Monday, August 6, 2007

Save Insite and Pride Parade

In just two days I have gone from an Englishman abroad to a Canadian. No I am still not a citizen and have a few months to go before that process can begin but having participated in the Vancouver Pride Parade yesterday and volunteered at the launch of the campaign to save Insite on Saturday afternoon I now feel firmly at home here in Canada.

I am essentially riding a wave. A wave that has lifted me to a high on life that shows no sign of abating. To my great surprise last Thursday I discovered that not only did we have Monday off work (BC Day) but also an optional holiday on Friday thanks to our union agreement. Unable to make a decision to work or not I decided at 4.40am Friday morning with the sound of my first wake up alarm that I would take the holiday. It wasn't a difficult decision to make considering I'd been upto past midnight having dined with S in English Bay.

I took advantage of the surprise holiday to do the mundane - laundry and housework. A clear 36 hours with no responsibilities enabled me to get renergised and so when an organizer with the Campaign to save Insite asked if I could volunteer on Saturday afternoon I jumped at the chance. Shortly after noon I was to be found standing on the corner of Cordova and Carrall streets handing out flyers inviting pedestrian traffic to the free BBQ featuring legendary Vancouver punk band D.O.A. Insite is a safe injection site for heroin addicts. It has medical staff on hand to deal with any emergencies and is funded by the federal government. That funding is at risk of being pulled by the minority Conservative government. Should that happen hundreds of people each year could die on the streets of Vancouver.

As smoke filled the air and the warm up music blared at the corner West Hastings and Carrall, more commonly known as Pigeon Park, I and other volunteers walked the line up of hungry punters requesting they write a letter saying why they want to keep Insite open. With dozens and dozens of letters collected a dynamic of the Downtown Eastside that I had never before noticed became startingly apparent. That is, that here in the poorest neighbourhood in Canada there is real community solidarity. It is easy to say that a neighbourhood has a community but what does that mean and does it have a community that will support each other in the face of adversity? Of course it is also easy to get carried away with the euphoria of the moment; the sun was shining, hungry people were being fed and watered, there was dancing and Joey Shithead of D.O.A sang songs of resilience.

Here in this ever shrinking geographical district thanks to Olympics development and gentrification people can still give you something and expect nothing in return even if they themselves have no home or even two pennies to rub together. I experienced that on Saturday. Feeling the heat of the day I had decided to take a break and walk the few short blocks to my home. En route I tripped on a knee high metal chain, a trademark feature of the Gastown area. I fell hard and slightly cut my elbow. Retelling this story to a woman in the line up for BBQ meal tickets she took an antisceptic wipe from her pocket and gave it to me. It was a simple and innocent gesture on her part but to me it was an example of this community's collective strength. Speaking from the stage Joey Shithead said the great thing about this country is that we are prepared to give people a second chance. His words formed a segue to the next three minute wonder echoing that sentiment, and in that moment I was convinced that I was standing in the surely the best place in the whole of Canada.

On Sunday I joined with our bride of Bush statue and Stephen Harper wedding cake on the Pride Parade. In front of us on the back of a flatbed truck a dozen men dressed only in their underpants and suntan lotion cavorted to techno. Each man with his own coloured briefs but collectively forming the colours of the rainbow. We followed behind carrying the stop war banner shimmying and shaking all the way from Robson via Denman to Beach Avenue. In a few short hours we gave out 15,000 Tell Parliament to get Canadian Troops out of Afghanistan stickers. The Pride Parade is a must on the Vancouver calendar, an opportunity to defend and strengthen the rights of the gay and lesbian communities of Canada and beyond. And beyond was one of the key messages of this year's parade. In seventy five countries around the world homosexuality can mean persecution or even execution by hateful authorities.

With love and peace firmly in my heart I later met S at the Inukshuk and strolled to Stanley Park where we balanced stones and paddled in the sea. I went for a swim in my underpants and on changing my beautiful assistant while holding my shirt was bitten on the foot by a crab. She screamed, the shirt slipped and passers by whooped at my nakedness. Our energy levels sinking we walked back to Davie and ate at Vera's burger joint with the Pride revellers. Waking for my third BC Day today I had the curious feeling that I was now Canadian.

No comments: