Activists protest criminalization of poverty

It’s night. Late. Do you know where your activists are?

It’s night. Late. Do you know where your activists are? Turns out some of them were out last week removing and altering a slew of signs handed out to local businesses by the Downtown Victoria Business Association. The signs declared various spaces to be private property and forbade any loitering, camping, etc. by the general public.

Through sheer dumb luck (also the email address to your left), I had a chance to speak with a member of Operation Public Space (OPS), the group responsible for the aforementioned shenanigans. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade — when life hands you a chance to showcase the other side of a debate over the proper use of public space that has been going strong in the capital for all of my recent memory, you, well, you know.

“We wanted to come up with something that restored some dignity and removed some of the stigma from the most marginalized people in our community,” says OPS.

Thus, for a day, “Private Property” signs around town read: “Public Space: Respect, Justice, Compassion and Community — Stop the Criminalization of Poverty.”

To make things more interesting, the Victoria Coalition Against Poverty is publicly endorsing this direct action, agreeing with OPS that private property signs contribute to the marginalization of those living in poverty.

A representative from VCAP says that while the organization is not associated with Operation Public Space, “we do endorse a diverstiy of tactics and understand that actions like this make sense in a society where our definition of violence and damage are so skewed in favour of what property owners and the propertied classes see as damage.”

Inspired by the recent action, VCAP has proposed to create similar signs and offer them to business owners to replace those distributed by the DVBA.

Whether or not you want to paste your message up in the middle of the night, the point Operation Public Space is trying to make remains valid.

In the strange turf war of camping bylaws and private property signs, actions like this remind us to talk more openly about the continuous shuffling of the capital’s poor.

“No matter what your lifestyle or what your economic situation is,” says OPS, “all people deserve respect, and these signs are just disrespectful.” M

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