What’s Had My Heart Pumping For the Past Few Days: Olympic Love-Ins and Poverty Bashing on my FB

by waaseyaa'sin christine sy

A couple of things have been on my mind over the past week or so. Today is my first day off the land and away from community in weeks and instead of editing my dissertation proposal, I’ve decided to write a response to some issues that have been percolating on my FB newsfeed. I want to be clear from the outset that the source of my angst are the issues I am going to be writing through, not the people or persons on my newsfeed.

On the 2012 Olympics:

I was deep into the first day of an Anishinaabe language and culture camp hosted by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians in Niminitigoong (Land Beneath the Trees/Manistee, Michigan) when the Olympics started. I had no idea they were upon us until I scanned my Facebook newsfeed that night and tuned into what my family was watching on T.V. in the hotel room. Aside from the discussion prompted by my 10-year olds’ admonishment of my critique of the Olympics, particularly what she thought was my judgment of the Indigenous athletes being happy to perform for this institution, and our brief exchange about the need for critical awareness vs. ignorant bliss, I have stayed away from engaging in too much detail about the Olympics. As for the debate with my daughter, I assured her that I was not judging what makes her happy or what makes those individuals happy but rather criticizing the Olympics and the nation-states like Canada that they celebrate. Of course she didn’t care about this—she’s not supposed to at ten—she was interested only in seeing the swimmers who would be competing; she needed to be assured that what makes her happy is not wrong; that her mother, the one with whom her sun rises and sets, did not judge what makes her happy. Our conversation ended like it usually does: me apologizing for coming off judgmental; her teaching me to have humility and kindness in my assessment of things and the words I use; and both of us agreeing, I think, that we always have to balance the need to make a better world through awareness and practice with experiencing joy, happiness, laughter everyday. What the Olympics looked like in our family for the next few evenings was she and my niece watching them unfettered by my commentary and me scrolling through my FB newsfeed and ignoring the love-fest happening there.

Until today; now, I share my thoughts.

The Olympics, and the love-fest for all things Olympics and nation-states, makes my stomach get all knotted up; makes me worry about speaking too loudly about why my stomach gets all knotted up. History tells me that my truth as Anishinaabe woman in my occupied homelands (and occupied cyberspaces), when it counters dominant mainstream Canadian sentiment, is often not engaged with meaningfully; in fact, it has many times yielded racist, bigoted, sexist, patronizing, or bullying responses. Even from those who claim, when it benefits them, “Native” ancestry. Or my voice waits, in silence, for responses that have yet to come or may never come. I am not the first Anishinaabe woman to experience this range of responses nor will I be the last.

Anyhow, my point: I want to see the  status quo pro-Olympic propaganda come to an end. I want to see a massive shift in consciousness and caring and self-empowerment and belief that there can be something better. I want advocacy for an Olympics that is inclusive, not just to include the already privileged while others suffer.

I think a better Olympics can be done.

If it can’t, I think the Olympics needs to be done.

I am not saying that relationships with the Olympics or the nation-states it props up must come to an end. I’m saying the ideas of nation-state goodness, the love-in with international nation-state events, and the warm gush of “mmmm, everyone is so young and healthy and pretty and beautiful” coursing through our veins—the seductiveness of the Olympics—needs to be transformed. The frenzied, adrenaline rush or comfort of patriotism needs to be replaced with a frenzies, adrenaline rush or comfort in active, critical engagement, and belief that we can have different kinds of nation-states and different kinds of sporting events. I think the things the make people feel patriotic and engaged in nationalist events needs to be redefined. I think the methods that create patriotism and nationalist-inter-nationalist love-fests needs to be re-created.

And replaced with what?

Well, I’m not 100% sure with what and I’m not going to go do research on it because I’m not the one perpetuating the problem. But, off the top of my head, I think a new patriotism and nationalism can be found in an Olympics that:

i) does not further displace Indigenous peoples from our homelands or the lands we’ve been previously displaced to OR further dispossess us of our resources. but does honour existing treaty agreements where they exist and/or refuses to perpetuate occupation where treaties don’t exist;

ii) does not further burden or displace those living in social-economic poverty and does commit to relieving some of the existing burden and/or contribute to these segments of communities in ways defined by them;

iii) does not exploit athletes but does ensure equitable and empowered participation in the Olympics;

iv) does not deny Indigenous athletes rights to be proud of the Nations they belong to and does engage in decolonization by allowing Indigenous Nations flags etc. to be carried on par with nation-states or perhaps with more recognition and dignity as an act of reconciliation for historical harms done;

v) does not harm the environment but does work with the existing eco-system and strives to revitalize existing environmental damage;

vi) does not prop up unethical corporations as good Samaritan sponsors and does only solicit endorsements from socially and environmentally ethical corporations.

Pretty idealistic but that’s okay. It’s written down now and all these things are possible.

I’m pretty sure people can advocate for this in their own ways, amongst their peers and family and communities. At a minimum, people can stop circulating propaganda that perpetuates an idea of a glorious Olympics. People can become engaged in this spectacle a bit more critically starting with some of the excellent material circulating on FB. People can say, “I really love _______ about the Olympics but I really don’t love _________ about the Olympics and instead of just ignoring what I don’t like I’m going to do ____________ to try to change it.”

I know education is discomforting and I know breaking up is hard to do even when it’s breaking up with the idea of a good nation-state (e.g. Canada) and the idea of what is a worthy athletic spectacle (e.g. Olympics). Breaking up comes with a lot of grief and sleepless nights; constantly doubting and weighing the pros and cons. It’s particularly hard to do when you have nothing to gain from it except a trajectory that puts you on a path where you will meet more resistance from a lot of people, including your family members, friends, lovers, partner, enemies, frenemies etc. etc. And then to do this for what or for whom? A better world? Some Indigenous peoples? Those who have been displaced and dispossessed as a result of the Olympics? For me, the person you have somewhat of a relationship in real time or FB time?

Enh.

That’s “yes” in Anishinaabemowin.

***

The second issue in my heart and brain is what I call, “Rant #564: Poverty Bashing (by the Righteous Working Class)”

It’s happening on my FB, all the time.

I’m tired of it.

I want it to stop.

I could unfriend unfriend unfriend but I’d rather go the route of discussion and reflection first. So, in that spirit, following here are a few questions to the righteous working class or privileged middle class who blame those living in poverty for their own financial or material unhappiness. I ask these questions with the hopes that the poverty bashing will stop. Once you’ve read these questions, you may be interested in reading, Poor-Bashing, The Politics of Exclusion  (2001) by Jean Swanson.

Here goes:

One: How can you be so sure that life is always going to be so supportive of you and the trajectory you’re on? How do you know there will not be a time when you will find yourself in the same position you hate on today? Aside from universal forces you have no control over and that have got you where you are, your hard earned tax dollars pay for your government to do what governments do—regulate, control, and exploit. Your taxes may go toward the 550 or so dollars single moms, people on disability, and seniors get to live on a month but ALL OF THIS 550 or so dollars they get a month goes back into the economic system that supports your working backs so you can have savings accounts, life insurance policies, and mortgages. You see, (y)our good life, at whatever class you may be in, comes from someone else’s economic hardship somewhere else; (y)our misery comes from (y)our own greed and false sense of not having enough.

Two: Don’t you have enough already?

Three: If the answer to two is “no”, why turn to those living on the least to try to get more for yourself? Why not turn to those that have more than enough to share and could easily address your needs?

Four: How will you know when you have enough?

Five: It seems to me that the sense of righteousness you have comes from the struggle you have being working-class. It’s a shitty deal to be working class in a capitalist society for sure. But doesn’t this knowledge compel you to know better than to further burden the already burdened? Why does it nurture hate instead of  compassion and understanding?

Six: Do you really think that people enjoy living on low fixed incomes, particularly in a shiny, happy country where everyone on T.V. is young, healthy, fit, pretty, and athletic and where our value as human beings is defined by how much we can shop and how well we can mark ourselves with our status (i.e. clothes, cars, houses, material items, where we buy our groceries, etc.)? Do you really think people living on fixed incomes enjoy being the target of your misery? FYI, targeting others less fortunate than yourself is a privilege that comes to you because you are able to be employed and because this employment generates a few thousand more a year for you than them. The employment you have today is not solely dependent on the merit you have; it’s because you knew somebody who got you a job; it’s because the broader economic system supports that particular field or trade you are in. The broader economic isn’t going to care about your hard-earned taxed dollars when the field no longer serves corporations, politicians, or the TSE or the MEF. Don’t know what these are? Neither do I but I know enough to know that they control you and me. Look it up and educate yourself.

Final thoughts: Righteous working class, and company, some, not all, of you hate on those living in poverty and fixed incomes. This makes me think you may also believe that you pay for Indigenous peoples education with your “hard-earned” tax dollars. For clarification, you do not pay for Indigenous peoples education. In fact, Indigenous peoples, by way of our Nations, contribute in large part for yours and your children’s education—whatever amount or quality you have—with the resources your government and the corporations your government does deals with, extract from my/our Indigenous homelands, often in violation of treaties or in the absence of a treaty. If you don’t know how this works (and you likely don’t because your public educatino system doesn’t want you to know this), read a book, do a Google Scholar search, or talk to your local politician, historian, librarian, Elder. And if you don’t get clear answers, keeping asking and reading until you do. Don’t stop at the first myth that affirms your righteousness and perpetuates your hate. Don’t stop until you get the right answer.

How will you know when you have the right answer?

Nogdawindamin.

That’s Anisinaabe for “achieving a state of well-being by caring for each other”.

You’ll know when you achieve a state of well-being.

A state of well-being…

…by caring for each other.

When you get a feeling about caring about others instead of hating on them, you’ll know you’ve come across a good answer. Hopefully this will encourage you to continue on in that way.

Nahaaw mii sa iw (Okay, that’s all). Miigwech (thank you) for reading and considering my words.

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