Responding to media attacks

Pidgin’s owner said he wanted to start a conversation – he got more than he bargained for! Low-income people are speaking out against forced relocation and economic exclusion/segregation in Vancouver. The Pidgin/Pigeon Pickets have made headlines across the country for two weeks straight. Unfortunately, mainstream media coverage fails to represent the many voices of low-income DTES residents. Instead, many news stories repeat the same old poor-bashing rhetoric and hateful lies: the DTES is “hell”, a “pigsty,” a “ghetto,” etc. These slurs ignore the causes of poverty and they erase the reality of the neighbourhood’s diverse, loving and resilient communities.

Only the alternative media (for example, Joseph Jones’ piece in the Vancouver Media Co-op) accurately presented the story from the picketers viewpoint.

For one week, at the height of the news frenzy, media was present at every picket and police kept people out of Pigeon Park for appearance’s sake.

On February 27, developer Bob Rennie was featured in a Vancouver Sun article on the same page as an ad for Sequel 138 condos. The pickets are bad for high-end business, and gentrifiers are scrambling to control the story. News reports echo Mayor Robertson and Vision Councillor Kerry Jang’s weak excuses for displacing poor people. They say the DTES needs to be “cleaned up” and “revitalized”, implying that low-income communities are dirty and lifeless. They conveniently ignore the real need for new, decent welfare-rate housing and affordable services.

The mainstream media coverage of the Downtown Eastside is a powerful weapon in the hands of the developer class to promote gentrification by demonizing the community they want to push out. These are not media stories, they are propaganda. Their role is not to inform or tell peoples’ stories, it is to mislead and dehumanize the people most vulnerable to the displacement.

Media coverage has dismissed protesters as poverty pimps and misguided NIMBYs. These attacks are meant to isolate us and scare others into silence. The artist formerly known as Homeless Dave is undeterred, insisting that “the Town Hall will be the community’s response.”

The success of a protest is often measured by how much media coverage and public support they receive. The Pidgin Picket is different because the action itself sends two very clear messages. To condo developers and other gentrifiers, it’s saying the DTES is not open to business until our housing needs are met. To low-income residents and allies, we’re saying that together we can fight displacement and protect our community. As low-income resident and picketer Fraser Stuart said, “They can say what they want about us, but we’re in this for the long haul. We’re not going anywhere.”

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