On Sunday April 17, 2016 Vancouver, BC witnessed its inaugural Black Lives Matter Vancouver event. Set on the steps of Vancouver’s Art Gallery, the city’s go to place for revolutionary activities, a small but vibrant group of activists created a safe space and a foundation of solidarity in otherness using the powerful Black Lives Matter mantle.
BC’s Black communities face the same systemic anti-black racism as seen across the rest of the world. The recent gains made by BLM Toronto Chapter in concert with the Indigenous population in support of Attawapiskat through unwavering solidarity and perseverance inspired many across the country; and moved six UBC students to action.
Canada’s second BLM chapter describes its mission on its gofundme page as follows:
The Black Lives Matter Vancouver chapter is a cause that supports the organizing work of black folks and allies in undoing systemic racialized violence. Black Lives Matter is a cause cognizant of the ongoing struggles of all marginalized folks and we strive to honour that in the work we do. We centre the voices of Black folks as well as other folks of colour and hope to lift up those who are queer, women, trans, differently abled, poor or otherwise marginalized.
Vancouver’s Black population has long struggled with invisibility and erasure. Like many Canadian cities, Black communities have been systematically decentralized in the Vancouver Lower Mainland. Angela Marie MacDougall, community leader and executive director of Vancouver’s Battered Women’s Support Services spoke at the event describing the Black experience in Vancouver as follows:
“If we want to understand Black Lives in Vancouver, we need to understand the extent to which the City of Vancouver rendered us invisible. By policy. Through uprooting our people, by putting literally a highway through a neighbourhood [Hogan’s Alley] that was thriving and we have been struggling politically ever since to create a political voice for ourselves… Vancouver is unique to the extent that Black people have been displaced and rendered invisible. Unique in that we have struggled to find a community identity – in part because of how diverse we are. There is no universal Black experience in Vancouver. And that IS what unites us; is that is no uniform experience of Black lives in Vancouver.”
The event stayed true to their vision and mission by publically opening a dialogue about anti-black racism and the plight of marginalized people in Vancouver. The call to action to address injustice cannot be done in isolation. Those with lived experience and the will to make change must work together, remaining cognizant of each other’s differences, yet aware the connection of the human spirit. Most importantly, in Vancouver, this fight must be fought in a reciprocal relationship with the peoples whose land on which we live, the traditional unceded land of the Musqeuam First Nation on Coast Salish Territories. BLM Vancouver is off to strong start rooted in visibility, solidarity and intersectionality.
Photo Credit: Katherine Ho photography