“On the question of organization, or any other question, opportunism knows only one principle: the absence of principle. Opportunism chooses its means of action with the aim of suiting the given circumstances at hand, provided these means appear to lead toward the ends in view. … Historically, the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest Central Committee.”
– Rosa Luxemburg, Organizational Questions of the Russian Social Democracy
“Up there is like, um, where the college hipsters that live in Brooklyn go and try and rule the park from. Down here is more of the poor people’s encampment…”
– A person from Occupy Wall St. being interviewed in Zuccotti Park by Samantha Bee of the Daily Show, Nov 16, 2011
Let me stress that after all I’ve experienced, I still believe in the Occupy Movement. I still believe in Occupy Vancouver. I still believe in consensus decision-making. I still believe in the power of the General Assembly. The following is not a condemnation of what is but should not be, rather it’s guidance on how to improve something that should exist.
The fact of the matter: there are people within Occupy Vancouver who are spoiling it for everyone else. I’m not talking about the poor homeless kids overdosing and/or dying from hard drugs. I’m actually talking about the “leadership” elements who moderate the discussion forums, control the website, and run the media committee.
These people are well-educated and familiar with some economic, societal and environmental issues. But their knowledge of harm-reduction and drug policy – and their faith in the democratic process – is somewhat lacking. I have observed that from late October to early November, they continually thwarted the will of the General Assembly.
I was asked to speak by organizers of Occupy Vancouver on the first big day of protest, October 15. My speech about creating a world without rulers and with drug peace was well-received by the crowd. I began to participate in the general assembly committee that day, and by the end of the week I had formed a “come up with a rough draft of the demands” working group, with permission from the general assembly to post our rough draft on the website – as long as it was labeled as such.
The proof of this permission can be found on the page where the General Assembly decisions are kept:
“18) A rough draft list of Occupy Vancouver’s demands should be compiled and uploaded onto the website.”
The main reason to put it up on the website was not to publicize it, but rather to get input on it. Some people were against involving the rest of the 99% in creating it, but I was OK with that too. I really didn’t care if the input was from the occupiers, supporters, detractors or the public at large – we’re all 99%ers, right? And a good idea is a good idea, regardless of where it comes from. As long as it says “rough draft” on it, it would educate people on how a democratic organization comes up with ideas for demands and then ratifies them at a General Assembly – Occupy Vancouver was using the 90% “supermajority” system.
The first time the demands were posted, the list was removed shortly afterwards from the website – not by a vote from the General Assembly but by a member of the website committee – because what was ratified by the General Assembly did not make it into the “official” minutes.
Originally those minutes were posted here, but have since been taken down.
It took a whole week, but finally the original minutes were found and it was verified that the General Assembly had agreed to post the rough draft of the demands on the website. The original minutes still haven’t made it into the online minutes.
The second time the demands were posted, they were taken down (again by the website committee) was just a few days later. It was argued that it wasn’t really taken off the website, it was just taken off the home page. You could still find it if you knew where to look, but you had to know that it was hidden away in the forums and find the tiny link to “forums” and then figure out which forum was hiding the list of demands, as there was no “demands forum”.
The third time it was taken down (taken down completely from where it was already hidden from the general public) was when one of the moderators in the discussion forum complained that I was “flooding” the forum with harm-reduction and pro-drug peace information. What I was really doing was reacting to the “flood” of anti-drug peace activist sentiment, and the wave upon wave of ignorance that came from these “moderators”.
Let me provide you with a sample from just one thread (I will stick to the main thread about demands and spare you the comments from other threads such as the “movement hijacked by marijuana pushers” thread) so you know what I’m talking about. I will focus on the “anti-cannabis” and “anti-heroin prescription” comments – there were supportive comments about these things too, but I think understanding the reasoning and the mentality of those who are against vocally supporting drug policy reform and harm reduction is instructive.
“i admit to having a rather big problem with distributing botanical drugs like coffee beans. decriminalize, sure, but legalizing is a whole other issue.” emily cummings Post subject: Re: WORKING DRAFT – LIST OF DEMANDS Posted: October 27th, 2011, 12:45 am
“…i have a background in pharmaceutical sciences” emily cummings (a moderator who joined the discussion forum the day it was formed) Post subject: Re: WORKING DRAFT – LIST OF DEMANDS Posted: October 27th, 2011, 8:22 pm
“I think we should soften #17. FOR NOW! Suggesting to much of the 99% that heroin and cocaine should be given out by pharmacists will alienate them.” Skipatrol Post subject: Re: WORKING DRAFT – LIST OF DEMANDS Posted: October 31st, 2011, 11:43 am
“Not a big fan of decriminalizing hard drugs.” emily cummings Post subject: Re: WORKING DRAFT – LIST OF DEMANDS Posted: November 1st, 2011, 9:11 pm?”19. Repeal the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. All synthetic drugs and hard drugs (including cocaine and heroin) should be distributed by prescription through a pharmacist.” – Although I agree with this in theory, I think it should be removed from the list. Presenting it as a demand is going to get nothing but bad publicity and negative feedback from a public brainwashed by decades of anti-drug propaganda” Hrichards Post subject: Re: WORKING DRAFT – LIST OF DEMANDS Posted: November 1st, 2011, 10:14 pm
“i am very worried though that comments re: #19 and #20 are falling on deaf ears as David Malmo-Levine is a cannabis activist and is by own admission, using OVan movement to advance his personal agenda. since he himself doesn’t seem to have any problem with that, i would like to see comments from other people involved with the movement qualifying this behavior as unacceptable. it is admirable what he’s done so far but the time has come to put greater interest before his own if he really wants to help this movement.” emily cummings Post subject: Re: WORKING DRAFT – LIST OF DEMANDS Posted: November 2nd, 2011, 1:04 am
“you did put in a lot of work, that i can see and i appreciate that. however your work remains biased and you seem to not know that wikipedia is not an acceptable reference (wiki is just a search engine which takes you to real references) and neither are some obscure cannabis blogs which are heavily biased as they are pushing to promote personal agenda too. at the same time, you completely dismissed my source (american academy of pediatricians) as pill-pushers. at this point i will agree to strongly disagree. you show a ton of zest and energy but very little prudence and science and i cannot align myself with your demands.” emily cummings Post subject: Re: WORKING DRAFT – LIST OF DEMANDS Posted: November 2nd, 2011, 8:48 am
“I agree with Emily regarding David’s list. The emphasis on drugs is an attempt to hijack the occupy movement.” just_me Post subject: Re: WORKING DRAFT – LIST OF DEMANDS Posted: November 2nd, 2011, 9:45 am
“David — I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, and actually have done some of the same research. I’m just saying that the inclusion of these type of specific, highly radical proposals dilutes the power of the overall document.” Stewart Post subject: Re: WORKING DRAFT – LIST OF DEMANDS Posted: November 2nd, 2011, 12:32 pm
“I think maybe of the people who can relate to the movement will be turned away if its morphs into a drug & hemp campaign rather than sticking to its roots as an economic struggle, and yes I realize the potential effect of drug legalization/hemp production on the economy. But it definitely isn’t a major issue and shouldn’t be made into one. If you want to promote this kind of thing then I’m sure you’ll get the chance at the 4/20 assembly and the annual protests in May. Bringing drugs into this is just going to get rid of supporters, simple as that.” Hrichards Post subject: Re: WORKING DRAFT – LIST OF DEMANDS Posted: November 2nd, 2011, 5:22 pm
Nov. 3nd was the day of the first overdose – this one non-fatal. Instead of thinking for a moment about the only real solution to most overdoses – heroin prescription – the focus was instead on the controversy, and how to avoid it. Contempt was shown for the public, who were seen as unable to understand the facts, so the facts became less important than the “optics” (or what the “leadership” thought would be the optics):
“any “legalize drugs” demand is going to look just wonderful(e-sarcasm) after this: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2011/11/03/bc-occupy-vancouver-drug-overdose.html” Hrichards Post subject: Re: WORKING DRAFT – LIST OF DEMANDS Posted: November 3rd, 2011, 7:20 pm
“David, for the sake of discussion quality in this thread which seems to have severely deteriorated since cannabis issue became a source of disagreement, I will move all your posts to General Assembly subforum where you can discuss the cannabis agenda in more detail while leaving room for other demands to be discussed here. Pls don’t bring the cannabis discussion back to this part of the forum unless you get an OK from Tom A. (he is the main forum admin).” Administrator Post subject: Re: WORKING DRAFT – LIST OF DEMANDS Posted: November 3rd, 2011, 11:51 pm
A subsequent coroners report revealed the death to be caused by an overdose of heroin and cocaine.
According to an Occupy Vancouver member named “”MichAel MadloVe” who posted on Facebook, the camp had received “an official bad smack notice 4 hrs later from city health”.
The fact of the matter is that cannabis helps people get off hard drugs, and heroin prescription prevents “bad smack” from killing people. The relevancy of these drug-policy related demands to Occupy Vancouver is not simply on a ‘corporations make loads of money selling cannabis substitutes’ level or a ‘corporations make loads of money selling the chemicals required to create cocaine and heroin’ level or a ‘governments prevent independent movements or nations from cutting corporations out of markets by waging secret wars financed by CIA drug deals or overt wars justified by fighting narco-terrorism’ level, but also on a ‘these drug laws are to blame for the deaths of innocent people including our own protesters’ level.
Had we had a list of demands that included heroin prescription and legal cannabis, we could have pointed to these demands when refusing to be vacated from the Art Gallery, and Vancouver’s vast network of drug peace activists would no doubt have joined the battle to resist removal.
Instead, this became the headline:
List of Occupy Vancouver demands ‘not official’
Date: Saturday Nov. 5, 2011 8:27 PM PT
A draft list of “demands” has emerged on the Occupy Vancouver website, with 60 items ranging from the closure of tax loopholes for the wealthy to the release of non-violent prisoners.
The authors of the list, which was posted Friday on the website’s message board, are not named, but it is said to have been compiled over the course of several days by members of the Occupy general assembly.
Occupy Vancouver press liaison Sarah Beuhler told ctvbc.ca that the list is “definitely not official,” and was formed by a group of about six individuals.
“Certain people found it very important that a list of demands be generated, though others disagreed,” Beuhler said.
“I have personally heard a lot of discontentment with this particular list, in that it’s not particularly well-crafted and it seemed to have some people’s pet issues on it.”
Beuhler confirmed that the list was written by members of the general assembly, but said that body includes anyone who chooses to protest at the site. She estimated between 200 and 300 people show up on a daily basis.
I was even called an “agent provocateur” on You Tube by the famous environmental rights activist Betty Krawczyk for attempting to provide people with a rough draft of the list of demands and for daring to suggest that prescription heroin was a good demand!
Had Ms. Krawczyk and OV press liaison Sarah Beuhler bothered to look into it, they would have discovered the evidence for heroin prescription resulting in positive health outcomes (including but not limited to a reduction in overdose deaths) is overwhelming:
The data, which was collected from 251 participants at sites in Vancouver and Montreal, demonstrate that a combination of optimized methadone maintenance therapy (MMT) and heroin assisted treatment (HAT) can attract and retain the most difficult-to-reach and the hardest-to-treat individuals who have not been well served by the existing treatment system. Key findings at the 12-month point of the treatment-phase of the study showed that HAT and MMT achieved high retention rates: 88 per cent and 54 per cent respectively. Illicit heroin use fell by almost 70 per cent. The proportion of participants involved in illegal activity fell by almost half from just over 70 per cent to approximately 36 per cent. Similarly, the number of days of illegal activity and the amount spent on drugs both decreased by almost half. In fact, participants once spending on average $1,500 per month on drugs reported spending between $300-$500 per month by the end of the treatment phase. Marked improvements were also seen in participants’ medical status with scores improving by 27 per cent.
When the Swiss government decided to issue heroin prescriptions on a trial basis throughout the country in 1994, the social advantages of keeping people on heroin were amply demonstrated. The results were as follows: a 60% reduction in criminal offences; a 60% drop in revenue from illegal or semi-legal activities; a spectacular reduction in heroin and cocaine use; a 14% to 32% increase in the number of participants holding down a steady job; a considerable increase in their physical health and, in most cases, a noticeable drop in links maintained with the drug world; no deaths attributable to overdoses and no prescription drug sold on the black market; a net economic benefit of $30 per patient, per day, largely because of the reduction in costs related to health care and the administration of the criminal justice system.
Heroin prescription ‘cuts costs’
There are strong reasons to support the practice of prescribing heroin to drug misusers, researchers claim.
A University of Amsterdam team says the treatment is cost-effective, even though it is expensive. The British Medical Journal study found the cost to health services was offset by savings linked to crime reduction.
Prescription heroin helps addicts off street drugs
(Reuters Health) – Prescribing heroin to addicts who can’t kick their habit helps them stay off street drugs, British researchers said Friday.
So far, doctors have had little hope of treating the 10 percent or more of heroin users who don’t respond to methadone, the standard anti-addiction medication. Fueled by drug cravings, those users often spiral downward into crime and diseases spread by dirty needles and unhealthy living.
Short of actually getting addicts off the drug, “heroin clinics” can at least get them off the streets.
“What we are dealing with here is a very severe group of heroin addicts, where all of the treatments have been tried and have failed,” said Dr. John Strang, an addiction expert at King’s College London, who led the new study.
“They are like oil tankers heading for disaster,” he added. “The question we were asking was, ‘Can we change the trajectory of these tankers?’ And the answer was, ‘Yes we can.'”
To test how prescription heroin would work for this group, Strang and his colleagues invited 127 addicts into supervised injecting clinics. The researchers then randomly chose who would get heroin, injected methadone or typical swallowed methadone.
After six months, 101 addicts had stuck with their treatment. More than two-thirds of those on heroin had no sign of street heroin in their urine at least half the time they were tested; before the study, they had been using the street drug almost every day.
While Insite, Vancouver’s supervised injection site, continues to serve an important and necessary function, the evidence is mounting that what we really need is to provide prescription opiate and stimulant substitutes to heroin and cocaine/amphetamine addicts.
In our two trials supervised medical coprescription of heroin to treatment resistant heroin addicts was more effective than and probably just as safe as methadone alone. We saw considerable improvements in physical and mental condition and social functioning and few serious adverse events. The observed positive effects were not dependent on the route of administration of the coprescribed heroin. Our results also indicate that medical coprescription of heroin should be long lasting to obtain stable positive outcomes.
Less than a month after a Canadian team found that prescribing heroin to addicts works where other treatments have failed, scientists in the UK reported the same thing. That stacks more evidence in favour of heroin prescription on top of existing good reports from Switzerland, Spain and Germany.
The point of my little rant is that there’s an opportunity to create something here that could grow to replace the death culture that 99% of us want replaced.
“What’s new with this movement is that it’s not just protesting, but creating a small replica of what we want society to be,”
This “replica” is only worth replicating if it can avoid the major faults of the society we are attempting to replace, the hierarchical society where the few make decisions for the many and fool the many into believing they have the power.
If the movement is based upon a series of demands, the demands become the ultimate defining authority of the movement and its public face. If there are no demands, the ultimate defining authority becomes the media committee and the website committee, the defacto public face in lieu of demands. By preventing demands from being issued, the media and website committees have created an invisible throne to replace the other invisible throne (which has recently become slightly more visible) – corporations.
There is a reason demands were issued in all the Arab Spring revolts and in every major occupation, sit-in, and sit-down strike of the last 100 years. It unifies the movement and prevents opportunists from re-shaping the group into their own narrowly perceived interests. I will leave you with some quotes by some important people about why it is important to have demands:
“I believe the Occupy movement could be absolutely historic but we won’t know for years from now. I believe what it is is a demand for open dialog. … We demand social justice, especially for the first peoples of this nation.” – David Suzuki, at the Vancouver Occupation, Oct. 23, 2011
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” – MLK Jr.,
“Give to us clear vision that we may know where to stand and what to stand for – because unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything.” – Peter Marshall (1902–67) Senate chaplain, prayer offered at the opening of the session, April 18, 1947 Prayers Offered by the Chaplain, the Rev. Peter Marshall … 1947–1948, p. 20 (1949). Senate Doc. 80–170.
“We ought to have Parliament this very day. We are quite fit for it. We shall, therefore, get it on demand. It rests with us to define “this very day”.” – Mahatma Gandhi, Speech At Gujarati Political Conference I, Nov. 3rd, 1917
“Don’t ask for rights. Take them. And don’t let any one give them to you. A right that is handed to you for nothing has something the matter with it. It’s more than likely, it is only a wrong turned inside out.” –
“As a Maxan Lake Bear Clan family, we are elders advisors to Occupy Vancouver. We stand as indigenous peoples defending our lands and rights. We know that every occupation has a list of demands. That’s purpose of occupations – to get answers for demands.” – Frank & Helen Martin, Bear Clan, Maxan Lake
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” – Frederick Douglass