Gentrify This! by Cynthia Dewi Oka

in honour of Olympic Tent Village residents and organizers in Vancouver, B.C.
Unceded Coast Salish Territories, inaugurated February 15. 2010



nation of mud   stone   liberated 
wood   wrinkled by dialect of rain
gather contraband hearts  rude
tissue absorbing dynamite pits

              against six billion dollar hubris   paper
              flags washable tattoos red mittens
              everything that comes off 

tin beaks clap  HOMES NOW  over
derelict single room occupancies  over
rusted nails fire light and coffee steam over
ligaments folded in sleeping bags

              petals of flesh  wire fencing    
              this is what hope looks like  under
              patent leather shoes   the Indian Act

blister hands break night carve bold
out of frostbit bone  wanting
life bigger than circumference of
beat cops property value official policy

              take back here  in collective
              memory sovereign   garden of chalk
              graffiti poems writing ourselves

into each other’s tender places  
sparrows and bread and contagious
no one safe from the weather
in our veins 


Contributor Notes

gentrify this!" was written as testimony to the powerful and sustained efforts of grassroot organizers and homeless/under-housed Downtown Eastside residents in reclaiming a vacant lot owned by the Vancouver Olympic Committee, and building and defending the Olympic Tent Village during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, unceded and occupied Coast Salish Territories . Vancouver's most vulnerable residents have been hard hit by neoliberal policies and gentrification sweeping through the city and remaking it as an abode for only the hyper-wealthy. The Olympics intensified this process and introduced new measures to criminalize poverty under the guise of nationalism. In writing this poem, I aimed to honour the continuing struggles for sustainable housing by poor residents of the Downtown Eastside, particularly those of indigenous and racialized backgrounds, and groups such as Power of Women, VanAct and Streams of Justice who took leadership in mobilizing community around these critical struggles for survival and dignity.


Originally from Bali, Indonesia, I have resided in Vancouver since 1995 - an alumnus of Voices of Our Nations Summer Writing Workshops for Writers of Colour, and co-founder/member of Press Release collective of movement poets.