Far be it for me to represent myself as any kind of authority or knower of things but I have been afforded an opportunity to have a paid leave from work in order to campaign for the civic election. This opportunity was my application, an opportunity that I recognized and pursued. I was not coerced nor was I given an agenda. The agenda was all mine. I am not a puppet. I simply found an opportunity to contribute to the labours and causes of the people I feel most passionate about. As it is the eve of the election I’m taking it upon myself to throw out some names for consideration. My intentions are two-fold. First, is to inform. I think this very flawed election process is pretty confusing. Having no wards in Vancouver, the largest municipality to function in that manner, we’re given a list of 50 potential councillors and are asked to pick our 10 favourite. Quite a ridiculous task and one that isolates the interests of the most marginalized neighbourhoods across the city. Through the housing activism that I have been a part of in the Downtown Eastside I knew a few people running. Now having placed myself in this campaign scenario I have come to know quite a few more. So the perspective I share will be my view from a front row seat of the people who I would trust to lead. This is not the view of that of a skilled political analyst, whose professional perspective is often not insightful anyway. Second, the intention is to affect change. Because let’s face it, we’re screwed. As a culture and as a planet. We need to change- mainly ourselves but if we have the opportunity to affect these awful structures of power we’ve inherited (which we seldom do), then gosh golly darn let’s do so.
Herein is my bias. I love activists, advocates, bleeding hearts, and community organizers. I have come to know this demographic as people who act largely not out of a sense of self interest, nor out of a sense of how can I win (or how much can I win), nor out of a sense of career machining. Rather I love this demographic because it’s made up of people who are restless when confronted with injustice, who labour for truth, compassion, and human decency rather than for profits, votes, or notoriety. This is my bias. The people who fight the battles that are not meant to be won, at least not now. Maybe they will be won in years or in generations but without the battle being engaged now, the wait for victory will be far longer.
I’m not naive. I’m not presenting names in a civic election claiming that their historic import will be forever known. The true burden of justice, compassion, and hope is taken up daily, not forfeited to figureheads once every 4 years. This is why I love the community of organizers. As I tweeted out earlier this week- we do the work before, during, and after the election, so an election doesn’t determine our victory. But I believe government should support the pursuit of a just and compassionate society and not impede that labour so readily taken up by so many.
My personal motivation in all this is also 2-fold. First, I’m a single parent to 2 young daughters and a social worker. This means that having a modest single family income, I cannot walk up to an apartment in this city and expect to rent it. Even if I could afford it there is a long list of prettier people ahead of me that puts me in the category of constant longshot. No, for someone like me to rent in this city I likely have to fill out tons of forms (my kryptonite, as one friend so aptly put it) and get on waiting lists for a dwindling inventory of affordable housing units in this city. This frustrates me.
Second, I work at Insite, currently the only legally sanctioned injection site in North America. This work is demanding. I have witnessed people come from all over the world to view Vancouver’s model of harm reduction care and have heard of their strong desire to have even a portion of that model in their home cities. I agree with them. This care model is unique and leadership should be encouraged in providing this level of low barrier care internationally. Instead, the harm reduction model of the Downtown Eastside is being chewed up by developer interests, potentially threatening the very future of this great model effectively integrated acrossa neighbourhood facilitating housing, healthcare, access to food, bank, and employment opportunities. Yet anywhere I go with an Insite t-shirt in this city, and also across Canada this past year, I am thanked profusely for the work I do. The lack of leadership in City Hall with this most recent government around harm reduction, housing, and homelessness makes a demanding job harder to do. I have a front row seat to homelessness, affordable housing needs, poverty, and low-barrier health care and feel the need to state that this unique care model needs to be protected. There. You have my lived experience, my bias, my transparent perspective on what direction we have the opportunity to pursue.
So here goes. This is my list for any who read this to consider.
For Mayor of Vancouver the no-brainer choice is Meena Wong. She has courageously undertaken that uphill struggle against the forces of millions of dollars of developer money. The current level of developer involvement in this election should automatically raise the “I can’t fricken’ trust a word they’re saying” flags around the candidacies of Kirk Lapointe and Gregor Robertson. That there is no legislation limiting the amount of campaign contributions a party can receive is a fundamental justice issue. That an organization heavily funded by the Koch brothers, American billionaires, is playing such a significant role in Vancouver’s civic elections, should cause anyone concerned with anything remotely resembling justice or morality to run for the hills. Or at least to not vote for the NPA. And Vision is in a similar category with developer money. Yet Meena is still in the midst of this scenario. She has repeatedly been left with “no chance” by the media at large, yet she is in there playing a huge factor in this outcome. She has shown leadership on the issues and has great character and principles. She is a Mental Health Worker, not a person of great wealth or privilege. Accused of splitting the left, I respond by saying you have a choice of ongoing city hall developer backed corruption in the Vision and NPA parties (meaning nothing is split), or a vote to finally be done with this stranglehold of corruption. It’s obvious.
For Council, I would specifically ask for the support of Gayle Gavin, Sid Tan, Audrey Siegl, and Lisa Barrett. Gayle is a trial lawyer known for advancing the legal rights of women and the LGBTQ community. Sid is a tireless, long-time community organizer in the DTES, Audrey is a fearless First Nations woman set to make history with this election, and Lisa is the former mayor of Bowen Island, an environmental activist and skilled mediator.
I would also recommend this list. The remainder of the COPE slate which includes Tim Louis (a long serving former Council member), Keith Higgins (whose poetic campaigning sums it up beautifully for me and many others), Wilson Munoz, and Jennifer O’Keeffe. Also the Green Party candidates Adrianne Carr and Pete Fry. From Vision I would recommend Andrea Reimer (I just wish she wasn’t with Vision) and Geoff Meggs.. The First City candidate RJ Aquino. And Anthony Guitar, the DTES organizer who can attest to a life of never giving up and always giving out. That’s 14 names to narrow down a cumbersome selection process.
The other selections for Park Board and School Board I will not be quite as comprehensive. For Park Board there are many good names beyond Ezra Bloom and Cease Wyss but those are 2 that I feel confident in emphasizing. Cease along with Audrey Siegl and Diana Day for School Board are 3 First Nations women set to bring their community contributions to the city at large. This is a rare, historical, and unique opportunity to benefit from their wisdom and leadership.
Also for school board I would point out Heidi Nagataal along with Diana Day.
I’m out of names. I anticipate the transformation we all seek