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Twenty Years from Homelessness

Part One

White Stones, Queens, 1974.
Fathers talking shit,
Motherfucker slam the door.
Hit the streets running, cannot take it anymore.
In the reins of the train, I cuddle on the floor.

On the park bench, door, and sleeping here for free
Little kids sitting in the shooting gallery
Set yourself up
From innocence to misery
Oh, this is what you wanted,
Not the way, what the fuck you say?

~ Rancid, “1998

Between January 4th and January 10th, 1998, a series of large storms dumped 80-130mm (~3-5 inches) of precipitation on Eastern Ontario and Quebec. What began as rain rapidly turned to ice and the ice accumulated and as it accumulated it devastated trees and infrastructure, forests and cities. Kilometre after kilometre of hydro towers fell like dominoes. Millions of people lost power, some for several weeks in subzero temperatures, and at least thirty-five people died. This became known as The Ice Storm of 1998. It was at this time that I became homeless and, one quiet winter evening, carried all my worldly possessions – in a backpack, a duffel bag, and a number of garbage bags, down a frozen suburban street into a future I could not foresee.

But it is misleading to say that I “became” homeless. As with feminist criticisms of how we deploy the passive voice when speaking about abuse or sexual assault (see here for more on that), it misdirects our attention, taking it away from the agent who performs the action. We do this all the time, especially when it comes to patriarchal violence, and one example of this is how we talk about youth like me becoming homeless. It renders those who made me homeless invisible and, by doing so, facilitates interpretations that are conducive to blaming me for becoming homeless (“You became homeless? What did you do to become homeless?”). Because I did not choose homelessness—I was made homeless by my parents and, more specifically, by my father who chose to kick me out and by my mother who weighed her options and decided that it was too difficult, too scary and, perhaps even too immoral, for her to take my younger brother and also leave my dad. And so she didn’t. Although she did cry a lot that afternoon when I got home from school and received the news from my father. And, for a long time, I blamed myself for those tears and thought I was the cause of my mother’s broken heart and I thought that proved I was a piece of shit and I thought that meant I deserved the bad things that happened to me.

Mostly, the adults who came in to try and offer support and help resolve the situation – notably the pastors from my parents’ church – reinforced this narrative. My parents would only allow me to re-initiate contact with them if I first apologized for what I had done (in this case, I had been forging notes with their signatures in order to get out of classes I didn’t need to attend to get As). No other adult involved questioned if the punishment was misplaced or if I was being abused, or if my parents should apologize to me – the key was making me apologize for what I had done. And they also wanted me to confess to any other things I had ever done wrong that they did not know about so that they could learn to trust me again. Because, in the narrative told by my parents and reinforced by their pastors and other adults, I was the problem, I was the bad person, I was untrustworthy, and so I had to change if things were going to work out. And that’s part of what facilitates all kinds of child abuse—parents and caregivers have an incredible power to control the kinds of narratives that sound plausible and determine how other adults, other people with power, and others who could make a difference, view their children. And children are taught to also see the adult-imposed narratives as the most plausible ones. And so men of violence sleep the sleep of the just, as righteous men gather around to support them, while the children they have violated are so racked by guilt that they can’t fall asleep for days.

I grew up feeling that guilt and sleeplessness. And I felt guilty in January, 1998, at the age of seventeen, even though looking back on me now, I could go on about how I was a good kid. Painfully shy and surprisingly innocent (I was still four years away from my first kiss), I just wanted to serve Jesus and do the right thing most of the time. But describing myself in that way is beside the point and feeds into the kind of narrative I utterly reject – as if kids need to prove they don’t deserve to be kicked out by their parents. As if some kids do deserve to be made homeless. That’s a bullshit lie. I have spent the last twenty years hanging out with kids who have been made homeless by their parents and caregivers and I can confidently say that no kid anywhere, no kid ever, deserves to be homeless and no kid anywhere, and no kid ever, deserves to be abandoned by their adults. Adults who make their children homeless should be charged with attempted murder or, at least, accessory before the fact.

“You’ve got an hour to get your stuff and go,” my dad said to me when I got home from school, my mother sitting in a chair, crying. “Whatever you can’t carry with you, I’m throwing in the garbage.” I said okay, called a friend to help me carry my things to his place where I could store them in his room, and packed. On my way out, I found my father and asked, “Should I call or anything?” “No,” he said. “Just get out of my life.” When I left, I think my mother was still in the same chair, still crying.

Crying got complicated for me after that. Walking around feeling overwhelmingly guilty with no one to hit me to both confirm and expunge my guilt, was also hard. So, some nights, I went out late looking for fights – not because I wanted to rage on someone else, but because I felt I needed someone else to rage on me. I wouldn’t look for one person. I wanted to make sure I’d get a beating and that people would feel confident attacking me, so I’d go looking for groups of guys who were prowling the streets looking for trouble. Look at the mess I’ve made of everything, look at how I’ve fucked it all up, I don’t deserve anything good. I deserve to be hurt. Hurt me.

There are multitudes of children on our streets, even now as I write this, feeling this way. And there are multitudes of men out there more than willing to hurt them in all kinds of ways. John Wayne Gacy said he was amazed by the power of the orgasm he had when he first stabbed a sixteen year old boy to death (“that’s when I realized that death was the ultimate thrill”) and that thrill was so great that it led him to murder at least another thirty-two boys and young men. But I’ll tell you something I’ve learned in all my years living, working, playing, eating, laughing, weeping, struggling, fighting, and dying with people on the streets – John Wayne Gacys are a dime a dozen. I’ve lost track of the number of kids I’ve known who died on the street – I stopped counting deliberately because it felt like a fucked-up social worker status symbol, like knowing more dead kids gives you more cred and, in this way, self-titled advocates transform kids into things that can be used to advance their careers or brands – but I’ve also lost track of the number of children I’ve known who have been gang raped, and the number of children I’ve known who were tied to a bed or a chair or locked in a room or a house and didn’t think they were going to get out alive, or the number of children I’ve known who had their faces or genitals mutilated, or the number of children I’ve known who wanted to love and be loved but who were ever only met with apathy and hate. I have thousands of stories like these inside of me. Thousands. And I’ll tell you another thing: you don’t have to wield the knife yourself to be a John Wayne Gacy to an abandoned child. All you have to do is look the other way and keep walking when they ask you for change. It’s the apathy of the wealthy that enables the actions of the abusers.

“You have an hour to get your stuff and go,” said my dad to me.

“You have an hour to get your stuff and go,” said the cops to the kids sleeping under the climbers at the park.

“You have an hour to get your stuff and go,” said the security guard to the fellow in the stairwell at the university library.

“You have an hour to get your stuff and go,” said the social service worker to the girl being kicked out of the shelter.

And all of these speakers, every single one of them, felt like they were being quite generous by giving that kind of time to people who were in a place, a home, a park, a school, a shelter, a city, a world, a life, where they did not belong.

Part Two

My darling, I’m never coming back from where I’m going
My darling, I’m never coming home
My darling, I’m never back from where I’m going
My darling, I’m never coming home
Never coming home again

~ Ramshackle Glory, “Never Coming Home (Song for the Guilty)

Homelessness was a feeling I had anticipated before January, 1998, even though I didn’t officially become a statistic until then. I never felt safe, comfortable, or welcome in my family home. And, in some ways, being kicked out was a liberating experience because it freed me from most of the violence, abuse, and manipulation of my father. This is why, so often, kids run away and choose the streets – because the potential violence of strangers seems, all things considered, a safer, less harmful option than the violence they experienced at home (as one underage sex worker said, “I was getting hard-fucked at home every night by my dad, here at least I get paid for fucking”). Plus, at least on the streets you have your friends, others who understand, even if they can’t put it into words and, yeah, violence still happens and, yeah, getting beaten and raped by cops is still a very deep betrayal (and I have also lost track of how many homeless youth I have known who were beaten and raped by cops), but it still doesn’t quite hurt the same as being beaten and raped by your dad or your mom or both of them. And, besides, you can (ideally) learn to dodge the cops and the creeps and try to create safe spaces for yourself and those who become your street family (even if such families can sometimes mirror dysfunction that has been passed down from generation to generation), but no escape is possible when your abuser sleeps in the room beside you and has the key to your door. Kids aren’t any more or less stupid than adults. They don’t run away from home because they are bad or bored or feeling rebellious or have oppositional defiance disorder (a modern day drapetomania); almost always, they run away from home because the hurt they are experiencing there has become absolutely unbearable and anything, anything, seems preferable to living through that for one more day.

I think a lot of kids who experience abuse – and a lot of kids do experience abuse – know something about what homelessness is like but there are some things you only fully know when you experience them. It does something different to kids when their adults decide to fully, knowingly, and actively abandon them. It changes something on your insides.  To this day, I struggle with feeling close to my mom, even though she is a tenderhearted, gentle woman who survived decades of abuse from my father, and I struggle to feel close with any other adult from my extended family who knew that I was homeless and who didn’t lift a hand to help me. Being made homeless amputated those parts of my heart. I’ve looked for them. They’re gone.

This is part of what is so cruel about adults abandoning their children – it fundamentally alters the subjectivities and the development of the sense of self, value, and place in the world, of the children who are abandoned. Homelessness is not something you experience and then don’t once you no longer qualify as a statistic (because, say, you now pay rent and have your name on a lease). Homelessness is something that marks you. I believe that carrying this mark is part of the reason why folks with whom I work now open up so quickly with me and say to me, “I know you get this, Dan, I know you’ve been through it yourself,” even though I haven’t told them anything at all about me (and even though they are often talking about specific things that I might not have lived through).

I think my father wanted to mark me as a fuck-up, as a bad person who deserved to have bad things happen to him, and I have been marked, but I have learned to use this marker for good. Send me all your fuck-ups, send me all your bad people – look, I carry that mark, too – and I will show them that they are, in fact, just as they are, beloved. Because here’s another thing I’ll tell you: I know a man who sells crystal meth and who also regularly uses crystal meth (for him this is harm reduction – he finds he functions much better on it than he used to function on crack cocaine and I don’t think he’s wrong), and he is a much better man than any clergy member, medical professional, bureaucrat, professor, or social worker whom I have ever known. And if that sounds incomprehensible to you, you don’t know shit about shit and are a part of the problem. Keep walking, John Wayne Gacy.

Part Three

If you’d told me about all this when I was fifteen,
I never would have believed it.

~ Against Me, “Tonight We’re Gonna Give It 35%

I am now twenty years from homelessness. I am still marked, my entire life has been fundamentally altered, and the streets, and those who live there, have been an ever present part of my life, but I have a home now and I am, in many ways, more content than I have ever been. Unlike the vast majority of workers chewed up and spat out by institutions that are not designed or capable of caring for workers very well if at all, I didn’t burn out after two years. Because this is why people burn out so quickly and so regularly. It’s not because of the clients – as if workers are ill-prepared to handle the grief of seeing loved ones suffer or as if workers cannot handle being in the presence of the explosions of violence that abusive institutions facilitate. Many people already know something about griefs like these, it’s part of what motivates a lot of people to do the work, and people are resilient and, when well cared for, can often negotiate violent workplace incidences without losing their drive or desire to do the work. Plus, workers anticipate these things coming into the job, even if it is impossible to anticipate how deeply the hurt will actually cut into your heart (and even if abusive institutional structures make violence far more ubiquitous than it should be). But what kills workers, what takes them by surprise, and what has driven almost all the best workers I know from the field, are the abusive practices of employers, the ways in which they take advantage of staff members (and the more you care, the more they will take advantage of you), and the ways in which organizations lie and manipulate and toss aside clients – the people they claim to care about – in order to advance their own brands and increase their budgets. Social services engage in some of the worst abuses of vulnerable peoples and they do so on a daily basis in a manner that normalizes the abuse and most workers, after quickly realizing that the institution has no intention of changing these practices when they are brought to the attention of management (management prefers to maintain this abusive status quo, often for reasons related to cost, while continuing to lie to funders and the general public), simply cannot stand to be a part of that. So they leave. They burn out. They blow up. I don’t blame them.

But I stayed. And I also deliberately turned down multiple opportunities for career advancement – where I would have been paid more to do much easier work (the bosses say their jobs are harder, but they’re lying) – because I wanted to be with the people. Who are the people who are most oppressed, who are the people who are most abandoned, who are the people all the services are failing? Those are the people I want to be with, in person, in the moment, now, loving and being loved in ways that feel meaningful to the people themselves. Thus, I stayed on the frontlines working with youth, male and trans* sex workers, and now most especially with people who regularly use crystal methamphetamine and who often literally have nowhere else safe to go. By staying on the frontlines (for almost seventeen years as an official employee, although when I got kicked out twenty years ago, I never stopped being involved with peeps on the street, even though there were also brief periods of time when I flirted with case management and program management and development), I felt I was better able to subvert systems that were abusing the very people who depended on them. At the big picture level, this didn’t make much of a difference. But I believe it has sometimes made all the difference in the world to certain individuals. And I still believe this is absolutely critical work. In this work, it is important to never forget that when there is a conflict between what is legal or mandated or dictated by policies and procedures and what is just or loving, then frontline workers should always do the right thing. But they should be smart about it, remembering that there’s nothing immoral about lying to people trying to enforce abusive practices. If you can’t recognize that, stay out of the field. Because, chances are, you’ll end up hurting a lot of people, you’ll enforce and enact all the normalized abusive violence of social service agencies, while simultaneously being thoroughly convinced that you ever only did what you were supposed to do. If you want to really make a difference, you have to decide to fuck the righteousness of those who are always “just following orders.” So learn the rights of your clients and learn your own rights, and beyond the discourse of rights never forget that everyone is sacred, and advocate relentlessly and fearlessly (even if you are afraid) so that the bosses are afraid to target you or bully you. Show them that if they go after you, it’s going to cost them. In this way, you may be able to carve out a space that is safer and more life-giving for a people who very much need that kind of space – especially the people the system has labeled as “noncompliant” or “aggressive” or “dangerous” or “violently psychotic” or whatever.

This is not always easy to do but I think part of what has sustained me over the years is that this is not just a job for me. I imagine that the old religious idea of “vocation” expresses more of my feelings on the matter. But I think that puts the focus a little too much upon me. Because I have always felt privileged to share in the lives of others who have been abandoned. I have met so many wonderful people here. I have seen greater acts of kindness, love, generosity, affection, and mutual care in these circles than in any other one. I can sometimes incline to despair and become overwhelmed by the sorrow and violence in the world, but it is being with these people that has caused me, time after time, to fall head-over-heels in love and awe with humanity. It is in this company where I feel a sense of belonging. This is where I fit. These are my people, these people are me, we are a we. And that’s part of the reason why, over the years, I haven’t only pursued this as a job. I’ve also tried to be a good friend, neighbor, ally and accomplice to people experiencing oppression, homelessness, and marginality. That’s why I would take some young men out for dinner and a few beers in Toronto when they were jonzing for crack. That’s why I opened my home to youth who were kicked out of the shelter in Vancouver (for absolutely idiotic things, like coming back drunk or being caught in the possession of a joint – these are reasons that homeless shelters give for throwing vulnerable kids out onto the street, even in the heart of winter when the most likely way to not freeze is to shack up with a guy who is going to trade a bed for a fuck and god knows what else… and the same idiotic rules apply to local shelters today – the number one reason why one shelter kicks people out, and kicks them out for longer than almost all other rules violations, is for possessing syringes – as in you can be kicked out of shelter for thirty days and nights if you are found to be in possession of an unused, still in the packaging syringe, but if you punch someone in the face, you may only be kicked out for fifteen days and nights). It’s also why I helped develop a community house in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, where sex workers could come for a safe place to be after a bad date, where youth having a bad trip could come to chill out, where a fellow in need of a warm, dry place to sleep could crash awhile, and where weekly dinners were available to anyone at all from the ‘hood. This isn’t about the money – and, in fact, even after co-developing the lowest barrier community space for people in this city who use meth and who have been kicked out of almost all other social services and communal or corporate spaces, I still get paid less than, say, a school janitor, who also has better benefits than I do (which is part of how social services abuse employees – and it also feeds into the counter-revolutionary work of social services because people with the smarts and skills tend learn to sell out so that they can be promoted and make enough money to afford things like car and mortgage payments… but I’m getting ahead of myself here). This isn’t about money.  It’s about people coming together as people, knowing each other by name, tending to one another’s stories and self-identified needs, and working together to create the kind of world we want to live in together. This is people being people with people in intimate and vulnerable and scary and wonderful ways.

And this is where I beef with all those managers and directors of homeless shelters or various other social services, who refer to this or that person experiencing homelessness as “my friend” simply because they had a conversation or two with that person. Do you only talk with this friend at times when you are getting paid to do so? Does your friend have your phone number? Can your friend show up at your place at 2AM because your friend is having a hard time? Do you call your friend when you’re having a hard time? Have you chilled with your friend at your friend’s place and shared a few beers together? Have you helped your friend tie off? Do your kids know your friend? If your friend gets very upset and starts talking or acting recklessly, do you call the police? Because what the fuck kind of “friendship” is this and who do you think you’re fooling, and what kind of bullshit story are you trying to tell yourself about yourself?

Because social services are not designed to foster friendship, solidarity, or the recognition of common experiences, dreams, goals, and struggles between frontline workers and the clients or consumers or whatever word is buzzy with funders this year. These things are actually prohibited and can be grounds for dismissal. Not only this but, as the folks at INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence have handily shown, the professionalization of social work accomplishes two counter-revolutionary goals: first, it increasingly attracts workers who are alienated from the client base (i.e. people from a middleclass background who can afford higher education and who bring middleclass values and norms to the work, rather than people from the lower classes who never gained the support needed to attend University but who have all kinds of lived experience, a richer critical analysis of power structures, and, generally, a whole lot more empathy), and it takes well-intentioned workers who long to change the world, and misdirects them into institutions that, in fact, are essential to the smooth running and development of the oppressive status quo. Teach a kindhearted do-gooder to turn away a gal in the middle of the night, or throw out all the worldly possessions of a man who didn’t return to the shelter in time, and pretty soon they either break or become institutionalized and find ways to normalize the violence of their jobs.  So, unsurprisingly in light of this, here’s another thing I’ve learned over the last twenty years: usually, the very best of the best workers aren’t those with a degree or two or those who know how to discuss intersectional approaches to engaging biopsychosocial indicators of health – highly educated and professionally registered social workers, whether they are working at the hospital or the Children’s Aid Society or Ontario Works, when not simply fucking the dog or scrambling to cover their own incompetence, regularly treat vulnerable people in death-dealing ways that I find completely appalling – the very best of the best workers are often workers with no formally-recognized-as-relevant education. They are simply people who care and people who know how to make others feel cared for in both tangible and intangible ways. Because it’s people who care who get shit done. It’s people who care who make the best advocates. It’s people who care who ignite caring, like a contagion, in others. And it’s people who care who learn how to do what they didn’t know how to do before in order to be useful in ways that the people they care about experience as useful. Anyone can learn the lingo (although not everyone who learns the lingo really learns to live the principles behind what the words are intended to signify – thus, for example, every service today describes itself as client-centred in funding applications but, in the day-to-day practices of most services, this claim means next to nothing and the same is true about a lot of other claims agencies make about, say, being oriented around harm reduction, being queer or trans* friendly, working to meet self-identified client needs, or even just being safe, welcoming, and useful). People can learn to talk in whatever way is hot in any given moment but not everyone can learn to care. So, when it comes to hiring decisions, I’ll take the caring person every time. I’ve never regretted decisions I have made along these lines and I should observe that once, many years ago, when I had no relevant education or training, when I had only a little formally-recognized professional experience in the field, I was given a job working with street-involved youth in Vancouver because, during the interview, I said I was “good at loving people” and the Director decided to take a chance on me.

Part Four

I’ve seen a lot of bailouts in my life
But why is it I never see, a bailout for the homeless and the poor?
And while we’re on the subject, I could use a few bucks for a guitar amp,
A new six string, and a tank of gas.

~ Anti-Flag, “The Economy is Suffering, Let It Die

I now have twenty years from homelessness. I did not walk this road alone. I hold as sacred those who have walked with me –  from the friend who met me the very first night and helped me carry my belongings (whose mom ended up letting me live with them and who, thereby, saved my life), to brothers, lovers, accomplices, and co-workers (the good ones), but most of all, those who live or have lived the streets who took a chance on trusting me and sharing life together with me. I lift my hands to them.

However, I now find myself at a turning point. Finally, all the years of exploitation I have suffered from working for oppressive institutions that foster violence (even as they blame the clients for the violence instead of looking at themselves – and encourage all of us to do the same), have come to a head and I find I do not have the strength or resilience I once had. These years have also marked me. And like my father before them, the bosses will try to argue that the marker reveals some kind of inadequacy or deficiency in me, and like abusive adults with children, the bosses have so much power to influence what narratives seem plausible, that it’s hard to offer an alternative story to official stories about “burnout” that isn’t immediately brushed aside. But the truth of my current trauma is that I’m not incapable of being with the people whom I love (and who love me). I’m just finding it increasingly difficult to do that in an institutional setting where I’m overworked and underpaid (this matters to me more as a dad than it has ever mattered before), and where I constantly have the ground pulled out from under me by abusive policies and procedures, and a culture that encourages, enables, and rewards those who act apathetically and violently towards the same people with whom I am trying to work and journey. Not only does this institutional model cause a great deal of harm to individuals as individuals, it can also devastate a community as a community. This is why now, more than ever, I find myself wanting to work in supervisory or managerial positions. I no longer want to try to subvert, or reduce harm within someone else’s fucked up program. I want to facilitate a program that is much less fucked up. Because my body and my mind are both giving me signals that I can’t take the employ of these death-dealers anymore. I gave them seventeen years of whole-hearted labour, literally putting my life on the line on several occasions. In return, they gave me an order of all-you-can-eat lies and a side of PTSD.

Finally, after these twenty years of homelessness, let me tell you what homelessness is and isn’t. Homelessness is not a commentary about people who are experiencing it. Homelessness is not a marker of moral failure, of perversion, of sinfulness, of criminality, of incompetence, or of laziness. Homelessness is also not a plague or an illness that we can medicate away. Homelessness – the making homeless of people and then the acceptance and perpetuation of that state of affairs – is an extremely brutal act of abusive violence. And we can name the agents of this violence. Homelessness is an extremely brutal act of abusive violence enacted by parents and caregivers against children, intimate partners, and other family members. Homelessness is an extremely brutal act of abusive violence enacted by social service workers who kick people out of shelters. Homelessness is an extremely brutal act of violence enacted by cops who kick people out of squats or site occupations. Homelessness is an extremely brutal act of violence enacted by security guards who kick people out of public (but privately owned) spaces. Homelessness is an extremely brutal act of violence enacted by social workers who deny or cut people off of social assistance. Homelessness is an extremely brutal act of violence enacted by the Canada Revenue Agency which, as a matter of policy, cuts off housing supplements without any warning to seniors who forget to file their tax return. Homelessness is an extremely brutal act of violence enacted by colonizers who steal land from Indigneous peoples.  Homelessness is an extremely brutal act of violence enacted by hospital workers who discharge people to the streets or to a shelter that will only be available for one night (they say they don’t do this, but they do it all the time). Homelessness is an extremely brutal act of violence enacted by real estate developers who make rents unaffordable to many of the working poor and almost everyone on social assistance. Homelessness is an extremely brutal act of violence enacted by politicians who facilitate and permit the developers to do as they see fit and who do not provide an alternative of safe affordable housing. Homelessness is an extremely brutal act of violence enacted by business people or organizations who advocate for continual slashes to funding for social support. Homelessness is an extremely brutal act of violence enacted by rich people who hoard wealth instead of sharing their excess in order to ensure that there is enough for everyone (or, more acccurately, homelessness is an extremely brutal act of violence enacted by rich people who have grown rich by plundering the poor).  And homelessness is an extremely brutal act of violence enacted by all those who look the other way and keep walking.

Homelessness is violence. Homelessness is abuse. Homelessness is oppression. It’s oppression, oppression, oppression, oppression. Say this over and over again until you think you understand it and then keep saying it just to be sure. There are no homeless people – there are only people whom all the people mentioned above do not permit to have homes. And until health officials, policy wonks, city managers, or program directors (all of whom have their own private collections of people experiencing homelessness whom they refer to as “friends”) start addressing homelessness from this perspective, we’re collectively, at the big picture level, not going to make much progress. We’ll just hop from crisis to crisis, reducing harm where we can, however we can, as the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and another generation of kids and seniors and women experiencing intimate partner violence not to mention the next round of unemployed factory workers with few transferable job skills, hit the streets.

But, and here is another lesson I have learned from twenty years of homelessness, intentionally or not (and intentions aren’t really very important here), we are being taken for fools if we think that the established authorities will implement the solution to these problems. The rich aren’t going to solve poverty, the oppressors aren’t going to end oppression, the abusers aren’t going to stop abuse, the powerful aren’t going to flatten hierarchies of power, and the colonizers aren’t going to decolonize. It is the poor, the oppressed, the abused, the powerless, and the colonized who already know the solutions and who, in many ways, are already living solutions amongst themselves (thus, for example, harm reduction was practiced by people who use drugs for decades before it was legal let alone considered an evidence-based internationally-recognized best practice). Not that the established authorities can play no part (and, don’t worry, they will be sure to handsomely reward themselves and give themselves plenty of raises, bonuses, promotions, and public honours for the part they play), but if you really want to go where the good things are happening, then you’ve got to become a community member, a friend (a real friend), a neighbor, an ally, and accomplice to and with the people who experience this kind of abusive and violent oppression.

In very real ways, in structural, interpersonal, ideological, and forceful ways, oppression is, as the Rastas sang, a downpression and the ultimate result of this downpression, perhaps even its ultimate cause as well, is Death. Death is pressing down.  But Life, Life is an uprising, and I have never seen it rise up more vigorously, more beautifully, and more assuredly, than in the company of those who have been abused, abandoned, and left for dead. The harder Death presses down, the more forcefully Life rises up. And this uprising of Life is a wonder to behold and a privilege to be a part of.  I have learned that there is more life in the company of the damned than in the company of the saved, there is more love in the company of the sick than the company of the healthy, there is more justice in the company of the sinners than the company of the saints, there is more generosity and mutual aid in the company of the charity-cases than the company of the philanthropists, there is more strength in the company of the powerless than the company of the powerful, there is more wisdom in the company of the drop-outs than the company of the educated, and there is more goodness in the company of the oppressed than the company of the oppressor. And if this, too, sounds incomprehensible to you, all you have to do is come and see for yourself. Come and see but come to learn, learn how to see, learn how to love, learn how to fight, and learn how to live and share in the abundance of Life.

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