Olive Dempsey: “The Cost of Forgetting”

Published in Canadian Dimension 38:5 (September-October 2004).

Link to article.

Excerpt: “The occupation of the building’s interior ended quickly, but the squat continued outside for three months, with an estimated 200 people camped around the perimeter. Squatters maintained political pressure through organization and mutual support. ‘We had our own infrastructure,’ says Jewel, one of the participants. ‘We had our own soup kitchens set up. We had volunteers ready to run it, control it, keep it working. We had our own security team running.’ No matter which questions I asked during our interview, almost everyone wanted to talk about the community they had at the squat, and about ways to get it back. As a result of the protest, the new city council, dominated by the Coalition of Progressive Electors, bought the building from the provincial government in March, 2003, with promises to use the space to support the interests of Downtown Eastside residents. […] COPE, composed in part by community advocates and activists, promised a radically different approach to the Canada’s most-talked-about neighbourhood. The COPE solution put the squatters into two Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels in the area. The notorious SROs are rooming houses with tiny units and shared bathrooms. Many involved with the Woodward’s squat believe this was an intentional move to disrupt the bonds and solidarity created during the protest. Intentional or not, that is what happened. Once a force powerful enough to wrest a vacant city block from the hands of the provincial government, those I spoke to say the community of the Woodward’s squat is scattered geographically and fragmented. Jewel wants to start a new squat, giving up the meagre housing she has, to resurrect the solidarity of the Woodward’s squat.”

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