I know I've been away for a while, but I'm hoping to write more often now that I'm DONE SCHOOL! Forever! At least for a long time. Yep, I finished my MDiv degree (although I don't receive it until April). I'm settling into a new life of tri-vocationality: working as a pastor for "God's House of Many Faces," our church plant (which is almost one year old!), working at Jacob's Well, and doing some nannying to help pay the bills.
Some of you have been asking me if I'm excited about the Olympics, which start in Vancouver in ten days. When I first heard about the games four years ago, I was excited. But now, I'd put my mood down below "excited," somewhere around "battling cynicism." Recent polls suggest most Vancouverites feel the same.
Some Vancouver residents are upset about how much taxpayers will need to spend in the next several years to pay for the over-budget Olympics, and others are mad about the traffic challenges they'll face in the next few weeks, with road closures and thousands of tourists. But I don't make enough to pay many taxes, and I have a bike to ride to work with, so these things don't concern me much.
What do concern me are the abuses of power that have already come along with the Olympics. This has happened in the corporate sponsor takeover of the city, the multiplication of security forces (who seem to be mainly targeting protesters), the limits on free speech, and the many promises VANOC made about leaving housing for low-income and homeless people - promises they have already broken. For more facts on these issues, check out this site.
During the Olympics, I want to do something for my neighbors on the DTES. Because many of them live in 10x10 foot rooms, or in shelters, their "living room" is the street. But the streets are going to be packed with tourists, and although I hope it doesn't happen, security forces in past Olympic cities have "cleaned the streets" and moved "street people" away.
So, I'm planning on doing two things. First, I'll be spending extra time at Jacob's Well, where we'll be open long hours so that we can offer a "hang out" space, a refuge for our neighbors where they can feel welcome and safe if they don't feel that way on the street.
And second, I've decided to participate in the Legal Observer Program, put on by the BC Civil Liberties Association. With the slogan "watching the watchers," this program recruits volunteers to wear their bright t-shirts, walk around Olympic sites and downtown streets, and videotape and take notes on the activities of the police and security forces, keeping them accountable for their actions.
Here's why I'm doing this: because I believe that human beings who are given positions of authority are all tempted to abuse those powers, especially when situations are chaotic (as they will be at the Olympics) and split-second decisions are required. I cannot say what I would do if I were a police officer in some of these situations. But if I saw a brightly-dressed Legal Observer on scene as a reminder of the rightful limits of my power, it might help me make better choices. I want to make sure the rights of my DTES friends are upheld, and the decision-making skills of security forces are at their prime. Here's hoping it works...