At the AAA in Vancouver

When I booked my room for this year’s AAA in Vancouver, I didn’t think too much about it. It was quite cheap, the reviews accordingly, but without funding, it had to do. It can’t be too bad, right?

When I arrived in Vancouver on Tuesday, public transportation didn’t work as expected so I decided to walk the last leg. It was cold, but sunny, and the hotel couldn’t be too far now. So I walked. The farther east I walked, the more drug (ab)users I saw. A lot smoked marijuana, but most of them seemed to be addicted to heroin. Welcome to East Hastings.

I grew up in a village. The ‘worst’ people did was consuming marijuana. Or that’s the narrative. I met ‘my’ first (and only, as far as I know) person with a heroin addiction when I was nineteen or twenty. But he was in a program and using responsibly–if that’s the right expression. Now living in the city, I know quite a few people who consume ecstasy and similar drugs at parties on the weekends. But that’s it.

So, East Hastings was an eye opener. I had never seen so many people with a drug addiction. Not in my life, and even less so at the same time. At least some of them live here, a few in tents. The next day, Wednesday, was even worse. 200, 300, 400 people on both sides of the street. Many of them so weary that they didn’t even care that everyone saw them consuming heroin in bright daylight.

Seeing them and their suffering made my unbelievably sad.

I talk a lot about precarity in academia and about the precariat. After this experience, this talk feels preposterous. I knew before that–as a white cisgender woman–I am quite privileged. But I wasn’t aware how privileged I am.

As wasn’t the woman who walked down East Hastings with a calendar for next year. Hope in the Shadow. I am pretty sure that the people on East Hastings are beyond uplifting quotes. They need real help. Today, on a Saturday morning, I saw a group of young people walking down the street. They carried signs. Free socks. You are not forgotten. That was helpful. That was uplifting.

Dear AAA, I wish we, as an organization, could do something for the people of the cities we visit for our conferences. I’m sure each one of us could have donated one pair of socks.

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