CUPE activists were among the boisterous crowd that staged a highly visible march against racism on March 18, in observance of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (March 21).
On Sunday afternoon, Vancouver police halted traffic for a several-block stretch of East Vancouver’s Commercial Drive as about 300 people proceeded north from a rally at Clark Park, on the corner of Commercial Drive and 14th, to Grandview Park at Commercial and Charles.
The event, organized by No One is Illegal, began with several speeches about the significance of March 21 as the anniversary of the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa, and why it’s important to continue speaking out against racism in all its forms.
Several speakers condemned the Harper government’s tough new restrictions on immigration and family sponsorships while it expands temporary worker programs that exploit migrant workers. Event organizer Harjap Grewal said that neo-Nazis and other white supremacists have been using anti-immigrant rhetoric to fan the flames of racism in an attempt to make public policy even worse.
Grewal said that holding the march on Commercial Drive this year was partly aimed at reclaiming the neighbourhood after attacks by three men believed to be linked with the white supremacist group, Blood and Honour. (In one attack in 2009, a Filipino man was lit on fire while sleeping on a couch.) To that end, this year’s march introduced the “Nazi paparazzi,” a group of guerrilla photographers assigned with taking pictures of any neo-Nazis or other racist thugs bold enough to show up at the event.
At one point in the march, as the crowd reached the corner of Commercial and Broadway, there was a poignant moment of silence in honour of aboriginal members of the community who have been victimized by racism.
The rest of the event was celebratory. There was Coast Salish drumming, a New Orleans-style marching band, and a stirring vocal rendition of the gospel classic “Eyes on the Prize” by the Sojourners trio.
“Community events like this show how important it is that we work collectively to eradicate racism and all forms of discrimination once and for all,” said CUPE BC Diversity vice-president (workers of colour) Dal Benning.
Benning and alternate DVP (workers of colour) Michele Alexander were joined at the march by former DVP Shehnaz Motani, members of CUPE 15 and CUPE staff.
For more photos of the event, visit the gallery.