Raise Shit

downtown eastside poem of resistance
by Bud Osbornosborn

??the myth of the frontier is an invention that rationalizes the violence of gentrification and displacement?
neil smith 1996

?these pioneers in the gradual gentrification of the downtown eastside say their hopes for a middle-class lifestyle are undermined by the tenderloin scene down the street?
doug ward 1997

?prominent amid the aspects of this story which have caught the imagination are the massacres of innocent peoples, the atrocities committed against them and, among other horrific excesses, the ways in which towns, provinces, and whole kingdoms have been entirely cleared of their native inhabitants?
bartolome de la casas 1542

there is a planetary resistance
against consequences of globalization
against poor people being driven from land they have occupied
in common
and in community
for many years

and while resistance to and rapidity of global gentrification
differs according to specific local conditions
we in the downtown eastside
in the poorest and most disabled and ill community in Canada
are part of the resistance
which includes
the zapatistas in chiapas mexico
the ogoni tribe in nigeria
and the resistance efforts on behalf of and with
the lavalas in Haiti
the minjung in korea
the dalits in india
the zabaleen in Egypt
the johatsu in japan
and these are names for
the floor
the abandoned
the outcasts
the garbage people
the homeless poor
and marginalized people

and gentrification has become a central characteristic
of what neil smith perceives as
?a revengeful and reactionary viciousness
against various populations accused of ?stealing? the city
from the white upper classes?
and this viciousness and violence
brought to the downtown eastside
by friendly predators
such as builders planners architects landlords bankers and politicians
is like violence brought to our community
by other predators
by johns and oblivion seekers
by sensationalizing journalists
by arrogant evangelizing Christians
predators like
developers and real estate agents
who remind of no one so much
as gilbert Jordan
the serial killer
who came down here repeatedly
and seduced bribed and bullied
10 native women
into drinking alcohol until they were dead
and one woman
revived after a night with jordan
though pronounced dead on arrival
at st pauls hospital
described jordan as
?a real decent-looking person
very mild-mannered
a real gentleman
he looked like a school teacher
white shirt and tie
I trusted him?

and in our situation in the downtown eastside
the single weapon we wield
like the weapon native indian prophets
like the weapon ancient hebrew prophets
used in situations of vicious displacement
and threatened destruction of their communities
was the word
words against the power
of money and law and politics and media
words against a global economic system

the word ?hebrew? originally designated not a racial class
but a social class
of despised drifters and outcasts
who existed on the margins of middle eastern cultures
and those advocates
those ancient hebrew prophets said
?the wealthy move the boundaries
and the poor have to keep out of the way
the poor spend the night naked, lacking clothes
with no covering against the cold
the child of the poor is exacted as security
from the city comes the groan of the dying
and the gasp of the wounded crying for help
damn those who destroy the huts of the poor
plundering their homes instead of building them up
those who tear the skin from off our people
who grind the faces of the poor
who join house to house
who add field to field
until there is room for no one but them
those who turn aside the way of the afflicted
who trample upon the oppressed?

and the native prophets of the americas who said
?when these times arrive
we will leave our homes like dying deer
the land will be sold and the people will be moved
and many things that we used to have in this land
will be taken from us
we have been made to drink
of the bitter cup of humiliation
they have taken away our lands
until we find ourselves fugitives vagrants and strangers
in our own community
our existence as a distinct community
seems to be drawing to a close
our position may be compared
to a solitary tree in an open space
where all the forest trees around have been prostrated
by a furious tornado?

we have become a community of prophets in the downtown eastside
rebuking the system
and speaking hope and possibility into situations
of apparent impossibility

a first nations? man recently told me
he had come to the downtown eastside to die
he heard the propaganda that this is only a place of death disease and despair
and since his life had become a hopeless misery
he came here specifically to die
but he said
since living in the downtown eastside
what with the people he has met
and the groups he has found
he now wants very much to live

and his words go directly
to the heart of what makes for real community
a new life out of apparent death
and this is what we speak and live
with our words our weapons

our words
like bolts of lightning in a dark night
lighting our way
our words
like tears like rain like cries like hail from our hearts
feeling with each other in our suffering for each other
our words
angry as thunder exploding in the ears of those
who would ignore or dismiss or inflict upon us
what they in their ignorance think is best for us
our words defiant as streetkids in a cop?s face
our words
brilliant and beautiful as the rainbow I saw
spanning our streets
our words
of resistance and comfort and commitment
like mountains
our words
prophetic on behalf of the hard-pressed poor

our words
buttons tshirts fliers inserts newsletters pamphlets
posters spraypaint slogans stickers placards speeches
interviews essays poetry songs letters chalks paints
graffiti

for as one prophet said
?when all is dark the murderer leaves his bed
to kill the poor and oppressed?

our words
to block the murderers? paths

our words spoken by
jeff and muggs and eldon and kathleen and frank and maggie and
carl and lori and duncan and margaret and mark and sonny and ken
and fred and sheila and liz and tora and terri and ian and chris and
bob and leigh and jen and shawn and darren and sarah and
irene and cathy and ann and lorelie and nick and linda and lorraine
and john and Joanne and judy and allison and sharon and deb and
marg and dan and jean and don and libby and carol and lou and dayle
and mo and barb and ellen and sandy and torn and luke and gary and
travis and bruce and paul and deidre and jim and so many others

our words and our presence create
a strange and profound unity
outraged at each other
disappointing each other
misinterpreting each other
reacting against each other
resenting each other
unhealed wounds dividing us
when to be about unity
is to be caught in a crossfire
of conflicting ambitions understandings and perspectives

still our words and presence create
a strange and profound and strong unity
as in memory of
the long hard nerve-wracking battles we?ve fought
for the carnegie centre
against the casino
for crab park
against brad holme
for zero displacement by-laws
against hotel evictions
for poor people living in woodwards
against condominium monstrosities
and for our very name
the downtown eastside
removed from city maps
the most stable community and neighbourhood in Vancouver
suddenly disappeared
but recovered through struggle
our name reclaimed
but the meetings
the pressure

the downtown eastside community
besieged and beleaguered
strung-out and dissipated
running on constant low grade burn-out fever
meetings and meetings and meetings
a dozen fronts to fight at the same time
deal with one and a dozen more appear
another dehumanizing media story
or new condo threat
a hundred needs crying out all at once
a hundred individuals with emergencies crying for a response
sirens and sirens and sirens
construction noise
automobile mayhem
a disabled population
a poor and ill population
criminalized
up against globalization
pressure cooker emotional atmosphere
excruciating questions and dilemmas
so much happens so fast

how much compromise?
how to organize?
where to fight?
more sirens and screams and break-ins
welfare cuts
more murders and suicides
more bodies on the sidewalks and in the alloys and parks
space and places for poor people shrinking
and the ambiguities of advocacy
the rumours
the well-founded paranoias
the political manipulations
exploitations confusions deliberate obfuscations
and seductions of the gentrification system
the backroom deals somewhere else
in office towers and government offices
meetings and more meetings
and yet
beneath the ostensible reason
for attending another goddamned meeting
is that which truly holds us together
holds and has held every real community together

love

love
not as passive abstraction or a commodity privatized
but love
as fiery personal and collective social justice passion
love as in our public celebrations
love as in our public grieving
love going past fatigue again
love taking risks in the face of uncertainty
love as stubbornness sticking to community principles
love as willingness to go one more length
to make one more leaflet
love sitting down together one more time
love saying hello to hate and fear and goodbye
love as resistance tolerance and acceptance
love
for this poor beloved community reeling from global upheavals
love
taking on the consequences of a system producing
more wounded
more damaged
more excluded
more refugees
more unemployed and never-to-be-employed
and love?s
immense capacity to care
and love as courage

like the other day near main and hastings
an old white man headed across hastings
in the middle of the block
traffic roared and blasted in both directions
the old man was using a cane and moving very slowly
his eyes fixed somewhere beyond
it sure looked like he?d never make it
but would become
another vehicular maiming or death down here
and then a native fellow
waiting at the bus stop
like a matador dodging furious bulls
dodged into the traffic
and stopped it
using his body as a shield
and escorted the old white man
safely to the curb

words and courage and love and hope and unity
if only we had
the means for self-determination
instead

?the real estate cowboys ? also enlisted the cavalry of city government for
? reclaiming the land and quelling the natives, in its housing policy,
drug crackdowns, and especially in its parks strategy, the city devoted
its efforts not toward providing basic services and living opportunities
for existing residents but toward routing many of the locals and
subsidizing opportunities for real estate development?
wrote neil smith about the lower east side of new york

sounds familiar literal
like the day the police showed-up on horseback
to patrol the 100 block of east hastings
horses on the sidewalk
where some of the most ill and suffering human beings
most drugged and drunk and staggering human beings
slipped and stumbled through the huge horse turds
left laying on the sidewalk

I remember attending a kind of gentrification summit
called by a vancouver city planner
to examine the city?s victory square redevelopment plan
david ley jeff sommers nick blomley and chris olds
reached a similar conclusion
the plan does nothing to prevent
displacement and gentrification
but when recently reminded of this verdict
the city planner still pushing his plan said
?I don?t care if god and david ley ??

and that?s just it
the necessity for heeding
the prophetic blast and rallying cry
delivered by larry campbell
now the provincial coroner
in the carnegie centre last summer

?raise shit? he said

raise shit against the kind of ?urban cleansing?
gentrification unleashes
it?s a war
against the poorest of the poor
1000 overdose deaths in the downtown eastside in 4 years
highest rate and number of suicides in vancouver
lowest life expectancy for both men and women
fatal epidemics of aids and hepatitis c
and lack of humane housing
identified as a major factor
in all this violence against us

raise shit
when a friend of mine a gay native man tells me
?I?ll try anything to get a decent home
I?m gonna become a mental case
I?ll even go into an institution
if it?ll help me get a decent home?

raise shit
when both young people and hardcore addicts either deliberately infect
themselves with h.i.v. or take no precautions to prevent infection so that
they have a better chance at obtaining housing income health care and
meals

raise shit
when a city cop in a newspaper column says ?the locals were at their best
fighting and howling? and calls drug addicts
?vampires?

raise shit
when an extremely influential north american
theoretician of displacement george kelling
is brought to vancouver by the business people and the police
to define and divide our community against itself
against panhandlers and prostitutes

raise shit
when a city planner involved with the convention centre scam says ?the
voters of vancouver can easily live with 20 to 25 000 homeless people and
not even notice it?

and when I think of raising shit
I think of this basketball team I once played on
composed of middle-aged beat-up alcoholics and addicts
from the streets
who?d been sober for awhile
and we entered a city recreational league
against teams that were
younger stronger faster healthier and more skilled
and though we lost most games by a large margin
we determined that
no matter what the score
each hotshot team we played would know

by their fatigue and sweat and bruises
that they had been in a game
that they were up against an opponent
we knew we couldn?t out jump or outrun those teams
but we sure could raise shit
better than they could
and amazingly we actually won a few games

to raise shit is to actively resist
and we resist with our presence
with our words
with our love
with our courage

we resist
person by person
square foot by square foot
room by room
building by building
block by block

we resist
because we are a community
of prophets of activists of advocates
of volunteers and agency workers
and we you and I us
are all that stands between
the unique vulnerable troubled life-giving and death-attacked
community of the downtown eastside
we are all that stands between our vast community of thousands
and those who would
gentrify and displace and replace it
replace with greed
the singular leadership we have here
where it is said we lack
a single dynamic individual leader
but we have
the most powerful leader there is
the most effective leader we can have
in this grave situation
our community
our community itself
has emerged as our leader
the downtown eastside community itself
leads us
and it is to our credit that this is so
for it is from our
prophetic courageous conflictual and loving unity
that our community
raises shit
and resists

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