Guest post by WAVAW Volunteers, Tissa Rahim and Hannah Jarvis
In wake of the recent white-supremacist riots held in Charlottesville, groups all over North America, with similar anti-islamic/anti-Semitic/overall racist principles, have crawled out from their reddit forums to take their cause to the streets. In Vancouver, a group called the WCAI, World Wide Coalition Against Islam, organized an event for them to rally together outside of City Hall on Saturday, August 19th. When folks caught wind that this blatant display of hate and racism was happening in our corner of the world, a group called Stand up to Racism Metro Vancouver, made up primarily of Surrey teachers, decided to put together a counter-protest. This event gained a large amount of popularity on Facebook and resulted in roughly 4000 people attending, vastly outnumbering white supremacists. There were 19 speakers at this event (found on the event’s Facebook page), all various Metro Vancouver activists and Indigenous leaders, who addressed separate but interrelated issues faced by marginalized people in Canada, including police brutality, sexualized violence, and poverty.
As an immigrant and a Middle Eastern woman, I was anxious about attending this event, particularly as the rally that was to be held initially was anti-immigrant and anti-Islam. Continued footage from Charlottesville had left me and my friends of colour exhausted. In the end, seeing the overwhelming opposition against white supremacists in Metro Vancouver left me with some peace of mind, while still recognizing that we have lots of work to do in combating racism right here at home.
When the WCAI created their event it sparked a lot of conversation comparing the political climate of the US to Canada; specifically, the perception of Vancouver as “super left-wing”. It seemed like many Vancouverites were surprised by radical right ideologies existing at home. This is likely, in part, due to the myth of Canada being a post-racial nation. On the global stage Canada is idolized as a progressive utopia, especially in comparison to our Southern neighbours.
At WAVAW, we recognize that we cannot be situated on unceded lands, in a nation-state built on the violence of colonialism, and not have racism woven into our society. It is vitally important that those who benefit from structural racism are actively recognizing the ways in which they are benefiting; partly, by acknowledging that “staying out of politics” is a political choice that sides with the oppressors. We are also keenly aware that racism and sexual violence are deeply connected. Women of colour are far more likely to experience assault, and their risk is even higher if they are in poverty, queer, and/or disabled. For this reason, we must recognize the importance of centering marginalized voices in creating a more equitable society and combating racism and white supremacy in Canada. We hope that those who attended this event, particularly white people who made up the majority of participants, really listened to the concerns of the speakers, continue to support activist groups in Metro Vancouver and beyond, and continue to use their position to stand up to every-day bigotry they encounter.