of gentrification set out by Robertson and Corrigan’s “progressive” governments. These policies are often framed as benign “densification” plans.

In principle, more housing is a good thing, but in reality, building more housing actually displaces low-income residents when they are not able to afford the new housing which is being built. In Metrotown alone, tenants on average would need to pay 25% more in rent than they currently do under Corrigan’s “Downtown Metrotown” plan, yet over half of the tenants in Metrotown cannot afford to pay their existing rents! [3] The same fears of being “priced out” of their own communities are being expressed by tenants in nearby Joyce-Collingwood. [13]

In the Downtown Eastside, including Chinatown, the Robertson government has advocated “social mix” for new developments in these neighbourhoods. “Social mix” means any new developments would include both social housing and “market-price” housing. However, few social housing units in practice would be developed. For instance, a new development at 105 Keefer Street would only include 25 social housing units compared with 102 “market-price” units, at a time when 3,000 Chinese seniors are in need of affordable housing. [14, 15] Next, “social mix” is a policy of segregation. Low-income residents face additional policing, and have separate amenities from higher-income residents, although both live in the same building.  Most importantly, “social mix” destroys more affordable housing than it creates. A net 279 units of low-income housing were lost during the development of the Woodward’s building, one of the first buildings in Vancouver with a “social mix”. [16]  Policies of “social mix” offer no permanent solution to thousands of individuals who have waited years for decent housing, and in the meantime, have lived in cockroach, bedbug-infested, and unaffordable SROs without a shed of privacy. [113606803_10205315895976909_4803548621804326757_n2] It is an absolute shame when these policies destroy the fabric of proletarian neighbourhoods.

The Housing Crisis at Universities

As many working-class students now attend universities, the housing crisis also affects them and extends on campus. There is a lack of affordable housing for students whether housing is on or off campus. Indeed, more than 6000 students are now on the waiting list to access residences at UBC at a time when residence fees are getting more expensive. [21] In 2015, students at UBC protested a 30% increase in residence fees as part of the “I Am A Student” movement. A dormitory at UBC can now cost over $1000 per month [17] at a time when the average student makes only about $750/month (unadjusted for inflation) [18]. This means that students often need to work 2-3 jobs, even during the school year, to make ends meet and to pay for tuition.

To make matters worse, universities do not make developing affordable housing a priority but instead choose to destroy units of affordable housing! Earlier this year, tenants at the SFU’s Louis Riel House, which included 60 units of affordable housing for low-income students, students with families, single mothers, and First Nations students, were evicted. SFU had willfully neglected the condition of the building over its lifetime, and does not have a plan to rehouse all students who were evicted. SFU plans to close down an additional 210 units of affordable student housing. [19] The closure of affordable housing for students with families has also happened at UBC with the closure of the Acadia Courts in 2012. [20] It is shameful when universities choose profit-making from developing projects such as Wesbrook Village and UniveriCity at a time when many students are in need of affordable housing.

Our Demands

Once again, we are glad that a genuine proletarian movement has emerged to struggle for housing justice when until now, “taxpayers” and “homebuyers” have dominated this conversation. We are glad to see militant struggle against landlords and developers who take advantage of oppressed peoples, and action against governments who do not listen to proletarian communities. [3, 13, 14] We see the struggle for housing justice as part of the wider struggle for socialism since capitalism is the root of oppression for proletarian communities. Power needs to be directly in the hands of proletarian communities so that gains for housing justice are made permanent.

 In solidarity with the demands made by the “Tent City” and the occupation at Metrotown [3, 22, 23], we demand the following:

  • Stop the gentrification!: Declare an immediate moratorium on all new “demovictions” and new expensive housing developments in proletarian neighbourhoods.
  • Social housing now!: Build 100% social and affordable housing on government-owned lands in all proletarian neighbourhoods, including the site at 58 West Hastings Street, and university-owned lands for proletarian students.
  • Stop the displacement!: Rehouse all students living at Louis Riel House evicted by SFU, and all tenants evicted by current or future “demovictions”.
  • Rent control laws!: Enact rent control laws, which also apply to dormitories, to ensure housing is affordable for working-class tenants and students in the long term.
  • Homes not jails!: Divert $5 billion dollars from the federal prison, military, police, immigration enforcement budgets, and subsidies to Canadian mining companies committing dubious acts abroad, to support affordable and safe housing for the people!

We finally encourage all proletarian and politicized students raise awareness about the housing crisis and to support both the “Tent City” and the occupation in Burnaby. To support these actions, students can:

  1. Sign VANDU’s online petition, linked here, to support the “Tent City”’s demands in resolving the housing crisis.
  2. Donate supplies to Vancouver’s “Tent City” or support it financially. A list of supplies which the “Tent City” needs is here, and a site where financial contributions can be made is here.
  3. Follow the “Alliance Against Displacement” on Facebook and Twitter for latest updates about future mobilizations in Burnaby and other information about their campaign.
  4. Share this statement, the demands of housing justice campaigns, and other news items on housing justice on social media.

Homes not jails!

Our homes can’t wait!

Affordable housing is a right. What do we do? Unite and fight!

References:

  1. http://rentalhousingindex.ca/pdf/Ranked-Indicator-Scores.pdf
  2. http://www.socialhousingbc.com/
  3. http://thevolcano.org/2016/07/13/were-not-going-home-and-were-not-giving-up/
  4. http://www.burnabynow.com/news/update-housing-activists-occupy-vacant-building-1.2300122
  5. http://www.stopdisplacement.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Dunblane-Demovictions-Report_Spring2016-1.pdf
  6. https://twitter.com/stopdisplacemnt
  7. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/homeless-create-new-tent-city-to-protest-vancouvers-social-housing/article30898440/
  8. http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2014/10/28/Burnaby-Surrey-Shirk-Homeless-Responsibility/
  9. http://www.wavaw.ca/talking-the-talk-vancouvers-homeless-count/
  10. http://blogs.ubc.ca/gayandhomeless/files/2011/07/BetweentheCracks2002.pdf
  11. https://www.thestar.com/yourtoronto/education/2015/06/09/foreign-whiz-kid-endured-homelessness-to-graduate-top-of-class-at-u-of-t.html
  12. https://raisetherates.files.wordpress.com/2016/05/2015report.pdf
  13. https://joyceareara.wordpress.com/
  14. http://www.vancouversun.com/business/controversial+chinatown+proposal+rejigged/11438334/story.html
  15. http://thevolcano.org/2016/02/04/our-generations-fight-for-chinatown/
  16. https://ccapvancouver.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/ww_gent/
  17. http://vancouver.housing.ubc.ca/applications/fees-payments/
  18. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-001-x/2010109/pdf/11341-eng.pdf
  19. https://lrhcommunity.wordpress.com/about/our-declaration/
  20. http://ubyssey.ca/news/acadia-courts-relocation-876/
  21. http://www.theprovince.com/news/housing+waiting+list+names+long+would+month+square+feet/11736766/story.html
  22. https://tentcityvancouver.wordpress.com/
  23. https://ccapvancouver.wordpress.com/ourhomescantwait/
  24. http://www.straight.com/news/653356/empty-homes-study-reveals-10000-vacant-condos-still-fails-explain-vancouver-real-estate

Images taken by ILPS Canada and author.

Reject Austerity- No to VSB Cuts and School Closures!

Reject Austerity- No to VSB Cuts and School Closures!

The Revolutionary Student Movement, Vancouver chapter, (RSM-Vancouver) is a group of anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist student organizers, based on unceded Coast Salish Territories. We are aware that the Vancouver School Board (VSB) is currently finalizing its operating budget for the 2016/2017 school year. In this process, the VSB has proposed cuts to make up for a $24.6 million funding shortfall, the largest to date, on top of the $82 million in cuts already made to the Vancouver public school system in the past decade. The VSB has launched public consultations on the budget, and will vote to adopt or reject it by April 28. 

In the long term, the VSB is exploring the possibilities of closing up to 19-21 schools, mainly on Vancouver’s East Side: a place where the working-class, urban First Nations, and immigrants are concentrated. School closures were recommended by consulting firm Ernst and Young, acting on behalf of the Liberal provincial government, as part of an “asset rationalization approach” to manage the VSB’s finances. The provincial government has  continually reduced funding for public education, and has previously asked the VSB to close schools before the board goes ahead with seismic upgrades. The school closures would mean that by 2030, up to 5,167 fewer seats would be available in Vancouver’s schools. The “Long Range Facilities Plan” , which proposes school closures and came as a result of Ernst and Young’s report, has been tentatively adopted by the VSB and will become final, after some public consultation, by June.

The RSM-Vancouver unequivocally denounces the cuts proposed in this budget and all recommendations proposed by “consultants” to close schools in Vancouver’s East Side. We see them as egregious, co-ordinated attacks on the conditions on proletarian, or working class neighbourhoods in Vancouver.

We are firstly concerned about the elimination of up to 200 positions from the Vancouver School Board in the present budget, especially when some individuals employed in these positions are precarious workers and serve in positions which benefit proletarian students. For instance:

  • ESL instructors, multicultural liaison workers, and a district-wide anti-racism worker are set to be eliminated or have their hours reduced. This is concerning when immigrant families and immigrant children in proletarian neighbourhoods access these services provided by the VSB, especially when the primary caregiver in a household does not speak English fluently.
  • The district-wide anti-homophobia mentor position will be eliminated. This is concerning when queer families often settle into proletarian neighbourhoods, when students in proletarian neighbourhoods are often far away from LGBTQ2S support services, and when a policy adopted last year to protect trans*/gender-variant students is yet to be fully implemented by the VSB.
  • Elementary school enrichment programs, including music and arts programs, are set to be eliminated. This is concerning when proletarian children often rely on these programs as their only source of extra-curricular activities.
  • Braille, Deaf, and special education support positions are set to be eliminated. This is concerning when these are often the only sources of support for proletarian families whose children have disabilities, and when schoolteachers are often not trained to support students with disabilities.
  • Aboriginal education positions are set to be eliminated. This is concerning when Vancouver’s First Nations population lives in proletarian neighbourhoods and when decolonization and aboriginal education is needed more than ever, in light of recent events.

This is not to mention the elimination of 23 teaching positions and the class size cap in Vancouver’s secondary schools. These changes will only put more stress on overworked teachers when teachers have indicated that their class sizes are already too big during the previous BC Teachers’ Strike. The quality of education in proletarian secondary schools will only go down when teachers in those schools become overworked and are not able to give enough individualized attention to students who are struggling.

Moreover, we oppose the recommendation to close 19-21 “underutilized” schools in the East Side, especially at a time when BC Statistics Agency has predicted that enrolment in the VSB may go up by 8000 students by 2025! Closing these schools will only cause grief to working parents who may need to travel far away from their neighbourhoods to access education  for their children. Next, we reject the basis that these schools are “underutilized”, when they often provide special programs such as a First Nations-focused education and spaces where proletarian communities can gather and organize.  As such, enrolment should not be the sole measure of a school’s value when schools provide much more than literacy and life skills for children.

Based on all of these proposals, we can only see that austerity is just a synonym for class war. Class war occurs when “consultants” recommend closing “underutilized” schools in proletarian neighbourhoods, only so that the VSB can have the resources to make seismic upgrades for schools in bourgeois, upper-class neighbourhoods. Class war occurs when budget proposals make cuts to services proletarian families often access. Class war occurs when the quality of education in proletarian schools is declining as a result of overworked teachers and support staff. In these times of capitalist crisis and neoliberalism, austerity becomes a way to openly exploit proletarians so that the rich can only become richer.

teachers-1Austerity, however, can be stopped. In the short term, we would like to encourage the current school board to extend public consultations, especially when the masses are condemning austerity, to vote no to an austerity budget, and to stop any proposed school closures. We condemn the so-called “progressive” trustees on the school board when they claim to be fighting for proletarian students and better public education, but instead vote for cuts and school closures. We recall Vancouver’s recent history when in 1984, a school board comprised of “progressive” trustees refused to obey the provincial government’s directive to make cuts. The cuts in that year never happened as a result of the trustees’ determination during this struggle.

Furthermore, we encourage the masses, especially proletarian students, to voice their opposition to these proposed austerity measures from the VSB. We are glad to see visible opposition to the cuts but we are appalled when under austerity, groups representing diverse sectors in proletarian neighbourhoods fight each other for whatever crumbs they can get from the ruling class. We applaud the actions of students, when the students of Greenwood Secondary School walked out of their classes in protest of the Toronto District School Board’s’ proposal to close their school. Similarly, we encourage students in the VSB to display the same militancy in opposing this budget and proposed school closures, as they did in organizing in solidarity with BC teachers during the BC Teachers’ Strike.

At the same time, we deplore a system when the bourgeoisie (ruling, and capitalist class) are allowed total power over the education of proletarian children. We cannot wait for “progressives”, including the BC NDP, to improve the conditions in proletarian neighbourhoods when many of these “progressives” support austerity at the same time. It is only fair that proletarians, which comprise the majority of society, are able to end austerity for good and allocate society’s wealth to benefit of their communities. This is why the Revolutionary Student Movement fights for an end to the rotten capitalist system, the root of oppression for proletarian families, and dares to build the struggle for socialism.

ROCK BEATS SCISSORS! SOLIDARITY BEATS AUSTERITY!

Sources:

  1. https://www.vsb.bc.ca/20162017-budget
  2. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/vsb-busdget-cuts-1.3515629
  3. http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/education/administration/resource-management/reports/moe_vsb_review_report_june_2015.pdf
  4. http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/shared/Item%201%20-%20Interim%20Long%20Range%20Facilities%20Plan.pdf
  5. https://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/shared/2016-2017%20Preliminary%20Budget%20Proposals%20Report%20March%2031%202016%20-%20Website%20Version.pdf
  6. http://bctf.ca/publications/NewsmagArticle.aspx?id=21540
  7. http://www.newstalk1010.com/news/2016/04/08/east-end-high-school-students-walk-out-of-class-in-protest
  8. http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/b-c-teachers-strike-imminent-as-negotiations-with-government-at-an-impasse