Remember – for all the official blogs of the sessions and more, be sure to check out HRI’s website (link above). These blogs below are about what goes on behind INPUD, what is my take on some of the INPUD struggles, trials and tribulations affecting us as international activists in such intense environments as 3 to 4 day long conferences….
INPUD members held a meeting yesterday in a side room in the hotel next to the Radisson where the main Harm Reduction Conference is being held. The aim was to cover thoughts from the board members, a view of things as seen from Eliot the Exec Dir, and questions, thoughts and a bit of debate from the members themselves.
As is sometimes the case, INPUD meetings can often get emotional for various reasons and many of these are really quite obvious when you think about it. Despite the agenda we set for ourselves, INPUD meetings, at such huge international events like these, can often be incredibly heartfelt, honest and open and sometimes upsetting. I mean this in the sense that it is like coming in from the cold when we all come together from all over the world and talk about what is happening for our peers who are trying to get by and fight the good fight -often in war-torn, corruption ravaged, poverty-stricken countries; and when we get the rare chance to come together as a ‘family’ - and I use that word with all its meanings - it can be, well really emotional. Let me shed a bit more light….
You see, INPUD travels a very vibrant but often difficult line between being an activist organisation, a diplomatic organisation, one that’s not just working hard to be as interactive and democratic as possible – but has to unpick the threads of when we just cannot “compromise on our core principles ” (Eliot Albers) to finding those small islands of common ground often with politicians and policy makers that we deeply disagree with. The other problem of course it that we are a funded organisation and we need to be constantly aware of what is our funded briefs, remits and expected outcomes are when there is so much work that needs to be done, to ensure we remain a sustainable organisation to do the work and networking that is so crucial for all of us.
Just to back up a bit….
Eliot, the Exec Dir of INPUD, had told the delegates at the opening ceremony, ” if you are committed to meaningful participation you will find us to be a willing partner, we are here to be part of the solution and not…the problem. To work with us in a meaningful way will perhaps be difficult, and sometimes uncomfortable or even frustrating, but if you are committed to delivering good services, to producing credible policy statements and research and improving the health and human rights of the most stigmatised, and marginalised members of our community then you have no option but to take the hand that we are offering you in a bid to find peace in the war to which our community is subject”.
He continued….”Often we will have things to say and contribute that you will not like, that you may not agree with, and that you may object to. However, we do not say these things for the sake of being obstreperous or difficult but because the lives, well being, dignity, and human rights of our community are ultimately what is at stake in everything that you do. Remember that for you this is a job, for us it is quite literally our lives.”
Just say ….NO!?!
Our lives…..That theme constantly reverberates around our meetings, no matter where they are. And as we become ever more professional, able, competent, skilled and respected as an organisation and as individuals, we don’t always get time to really talk about just what it is like to work in a field that -is never just work -it is your life – our lives. It touches every single bone and muscle inside each of us. Some of these meetings our international activists attend (such as at the United Nations sister agencies such as the UNODC and UNAIDS etc, can sometimes be lonely and isolating places. Places where we can end up questioning our own abilities, when slowly but surely we can end up feeling our backs are up against the wall, trapped, trying to find a way to push forward our agenda in an environment that has no room or time for the depth of what we are trying to get across in today’s incredibly fast paced and highly politicized world.
Sometimes, the terrible burden of responsibility our representatives feel for our community in these fast-moving, process driven, rarely straightforward meetings can eat away at us from deep inside, and the desire to scream and shout at the top of your lungs for someone to hear, really hear what you are saying, can be paralyzing as we too, are expected to play the game of process, business meeting etiquette, all the while trying to find out just how to get to grips with the ‘group/meeting dynamics’ passing through the self-imposed meeting ‘gatekeepers’ to get our issues heard -especially the issues that are at the crux of our self-determination (like decriminalisation for example), when there is just no room or time to even begin to unpick such topics around the resulting ‘collateral damage’ (that’s us dudes, you and me in this crazy war on drugs)…Even that aside, it can be devastating difficult, lonely, scary.
When one of our extremely clever, massively experienced senior activists stands up and is visibly and deeply upset, confused and floored by the fact that even our ‘allies’ in environments such as this one which is about as friendly to our engagement as it can get - can still shroud OUR issues in debate for debates sake -well, sometimes it’s not hard to think ‘What the hell am I doing? What does this all really mean to us? How the hell did I get drawn into this discussion -for what seems to be discussions sake?? How do I engage meaningfully and powerfully when I don’t know what the fuck they are talking about!’
Sometimes – sure, stuff just gets to complicated and the real point gets lost somewhere deep within, and we can really think – ‘hell, I really don’t get this, its moving so fast…’ But sometimes, as I expect was the case for this extremely bright and experienced activist, the whole process of complex legal issues along with the fuzzy and ever-changing world of meeting dynamics had intersected with the burden of responsibility to understand fully and represent powerfully, our agenda. It can be, right there, paralyzing. Thoughts race around your head like a train but the emotions they can drag with them like a carriage on a tramline, can prevent you speaking, in those tiny, weeny moments when you MIGHT be able to get a word in edge-way’s, past the chair’s point and clock watching eye.
Our usually consistently, incredibly empowered activist felt like they were letting our community down by not engaging in this convoluted debate, until another major powerhouse of a woman had to pull her aside and say ‘goddamnit, just say NO!’ (Never thought we would be saying those words did we!). It is a fabulous point to remember for all activists out there. It actually turned out to be incredibly important – and meaningful, for this activist to pull out of this debate – and just say NO! I don’t understand the point of this, I am not going to be the token representative from the drug using community for this task - because yes, we have to choose our fights very carefully. They are often very complex and they certainly do carry responsibility (whether it is real or we just FEEL the weight of our role to represent, or even that we find we are feeling the swamping of a black cloud stifling our voice (for example when it is about overdose and bubbling up from nowhere comes the deaths we have witnessed, felt, cried or stifled screams about)…No my activist friends. Sometimes, as the monumental Jude B said on this occasion, just say NO comrades!
‘Let’s Get Married My Darlin”
But before I get to the other emotional bit, let me just say, we have a marriage in the ranks my friends!!!!
Yesterdays meeting, wasn’t on the whole, about process. It was to give thanks and recognition. Firstly we had our first INPUD marriage to celebrate; to amazing activists Cheryl White and Russell Newcombe managed – from right across the world (Canada to London) -to find each other, fall in love in what was a romance of epic proportions, and get married! Yesterday, INPUDDER’s got to stand and cheer and holler how thrilled we all were as Cheryl and Russell repeated their marriage vows, he stroking wildly her hair and rubbing her back, grinning like a happy fox who had found his love and couldn’t believe such beautiful good fortune could fall right into his arms. Like a cat who swallowed the cream only to find it was a never ending supply- right there in his arms. Cheryl too, had clearly found a man she madly adored, and it was all so heartwarming and fuzzy, it truly reignited the luck and the never ending light that is love…I must say – Cheryl did mention, with one arm wrapped around her first husband – Rolleston Award winner Raffi Ballian- and her new husband, also a Rollerston Award winner Russell Newcombe, that she has gotta be the first to be able to say she has married two Rollerston award winners! How cool is that! Unreal or what!
Cheryl, is of course, on the chair of INPUD and has been a leading user activist for around 20 years or more, based from Canada and is the author and co-author of numerous really seminal papers on user activism (and I gotta say, it was one of Cheryl’s and Raffi’s earlier papers that completely inspired me, my friends! Google the names, I urge you. And when you do – dont forget to google Russell Newcombe. He has been the author and co-author of numerous fascinating and comprehensively researched papers, publications, books and videos on a range of drug related subjects and is, I think, responsible for one of the best twitter feeds; (type in his name to twitter until I can add the link – I’ve forgotten my own password and can’t get into my account for the moment, WTF!!!)
Here is Dr Russell Newcombes excellent twitter page -well worth a follow; @TheNewImposter
More added shortly I promise!
- Opening Speech by INPUD’s Exec Director at Vilnius HRI Conference (inpud.wordpress.com)
- Lithuania welcomes INPUD members at the International Harm Reduction Conference 2013 (inpud.wordpress.com)
- 9 Tips for Running a Successful Meeting with Remote Workers (shoretelsky.com)