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

Alexia Foundation Photo of the Day ? Khaled Hasan

 

By Alexia Foundation

 

Not even a pillow. A bench of width: one and half feet, length: 5 feet?, a yard at your house could rest her in peace. She could be happy reasoning that she is within her family. But the fact is she feels alone when she remembers her previous day, where she had everything. Khaled Hasan/Alexia Foundation

Today?s photo of the day is from Khaled Hasan?s 2009 student award of excellence project, ?Dream within boundaries: some real memories? examining the lives of elderly people who live in retirement homes in?Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is a very traditional country and one in which people care for their aging relatives in their own homes. Today, however, as the nation modernizes, more people are sending their parents to live in homes for the elderly. It is said, he notes, that this is a result of globalization, an imitation of the behavior of western societies.
The women in the images tend to be very sad. They feel abandoned by their families and have very little energy. The trees create a lovely frame for this elderly women reclining on a bench. The floral pattern on the wrap is brighter than one would expect. The image itself has a soft sepia tone, conveying the idea of aging.
The men in the retirement home seem more content, perhaps because they chose this fate. Many of the men have never married or had families, so they had no one they expected to care for them in their old age.
Hasan?s work will be included in the upcoming exhibition,?Right Before Your Eyes: Photography Driven by Social Change?at the United Nations in New York from Aug. 16-Sept. 10.

Magnum Foundation Interview

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Conversation between Shehab Uddin and Shahidul Alam


Champa with her son Ridoy, running to meet me. At first, she was very reluctant but soon she became quite willing, to pose in front of the camera. To trust or distrust some one is a matter of whimsy for her like others pavements dwellers. 2008, Kamalapur Railway Station, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo: Shehab Uddin/Drik/Majority World

UDDIN: I’m a freelance photographer in Bangladesh and I first met Shahidul in 1998. At that time I was in my hometown in Khulna. Shahidul, who also moved to Bangladesh a few years earlier was organizing all the photographers here. So it was a great moment for me to meet him.

After that, I came to Dhaka in 1990 and I joined a newspaper here. In 2005 I decided that work in the newspaper was not right for me, and I had the opportunity to join Drik and work directly with Shahidul. So I took the opportunity and worked there as a photographer. It was really a milestone, and a breakthrough for me.
ALAM: The agency [Drik] was set up primarily because we were very concerned that countries like Bangladesh, which some have called “third-world countries” and we choose to call “majority-world countries,” have been portrayed almost invariably through a very narrow lens. It worries me that Bangladesh has become in the eyes of many, an icon of poverty. The reality is something we cannot ignore. Shehab shows it through his work and I have no intention of wallpapering over the problems we have. What I do have a serious problem with is when people are denied their humanity and become icons of poverty; they become lesser human beings.
The agency was set up because we wanted to tell stories that got across the richness and the diversity of people’s lives and we realized the story had to be told by people who had empathy for the subject. So it was a platform for local practitioners. And that’s the birth of Drik. But when we started, we realized that a lot of the photography infrastructure a Western agency has acess to, was not available to us. So we started creating some of that infrastructure here. Later on we also began developing educational structures that could foster new talents. We are one of the few agencies in the world that has two galleries of its own, runs a school of photography, and runs its own photography festival; I do not know of a single other agency in the world that does anything of this type. But all of that is really part and parcel of Drik’s photography-philosophy–in telling rich and diverse stories without compromising the subject’s humanity–we just had to create a whole space for ourselves. And now we are telling our own stories.
Continue reading “Magnum Foundation Interview”

Fariha Karim joins Photographers for Hope

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Glasgow’s Big Issue sellers document their lives ? in pictures

Guardian UK

The Eyes of the Street exhibition is now running at the?Mitchell Library in Glasgow. The collaboration, organised by the International Network of Street Papers, features photographs by vendors and professional photographers from the charity collective Photographers for Hope. Here, we feature the vendors and their works

Pathshala alumni Fariha Karim was one of the photographers working on the project. Photographer David Burnett, a regular featured photographer in Chobi Mela was the lead tutor. Anna Wang the founder of Photographers for hope had also been present in Chobi Mela VI.

Eyes of the Street: Robert
Robert, a Big Issue vendor, and his friend Laura at home.Photograph: Fariha Karim/Photographers for Hope

Home and the architecture of occupation

Rahnuma Ahmed

Homes, sweet homes

WHAT does home mean for Palestinians driven away from their land in recurring waves of Israeli onslaught ? 1948, 1949 to 1956, and again in 1967, due to the six-day war? What does home mean for first generation Palestinian refugees, and for their descendants, for people who ?yearn for Palestine??
It is a yearning that permeates, in the words of David McDowall, the ?whole refugee community?, one that stretches from 986,034 in the Gaza Strip, 699,817 in the West Bank, 1,827,877 in Jordan, 404,170 in Lebanon and 432,048 in Syria (2005 figures). What does home ? something that ?exists only in the imagination? ? mean for Palestinians who are subject to Israel?s ongoing colonisation of Palestine?
?What, for you, is home?? ?How would you represent it?? ?How would you represent it if you were to take one single photograph?? Florence Aigner, a Belgian photographer, put these three questions to Palestinian refugees living in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. She gave them time to think and returned with her camera and notebook the next day to take two photographs: a portrait of the person, and a representation of what home meant for that person, both visually, and through words. Personal narratives are often lost in collective narratives, and Aigner says she wanted to explore both diversity and particularity through the experiences of daily living. Her approach, she says, allows her to create a dialogue between the person and her or his idea of a home, between the photograph and the photographer, and also, between photography and writing. And thus we find images of home in exile interspersed with images of home in Palestine, images where one home is often projected on the other. These images form her exhibition, Homes, sweet homes.
I had always felt homeless, says Eman, and had refused to cook, `to practise home?. But now, even though our house in Ramallah is temporary, I have started to cook, cooking for me is ?an act of love?. For Oum Mahmoud, home is her husband who was killed in a Mossad air attack. Her house in Ramallah was destroyed in a recent Israeli missile attack, the new flat has ?no memories?, ?no furniture?, it is like living in a hotel. For Wisam Suleiman, home is orange trees and lemon trees, and the faces of martyrs who have given their lives to assert their right to return. The way home, says Suleiman, is ?sweeter than home itself?. For Abu Majdi, forced to flee in 1948, home is the ?key of our house in Jerusalem.?

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Photographs and interviews by Florence Aigner

Iman Florence Aigner
Eman from Jerusalem. She lives in Ramallah, West Bank. ? Florence Aigner

Being on the margin, following my own footsteps, I always felt homeless. It made me develop a sense of rejection mainly for the kitchen, the heart of practising home. So I refused psychologically and practically to cook.
Last year, I had to move with my husband and our two children to Ramallah when passing back and forth between Ramallah and Jerusalem became an Odyssey trip due to the Calandia checkpoint and the harsh siege imposed on the city. Our house in Ramallah is temporary, I started to cook and feel good about it, cooking became an act of love I dedicate to my family. Is this home?
Oum Mahmoud from Hebron. She lives in Ramallah, West Bank.
Oum Mahmoud from Hebron. She lives in Ramallah, West Bank. ? Florence Aigner

My home is my husband. I have only a few photos of him left. He was killed during an air attack by Mossad on the office of the PLO in Tunis in 1986. In the 90?s I could return to Palestine with the Palestinian Authority. Since then I live in Ramallah.
I have recently lost everything, my house burned when an Israeli missile hit it. I could only rescue some books and photos from the flames. Now I live in a new flat, but I have no memories or furniture left. I buy little by little some stuff to furnish it. I have the feeling to live in a hotel.
Wisam Suleiman, from Haifa. He lives in the refugee camp.
Wisam Suleiman, from Haifa. He lives in the refugee camp. ? Florence Aigner

When I hear the word ?home? orange trees and lemon trees come to my mind as well as faces of hundreds of martyrs who have given their life for the right of return. For me, the way of return has to go through education, education, education…and books.
As Palestinian refugees we have to prepare the new generation to return to Palestine in a human way. We have to carry our culture and science with us, and work hard. The way home is more beautiful than home itself.
Abu Majid
Abu Majdi, from Malha. He lives in Beit Jala in the West Bank. ? Florence Aigner

My home is my house in Malha near Jerusalem that we had to flee in 1948. I hope to return there one day, but I am not very optimistic, because Israel wants a land without its inhabitants. Sometimes I don?t understand anything. Before 1948 we had Jewish friends, we were living together. In 1948 we had to leave everything behind and we became refugees in Aida camp, Bethlehem.
An Iraqi Jewish family, the Rajwan moved then into our house in Jerusalem. We were friends and were giving gifts to each other. We saw them until 1967. I remember the grandfather used to say that he wanted to return to Iraq and to give us back our house. He said that they were keeping it for the day we could return. Eventually the old man died without having been able to return to Iraq. Me, I have kept the keys of our house in Jerusalem all my life.
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The architecture of occupation

Migron in occupied West Bank is a fully-fledged illegal settlement of Israelis, comprising 60 trailers on a hilltop that overlooks Palestinian lands below. In 1999, several Israeli settlers complained to the mobile phone company Orange about a bend in the road from Jerusalem to their settlements that caused disruption to their phone service. The company agreed to put up an antenna on a hill situated above the bend. The hill was owned by Palestinian farmers, but their permission was not required since mobile phone reception is a ?security? issue. Mast construction began, while other companies agreed to supply electricity and water to the construction site on the hill. In May 2001, an Israeli security guard, soon followed by his wife and children, moved to the site and connected his cabin to the main water and electricity supply. Less than a year later, five other families joined him. This is how the settler outpost of Migron was created. Soon, the Israeli ministry for construction and housing helped build a nursery, while a synagogue was built from donations from abroad.

The Migron settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The Migron settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. ? Milutin Labudovic/Peace Now

Eyal Weizman, dissident Israeli architect and architectural theorist of the relationships and exchanges between architectural and military planning, documents the processes of illegal Israeli settlement ? in his words, ?a civilian occupation?. His book Hollow Land: Israel?s Architecture of Occupation provides a detailed and exact account of ?how occupation works in practice?. Weizman had, at the invitation of the Palestinian authority, also been involved in planning houses for Palestinians, in re-using settlements after the Israeli evacuation of August 2005. What is to be done with settlements after evacuation? Are they to be abandoned, reused, converted, or recycled? The Palestinians, he says, had rejected these single family homes as suburbs. After intense discussions, it was finally agreed that the evacuated shells of settlement would be spatialised into a set of public institutions: an agricultural university, a cultural centre, a clinic for the Red Cross, etc. But the project of re-using the illegal settlements collapsed after the Israelis destroyed them.
Settlement planning and building of the Israelis, says Weizman, emerges out of ?organisational chaos?. The very nature of Israeli occupation is one of ?uncoordinated coordination? where the government allows ?degrees of freedom? to rough elements, to a whole host of actors ? Israeli settlers, mobile phone companies, utility firms, state institutions, the army, etc ? and then denies its involvement. Micro-processes, such as that of an Israeli civilian moving a cabin to an illegal site, settling down, home-building, foreign donations pouring in to build a synagogue become wheels in larger processes of occupation of Palestinian lands. In the Israeli government?s colonial policies.
And as these occur, home-building for Palestinians ? even in the sixtieth year of their mass exodus ? remains something that exists ?only in the imagination?.