In December, I had the privilege of ending my internship placement with Libby by visiting her riding, Vancouver East. From delivering doughnuts to Vancouver’s postal workers at 6 a.m. to attending the release of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry report, I accompanied Libby to a number of meetings with diverse communities. Throughout my experiences in Vancouver East, I was constantly struck by the power communities have to create positive change. In particular, two experiences with some of Vancouver East’s dynamic communities reminded me of that power.
First, I experienced the power of a community of activists and advocates in achieving political objectives. It was only my first day in Vancouver East, and Libby brought me to the march in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside commemorating the 10th International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Before the march began, Libby introduced me to many members of different organizations who have worked tirelessly to improve the protection of sex workers. Despite the rain and the wide-spread disappointment with the short comings of the recently-released Missing Women Commission of Inquiry report, everyone seemed very happy to be together. They were passing out sandwiches, red umbrellas and words of encouragement as we prepared to start the march. We began the march in the streets near Hastings Viaduct where Robert Pickton picked up many of his victims. Everyone was quiet. I was struck by how dark and empty the streets were. I imagined how terrifying it must be for the women or men who have been forced into this area to do sex work. However, as the marchers continued to bravely move and flood the streets with the light of red umbrellas and lanterns, the quietness of our group became more of a calm and steady wave. We were a wave with the power to light the darkest places in the world and during this moment, there was a feeling of certainty amongst the group that this brave, united community could do anything. We could even ensure that sex workers would never have to work in an area like this again.
Later in the week, I had another meaningful experience with a powerful community. At Insite, Canada’s first and only supervised injection site, I had the opportunity to talk to the staff and observe the centre’s daily operations. When the centre opened for the day, I was struck by the incredibly positive atmosphere. There were no guards and instead upbeat music played as the staff exchanged warm greetings with clients as they came in. Most of the staff and clients knew each other by name and many were conversing about their week. There was such a strong sense of community. You could tell by how happy the clients were that participating in this community was the highlight of their day. As I spoke to various staff over the morning, I was amazed by the endless benefits an atmosphere of community could provide in a supervised injection site. Some staff members were explaining that building strong relationships with clients causes many of them to come back and continue taking better care of their bodies through safe injection. A strong community also provides the environment in which clients are willing to share their traumatic experiences with staff and ask staff to help them find more stable housing. It even causes some clients to ask staff for help moving on to Onsite, the detox facility attached to Insite. Like at the march earlier in the week, my experience at Insite highlighted the power of communities, in this case, the power that communities have to create a safe, and trusting environment which can have endless benefits for its members.
After spending a week in East Vancouver and seeing its mosaic of communities, I am grateful for my renewed appreciation of the positive change that strong communities can bring. I saw this at Insite, I saw this at the march and I saw it around East Vancouver. Communities are powerful. My week in Libby’s riding reminded me of that.
Lauren Walsh-Greene is a non-partisan Parliamentary Intern who recently completed her placement in the office of Libby Davies.