Charles Demers, from Vancouver Special (2009)

Charles Demers, Vancouver Special. Photographs by Emmanuel Buenviaje. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2009.

[…] The fight for interiors is also what made the Woodwards Squat of 2002 – also commemorated as Woodsquat – so revolutionary and transformative an experience.  All that fall, street people and activists occupied the massive, hulking Woodwards department store building, which had been vacant since 1993, and resisted the neo-liberal siege that was now literal, as well as metaphorical, for nearly 100 days.  The assertive beauty of the moment is fairly captured in this exchange between anti-poverty activist Reverend Davin and city housing manager Cameron Gray on December 12:

Cameron Gray: Hi.

Reverend Davin: Hi Cameron.

Cameron Gray: How are you?

Reverend Davin: I’m too stubborn to die.

Cameron Gray: [silence]

Reverend Davin: I’m one of the negotiators with the Woodwards Squat and the reason why I’m phoning you is because you’re the Housing Manager and I’m kind of wondering what it is you’re doing to get people housing.

For those of us who supported the action, it was our turn to be outside looking in, as we did during many support rallies in the street outside the building.  The action became iconic – the following July, as a birthday gift from a friend, I was given a print-out artist Murray Bush’s hilarious, and yet somehow also touching, rendering of Queen Elizabeth II’s face photoshopped onto that of a squatter seated in an old chair, enjoying a smoke underneath a poster that says “We Will Win” (the Queen had made a visit to the city that October, while the squat was in full swing – Murray’s poster reads “Social Issues may not be your cup of tea but homelessness need to be dealt with effectively.  Demand provincially-funded housing for the poor, disabled and elderly.”)

At one of the rallies for the squat, a huge ladder was leaned up against the side of the building, and those who cared to see inside were invited up.  Fat guys generally hate ladders, but as I negotiated it there were familiar faces, anti-poverty activists, at the top, and so I was able to persevere.  Inside, the building looked like an old hangar, cavernous and filthy and unwelcoming.  But the people inside were gathered in groups, large and small, some shooting the shit and making jokes, others taking votes and making decisions about the squat and its smaller, subsidiary actions.  In the same way as Michael Ignatieff recalls his revulsion at the British Coal Miners’ strike as the moment he realized firmly that he was a liberal and not a socialist, I remember that moment in the Woodsquat as precisely the opposite. […]

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