March 21 is the International Day for the Elimination of Racism, the 51st anniversary of the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa, when police opened fire on hundreds of South Africans protesting against Apartheid’s passbook laws, killing 67 and wounding 186. Each year on this day, citizens around the world observe the anniversary by calling for an end to racism in all its forms and celebrating the dignity, strength, and resilience of communities that embrace diversity.
To mark the anniversary yesterday, CUPE activists were front and centre at a boisterous downtown rally and march against racism. Carrying the union’s flags and the Workers of Colour banner (Building Strong Communities With Diversity), the CUPE members were a visible presence near the front of the march as the crowd of about 100 made its way from the Waterfront Skytrain station to the Vancouver Art Gallery.
At the rally, activists called for an end to individual and institutional racism, racial violence, and racial profiling. They also called on governments to respect indigenous lands and communities (including water rights); demanded an end to all wars and occupations, as well as freedom from police violence, imprisonments, and deportations; and called for living wages, healthcare, education and housing for all.
Speakers at the event decried the failure of current governments to learn from historic injustices such as Japanese internment during World War II, the cultural genocide of residential schools and the Chinese Exclusion Act. They pointed to the mass detention and impoverishment of racialized peoples and refugees under the guise of anti-terrorism; Canadian corporate development on indigenous lands—from the tar sands in Alberta to mining operations in Guatemala; the expansion of exploitative migrant worker programs; the tragedy of missing and murdered indigenous women; and various military occupations, as ugly examples of contemporary racism in Canada that need to be condemned.
“In order to achieve a just society that is rich in its diversity and inclusiveness, it is important that we continue to denounce all acts of racism and discrimination,” said Shehnaz Motani, CUPE BC’s Diversity vice-president for workers of colour.
“It is only with a continued awareness and denunciation of such acts of systemic discrimination that we will be able to achieve and maintain a just and inclusive society in Canada and the world. CUPE recognizes this and congratulates all CUPE members for their solidarity on the International Day for the Elimination of Racism.”