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Stephanie Levitz

Good vibes around Games stymie Olympic protesters

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Has the buzz around the Vancouver Games meant they’ve been a bust for activists opposed to the Olympics?

While the first two days of the Games were met with loud and violent protests, it’s been largely quiet ever since.

The “Heart Attack” action drew a lot of attention, but the issue of whether to support or condone violent action exposed a rift inside the anti-Olympic community. Chris Shaw, the most public critic of the Games, said in one story that he also believed the vandalism turned people off to the anti-Games protests altogether.

Hundreds did join in for the annual Women’s Memorial March in Vancouver, a somber and beautiful tribute to the hundreds of women who have vanished from the streets over decades in the Downtown Eastside. It was a record turnout, actually, except one thing doesn’t appear to have gone as the organizers had hoped: There was very little international media attention. At a press conference billed as an “international” event, only local reporters turned out.

The longest-lasting campaign has been the Olympic Tent Village, a cluster of tents set up on a piece of property leased by the Vancouver Olympic Committee for use before the Opening Ceremony. The purpose is to draw attention to the thousands of people in Vancouver who don’t have permanent places to live.

Once the tents moved in, organizers were stuck wondering what to do — assert their right to use the space they’d rented and re-fan the flames of dissent or leave it alone. They decided they didn’t need the land, and the tents have remained.

But again, in the words of the people involved in organizing it, “Media coverage of the Olympic Tent Village has been sporadic at best.” A lack of coverage on social issues facing a host city isn’t surprising, really. Think about the coverage in the lead-up to Beijing — it was all about human rights issues and Tibet, but during the Games themselves, those stories barely got a mention.

In the context of Vancouver, though, some are surprised. The Downtown Eastside was believed to end up a magnet for media as it offers such a striking juxtaposition to the opulence and extravagance that surrounds the Games.

But it’s worth asking whether the positive energy flowing through the city around the Olympics has also forced the hand of social activists. They seem to have retreated from the very public spaces they were claiming in the early days of the Games, a retrenchment, if you will.

That’s not to say their fight is over. It isn’t.

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