Category Archives: DTES

harm reduction politics

i’ve had to make this point several times in the last few years when speaking to council. 

it would be great if nobody has to do this in the future. i’d like that. if i don’t have to point this out, that would indicate to me that we’ve made a significant change

if we refused to wait until the obituary before acknowledging that people have inherent dignity, worth, humanity, all that

if the motivating impulse is resentment, the consequences can never be productive. it seems to me that this is a big reason why the #DTES is so utterly messed up. an endless spiral of resentment & blame & regret, such fierce desire for a past that never was

blame - Edited

i have it on pretty solid authority PLUS i read it in a book AND i heard from that guy at the park that when people are elected to civic office they do not in fact become ℳagic. i think that is the opposite of democratic representation actually, just as blaming Them

blaming Them, incomprehensible Them, is to deny your own power in this world, it is saying this isn’t your history and the future can’t be yours too

or as it’s constantly said in the downtown eastside, “That’s just how it is down here”

but i have to say that i have seen people who’ve been invisibled claim their right to change the world and trust me when you feel it there’s no need to shout
or Demand


[you notice how drug users habitually mumble, talk into their chest, sentences trailing to silence? they have lots to say, they’re just used to not being listened to]

but a few hours before the polls open – after over 20 years of drug users negotiating some access to elected representatives which has resulted in Insite & a entire neighbourhood embedded (+/-) with #harmReduction services. and Ideas

but in the spring of 2016 those ideas, those ideas were frozen in time. the world had changed the neighbourhood felt – it was a siege a constant and escalating crisis

today is Day 920 of a public health emergency #bcpoli

eight months passed after that emergency was declared before the province sanctioned Overdose Prevention sites. hundreds of people were dead. that fall it rained and rained. @sarahblyth opened a tent in the alley so when you went down there were people thereto bring you back

that first breath when they suck back the air like it’s the first time thats the most amazing sound i’ll never be tired of that sound but i have to tell you i need to tell someone i’m so tired

tracey and i were going to city meetings, the mental health & addictions task force, catching shit for it too. there was the big tent day when 300 people had narcan training, which was paid for somehow from the .5% “fentanyl tax” – that was december 2016 and as i recall, not popular

yeah, i got the date right. dec 13, the following week. the radical militant take: the Evil City Used You All! when i asked them to explain, i asked, “how did they use us to have a public event (which we suggested) to do what we wanted, on our terms, to get the $ that you keep Demanding, that you say will help? please explain this to me.” nobody did. BUT i guess i suck at politics

Screenshot 2018-10-23 at 5.13.39 AM.png

Vancouver approves 0.5% property tax hike to fight overdose crisis | CBC News
The tax increase will mean an extra $4 for condo owners, $11 for single family homeowners and $19 for the average commercial property.

something shifted. @sarahblyth hadn’t given up and she was tweeting constantly and probably calling the ministry of health often. lots of people were on it, but she turned this into civil disobedience,

Screenshot 2018-10-20 at 3.13.58 PM

that is,
Saving Users’ Lives is a Political Act Because Our Humanity is Worth Personal Sacrifice and Risk

Please Acknowledge the Humanness We Have in Common While I Am Alive

i just realized that earlier the same fall i organized a show at gachet (last one, turns out). i had the one thing in it, Fortress of Solitude

04_ct - Edited.jpg

sometime early february? sounds about right

i started noticing a terrible thing happening.
at first it was a look. an expression of surprise.

people started giving each other up for dead
and giving themselves to

the pursuit of oblivion
then it all got worse
(it got worse from running into someone you hadn’t seen in two weeks and one person would say “oh i figured you had died” from that it got worse)

vancouver was the north american urban centre best equipped for this it is a true fact that is a true fact you can trust me, i have historical training

and look

look what happened

is there anything we can do? anything? it was july 26 2017. karen what can we do?

said the mayor to the crackhead

right now today, #SafeSupply. all substances. multiple points of access. and by #Decriminalize – i don’t mean the thing, the “drug”

we can decriminalize people. ourselves.

this does require a shift in thinking.
and is analogous to the aids crisis. the shift came when ‘victims’ became people.

the crisis is not the drug. the crisis is a social need to sacrifice individuals who exhibit the consequences of social cruelty.

but there is no Them
and there’s no cavalry and no magic and also no mystery 

how please tell me how does it help to blame Them?

stop angrily demanding what They can’t give
build new structures – break with the past
look, the thing is everybody uses drugs


and this seems the time to say what seems obvious —
harm is reduced the moment a user comes out.

Gᴇɴᴛʟᴇɴᴇss ɪs ɴᴏᴛ ᴡᴇᴀᴋɴᴇss.
Aʀʀᴏɢᴀɴᴄᴇ ɪs ɴᴏᴛ sᴛʀᴇɴɢᴛʜ.
Jᴜsᴛɪᴄᴇ ɪs ʟᴏᴠᴇ.                          *

if we choose to become visible we might see each other clearly

acknowledge each other. and the harm. and listen close

there’s no They

it’s Just Us


we are all getting bunked

in this terrifying vancouver election, i’m not terribly interested in any given candidate’s claim to be Left or Right: i’m much more concerned about how they understand power, if they are self-confident enough to take an immense amount of shit (and not it personally), if they are curious and ask questions because they want to understand, rather than want to show that everyone else doesn’t. so when i tweeted about getting bunked in the legal marketplace and not knowing what to do about it, Candidate Brandon Yan asked what “bunked” means.

“when the retailer misrepresents the product, or it is a smaller amount than purchased, or it is not product at all,” i wrote.

getting bunked several years ago would piss people off. it would happen particularly often on the weekend before cheque day. this is a low-income area and people get desperate. but a seller who rips off their customers isn’t going to be in business very long. wait, it’s only 10 bucks, you say. true. but people have to do things that perhaps they otherwise would not have in order to earn that ten. and then to go home, and open a flap of crushed chalk? if you don’t know what that’s like, i don’t want you to.

of course in 2018 you wouldn’t have time to get pissed off – if you were opiate-naive you’d be dead before this sentence ended. and the street retailer has no idea what they have in inventory (other than that “it’s really good”).

for some 25 years, the phrase “open-air drug market” has been used to describe my neighbourhood, the downtown eastside. apparently the objectionable thing about this is that it’s “open,” visible for anyone to see – thus an offense to tourism, business, the children, and decent people everywhere. therefore it is an affront to the Law, and is also known as Street Disorder

its visibility could have been considered one of its safer characteristics. “you only bunk once” it was said. you would be instantly called out, and encouraged to cease your participation in the marketplace – since now your action is widely known, you’ve undermined trust in all other retailers. it would be unwise to attempt to sell in the neighbourhood again. the fact that you tried to bunk us would never be forgotten.

that was a collectively self-regulated illicit market. there’s no customer service desk, no receipts. debts were paid and collected. there was coercion, violence.

meanwhile, in the world off the block, as the cost of everything exploded, the incomes of poor people were unchanged – which is to say, decreased. revenues fell in every market but the property market – and while the cost of illicit drugs isn’t factored into the cost of living by policy analysts and economists, it should be, because demand is steady. and it doesn’t matter where they were first produced – you can synthesize these chemicals anywhere, and it’s much cheaper (and more profitable) to produce and sell synthetics like fentanyl or whatever the next thing will be than it is to import all that bulky plant-based dope. customers had less money, and that money had to do more work. thus it’s poverty that explains the impact of synthetic opiates, explains precisely why thousands of deaths don’t mean a thing.

the illicit drug market is capitalism unregulated, revealed as an unending nightmare, in its purest and therefore most brutal form. this is the war of all against all, but we’re cannon fodder, ritual sacrifices and with our technology we can make synthetic substances in small undetectable quantities in the laundry room and yeah you will get high —

then everybody started dying

the collective self-regulation of the market? yeah, that fell apart quick. nobody knew for certain what happened to you know, that guy – or her, she was here the other day. where did she buy? no one knew. and drug users generally speaking already had some trust issues.

but now we have no trust in anything, or anyone, and if it’s even fathomable, are more isolated from each other than when this began. the hopelessness, like a wave, the undertow. we cannot trust each other again.

but then what? the use of psychotropic substances is a constant in human history. and there is less potential for harm in societies that are less harmful.

so… this all will be re-built, either illicit, improvised, awaiting the next crisis, or as an externally regulated market. either/or.

it’s not like we can remove the profit motive and transform social relations by rejecting capitalism through the free exchange of substances that relieve pain and produce pleasure

it’s not like we can do that

users are only ever interested in getting high

the solution isn’t to ‘reduce poverty’ or ‘tax the rich.’ the well is poisoned. the solution isn’t to beat them at their own game. the solution is to Change the Game.

that is what we have to do. no one is going to do it for us. there is no Them to demand that from. just us.

all the crisis

many of the issues – massive, structural, civilization-damning fails – that i focus my efforts on are very local and immediate to me: deep poverty, homelessness, mental illness, drug use/ harm reduction, catastrophic overdose deaths, colonial murders, ecocide. because i live in the downtown eastside – vancouver, british columbia, all the unceded territory. this is canada’s lost & found box, and everyone in it is broken or breaking. maybe i am close to understanding it. but we must not replicate this

one thing i am sure of – these crises will spin endlessly if marginalized people continue to be dependent, and continue to make demands of Them (and so cede the possibilities of our own expressions of power). ongoing total dependence, after all, is a growth industry for everyone but us

20180720_125533 - Edited

we must instead demand more of ourselves and each other.

“i could do that better if i was given the chance,” lots of people say and i agree. but that’s not a thing, that chance, it’s not going to be given. so take it.       take the chance

history – which is to say, time – does change the meaning of things. mine was, and is, a decision made with an awareness of consequence and risk. it signifies something, surely, to abandon a liferaft. but that’s ok! everyone return to your islands so we can watch each other drown, better than being shot into the sun, past some mathematical horizon

for whatever’s waiting    on the other side of that graph