Oct. 11, 2000
Executive Director for Social Development
Ministry of Community Development, Cooperatives and Volunteers
401 Ė 750 W. Pender St.
Vancouver, BC V6C 2T7
Fax Ė 604 Ė 660-3437
So, what do you do; why do you do it; how did you get started?
How did I get started I guess would be best, I was born in the east.
It's a good one,
There's a better one, though, I was just listening to Three Dog Night doing what's his nameís song, I've never been to Spain, but I kinda like that kind of music. I'm told I was born in Oklahoma but I really don't remember, I was born in a coma in Oklahoma.
I was born in a comma in Oklahoma!
And I was just in Oklahoma City and I know exactly why he said that. The only interesting thing of all of Oklahoma City was there were 2 young women with orange hair in an old beat up VW with a bumper sticker that said, "Creative people must be stopped"!
And they got barbecue.
Yes, that's right, they've got barbecue and they have catfish. Yah, okay. So, how did I get started? Well you know, I grew up in the southern states, I was actually born in Birmingham, Alabama and grew up in mostly South Carolina, I grew up in a military family my dad was a marine. We were, I think one of those extremely typical dysfunctional families, in terms of having a multiplicity of problems and being quite poor for most of our lives and my dad being a severe alcoholic. This led to certain actions on my part, I guess, of certainly being anti-military. Long before I had a political knowledge of Vietnam, I knew that I would never live in a structure like that. I didn't take the abuse that was hurled at me and other people and the kind of poor place and all of that to be treated like garbage and stuff. I got to know what was going on. I never thought I would get an education. We were called stupid all the time when I was a kid, so,
What towns were you in in South Carolina?
Mostly in Sumter. Very active, rural area, and I spent some time in Charleston and Myrtle beach, but mostly Sumter, that's where I lived. Statesburg, a tiny little town. And they had the segregated schools, segregated churches, we had churches side by side, pre-schools, pick up me and my brother and about 45 kids, and 3 or 4 what were called Turks, which were a huge thing, black and white mixes that they have this whole mythology about. Which was very interesting and it just blew me away that these were the kids that I caddied with on the golf course that I did everything with but we had to go to three different schools. It just didn't add up, the economics of that were insane, the states could afford to have three separate systems.
Well they did it by not paying much for two of them.
16 years old I drove a school bus. I drove a school bus to school and back and then I drove an ambulance at night with no training what so ever. I lived in a funeral home. They talk about an education for a young guy, drive an ambulance, live in a funeral home, holy hell, you learn so much. And I think the thing that I learned very early from all this combination of negativity was I learned kind of how the class system worked. I learned a lot about racism, and sexism, too, at a very early age I understood that women were not getting a fair deal. So anyway, to make a long story short, those things led me to seeking an education. Which I ended up graduating from the University of South Carolina, I worked in registering black people to vote in the South and stuff like that before it was not overly popular, not at all. And then went to the university of Colorado at Boulder, a very good school. I started working the draft board when I was 17, I think it's 18 you have to register. My brother went into ROTC and became a member of the Special Forces. He's retired now, as a printer.
Heís lucky he lived. Second lieutenants had a very high mortality rate.
That's just the death penalty, right there. He was very lucky. You do like 2 months or something on that job and you never want to do it again, you survive, and then you won't have any friends because they're all dead. In our county, like you go back there, I don't know. I know a few black people, I don't know one white person at all, they were all annihilated. It was just like so clear then who was getting drafted and who was sitting on the draft board, and how come that guy's son who I know is a big shot is never going to be drafted because his daddy's choosing me. So anyway, I got drafted a couple of times and ended up in Colorado working with migrant Mexican workers, Mexican Americans, Latinos. And that was another amazing experience because I kind of thought that once I got out of the south I would see liberation, which didn't happen. I went and worked for a year in New York City, I was a piece worker, on welfare, in east New York. I have 70 people on my caseload and I probably met 40 and I would say without a word of exaggeration that 25 of them knew my mother, because they were all from South Carolina. And that was always my dream, that's why I went to new York, my dream was to go to New York and there would be culture and all these things and no poverty, and I couldn't believe it. And so I went to,
And then you went to grad school.
Yah, I did I went to Colorado and then I took a year off and I went back to grad school in Colorado. And then I went to the New School for Social Research. I was just sort of auditing courses. I was caretaker of the place that was called Millennium film institute, which I really loved. Then I came to Canada after I was drafted twice. I didn't know a soul in the country, knew nothing about it, I was told that Vancouver was twice as beautiful as Colorado and that kind of sold me. I knew a ton about First Nations people because I had a good look at my anthropology. So I knew everything about it, I didn't know anything about Victoria, but I certainly knew that there was bands and tribal relations and all. So it was kind of funny coming here, but I was very frustrated. It was very difficult getting a job at first, but I got a job teaching at the college here, and actually doing the first course, I think the first course done ever for physical anthropology in this province. I taught there for a while and then found out that if I left the country, I got all my income tax back that day. Iíd been a teacher for 2 years. I had no idea. They were going to move the school and I didn't want to go, so I'm quitting. And the guy that I hired to replace me was a Canadian who had been working in the States and he had come back with his income taxes under a deal between the States and Canada. Which I think I would oppose to the death now. Anyway, I went to Paris for a year and I went to the Sorbonne and studied there some and was involved in, this is right after, this is in the 70's so, 69, 70,
Yah, all those guys and that stuff. Claude Levi-Strauss, Foucault, Althusser. And I was madly in love with the French intellectuals certainly. But there wasn't a whole lot of English and my French was never really good enough to really grab it. And then I came back to Montreal; I was going to live in Montreal. This is how I got started, I went Montreal and was going to do something there, I wasn't sure what, but I only had 50 bucks, and a wife and a kid. I had to hitchhike a ride out there, my daughter and I. And we were going to close down, we were going to find a way to get our furniture, what little we had back in Montreal, my daughter was about 4 then. Wow, what a period, anyway. We went up to BC and I wanted to write my thesis on enculturation, how a person becomes a member of a society. And you can take it two ways. I was going to use my experience of learning to be French as a tour guide and my daughterís experience of learning to be French in the creche, the daycare. And use the textbooks that we used to do what they call now a textual analysis. What you learn, how do you become French, and all the icons from Babar the elephant,
The little dark monkeys and
And the queen, right? The white woman that comes over from France, Victoria or something, it was unreal. And I went to UBC, to see if I could do this and I just got the most backward dumb things. And I [spoke to] a gentleman [who] taught race relations and he pointed out that he didn't think it was appropriate for me to bring my daughter into his office. Well, I was a single dad, and he asked me, is your wife black, cause she looks like a little picanninny. Which started a major battle between me and that guy,
He had me investigated by the RCMP, but that's another story. But it kind of led, to me, to more of my understanding of the institutionalization of certain types of ideas in a capitalist society. Then I found out as I was leaving, and going back to Montreal to get out of this place, a guy named Dr. Burridge came down the hallway and congratulated me on being a Canada Council Fellow. And I had forgotten that a year before I had applied to the Canada Council of Fellows, and so I had this money, I guess it had some prestige to it. I explained to him that I couldn't be, for several reasons. One is, I couldn't get anyone to sit on my thesis committee and that you had to be on the Ph.D. program, not a master's program. He said, can you give me 15 minutes before you leave? And I said okay, and came back from the institute of graduate studies, and they accelerated me into the Ph.D. program. So I just said, wow, but I didn't have any money. So this thing, this fellowship paid for my books, and it was a little bit of money. And I started working as a longshoreman. It was great. Because I could go down to the waterfront and if I had a job I worked and if I didn't I got my beauty sleep.
Day by day.
That was exactly how. Toledo on the lake?
So, you know it was a great job for me. So what happened was I met a lot of really militant trade union people. There was a union here called the Canadian Seamanís Union that had been outlawed in 1950. I was hanging out in the bars, cause I lived in the downtown in the Downtown East Side since I came back here in the 70's, 79. So I was hanging out in those bars and working on the waterfront and I started getting bumped on these guys about why didn't I do something worth while? Why didn't I write the history of their union? Which I agreed to do. Then, about this time I wrote a paper at UBC, and in those days it was called the first class. I think it was the top grade in the class, of the particular course and then I got thrown out of UBC, on a word from the head of the department. I was a socialist and not a sociologist! Well, that's something I hadnít anticipated!
Really, guys, come on!
I thought so. I had an A average, I had the Canada Council fellowship, and it was kind of hard to say I was a dummy. I had to then write a paper to get me back in, and I did. And I wrote it on the Canadian Seamanís Union and it became my first published dissertation. I did that. And then I went to work; I got a card from the shipyard. We had set up these committees across the country of ex-CSUíers. Who were the most amazingly great people I've ever met in my entire life. They have all the guts and it was the most amazing story. But it was hard to raise money and these guys were mostly older men, right, retired, and I ended up agreeing I would hire another guy to write the book, but it just didn't work out, he was not the right guy. So mean time, I spent 5 years in the marine work, I have quite a highly skilled rating as a structural steel mechanic we call them. And very active in the union and all that stuff. But the guys across the country. I mean that I couldn't write their story within the union structure, so I went back to pick up my master's degree and then that was it, so I ended up writing this book. It was hard, but it was totally worth it, and there were thousands of people literally across the country who have been involved in every type of social justice movement you could imagine, and the peace movement in the 50's, I mean, good god, these are incredible people. Women organizers, people that are still in it, you know, heroes of this country. So it was a great experience for me and a good way to truly utterly become a Canadian. And meanwhile, so I finished that up and as I said I was living in Downtown East Side. Is this what you want to hear?
Sure this is great.
A quick rendition. So, anyways, Downtown East Side residence association is a quite well known militant organization at that time in the Downtown East Side and I have watched it grow from before it was born and I knew the people who were involved in it quite well. One of them was Jean Swanson, the first person I ever met in Canada and she had looked out for me and organized at the same time, it's amazing. She became one of the founders of DERA and as I said I was there and you know, the only real organization for people and I went to this one development and I was very proud of it very impressed. And so what had happened is that one of the founders, Bruce Ericson and his wife Olivia Davies, is now a Member of Parliament. Bruce had been elected to City council and Olivia was on the parks board and so they were able to have money for DERA organizing and they asked me to apply and so I did. But I went to work in 1981 again so that, and I had been a rattle of stuff in the Canadian movement and sort of political stuff to some degree, but I had never been involved in the peace movement at all in the States or here. And never really in community development, I'd say, not organizing residents, I'd never done that before, but I had a really strong feeling that the stuff that I knew was transferable. Especially from studying the Canadian Seamanís Union, because it might seem ironic, but if you go back and look at the transitional structures between capitalist and socialist society, the factory councilís a highly transitional body. It's true democracy there and it's something that can transcend one type of social formation to another whereas the union has become a different structure.
So you found in your organizing these ex-seamen are teaching you to follow better procedure.
Exactly. And actually it's a really tough, rough and tumble people. But they were still unbelievably good and wonderful. One thing we never had a problem with was trying to find a cause. Those were all handed to us, every day. I wasn't there for a week when they cut the social welfare allowance for housing to $65.00,
A gift from the organizing gods!
We used to have style that was really pretty left and tight. We were ready to picket them anytime, I could have a picket line of 50 people in hours pretty much. And that was so good, we had that. I mean, we went through major, major battles of all sorts, things like, people who live in hotels in those days had zero coverage in the residential code. Nothing, absolutely no rights for Canadians in your home - a guy can come in and throw you out and how ask you to pay your rent and it was completely legal, so that was a massive deal. We spent years studying that and finally won in 1987, the problem is with that was in 1986 when we had Expo, the worlds fair, right in our backyard,
So the economic situation pushed everybody out.
Yah, we prepared for it for years, we were totally ready to go whenever you would study the hallmark events that had happened anywhere that we could. We didn't just have the Internet, we had to write a letter to the local people but we knew what we needed to do and we still lost a thousand units. We nearly lost the East Side there. I think that not only were we a militant grassroots organization but a very strong democratic structure.
So you were talking about, you were going to begin to transition in the story of DERA.
Okay, yah, so from things like being in the community, being in the organizing development side of things and being housing coordinator for the housing society, you're able to get a lot of things done, to a certain degree, carrying on some of the struggles that had to be done. There also comes a point when things change and there are better places for you to be. And when I came to work for the government in 1992, January 1992,
Yah. DERA was a different organization, it was not an organization that I felt or that others felt could still function, I guess, it was becoming more and more a landlord, that kind of stuff. We had grown very fast, you know. There were 25 of us who left. You know, our tiny cadre. Jenny Kwan, Steven Leary, Monica Hay, Laura Stannard. Organizations could no longer function the way we do. And we took the position that that was fine, they could do what they wanted to, but we were, we're not going to,
No, we're not,
We didn't want to have a whole long yearís battle of destroying everything they'd done. They could run housing, there wouldn't be much more than that. So that was fine. So, I got kind of into a couple of things. One was creative housing development and the other was to deal with people, and having fund-raisers. A quick story of that. I didn't want to do that, I didn't want to be developing the financial feature. Although I had worked at the issue for decades of people not having access: like you can't even cash a check, and if you did cash a check you've got to pay for it, and then you've got to carry every penny you have in cash and then you've got to pay your landlord or get evicted, and it's a disaster and it probably creates as much homelessness as any other issue, mental illness as well.
Financial institutional supports.
Yah. And you can go and actually put your 100 bucks away. And come in and get 10 more, and whatever, and maybe even take out a 50 dollar loan.
Little things like that. And I didn't even know what, I mean, I was just figuring this out. No assets, I had nothing. On the way Glen Clark became the premier, rather boldly in those days, we went to Chicago to South Shore Bank, and that kind of convinced me. Although they don't deal with the issue of indigents at all, it convinced me that we could use this mechanism that we all found powerful. So I went and tried to get a credit union prepared to, maybe we would hire them to open up a branch in the area. That was a disaster. They weren't interested. Didn't happen. So another interesting thing that happened is the Bank of Montreal building became vacant at about the same time. I learned that it was going to turn into a casino. The man who was trying to get an auction on it had a casino license. That would be utterly deadly to the heart of the Downtown East Side, not just losing the building, but the increased poverty and drugs and alcohol and gambling. So I was determined to convince the housing corporation to purchase that building for potential housing needs and I would guarantee them within a year that I would either purchase it from them or have a legitimate transfer. So what we did is we got to work and had a meeting. We held it in the building itself, set up for 30 or 40 to see if people were interested. Well, we don't have a count, but it was standing room, no chairs, couldn't move, didn't have a mike, had to stand on a box and yell.
Good to use the building, too. People are beginning to see, this is our place and we're making our plan.
Utterly so. And the fact that I have nothing else to use! And so we would paste in the windows, Big Bank Meeting, blah, blah, blah, stop by. Hoping to get 100 people and we got three hundred. So we started this process and it was basically a year in which we determined what we need to do, what the people needed and how we were going to make it work. Like, in order to have a financial institution you have to have 500,000 dollars that you can't spend, how are we going to deal with that, how are you going to get the cash, you know, credit unions aren't interested, we have to build our own. Well we can't become a federal bank like this, you know, how do you do this. So, we figured it out, I mean, I say we, mostly welfare recipients. And I would go over with Monica to Victoria and we would negotiate with the legislative drafters, getting legislation to allow us to create our own financial institution. And that's basically what we did, we developed an institution that has, that is kind of a very amazingly good, I think. Itís a hybrid between things that don't work, government, Crown Corporation, I don't know what you would call us in the States, but a government owned corporation,
Like federal deposit Insurance Corporation.
Yah, that's what I mean, yah. We're called QUAGs. We actually created a new QUAG corporation, we tried it because we needed money and we had to be able to make sure that the money was secure somehow. So, we sold the government based funding as security. Many of the developed ways we changed, where the depositors elect the board. A Crown corporation is appointed by staff members. We put in an advisory council from the community,
Community Financial Institution.
And developed all the services we needed in terms of building itself, a washroom in the lobby, you know the things,
That's what people need.
Yup. 100% wheelchair accessible, had to put an elevator in, hiring all welfare recipients to be customer service reps, our janitor. All the time being told by the whole government, you can't turn these people the working way. And the secret to it is, human beings have a vast ability to be adaptable. It amazes me what those people can do, you know, unshackled, if you give them a little bit of the systems, transitional systems, just enough to get them out of the hole that we put them in, and they can blossom like mad. My god. We now have 6500 accounts here and about 40 million dollars. We said we would be self sufficient from government in 5 years and we've got another 2 years before that's over. And there's been a change of government so it's been very difficult.
The hammer will come down.
Yah, but it's very very hard to do that, with as many customers as we do, as many supporters as we do, and we have a lot of support that goes into the institution. Also, part of the plan was from day one, that we had a building, right, to use that building however we knew best. So, we have, we have Earl Shorris come from Harpers Magazine and spoke here on Education and low income people. We have a course Iím really involved in called humanities 101, at UBC, which takes low-income people from downtown, and campus based humanities students from UBC. Weíve got graduate students since I teach graduate anthropology there, and those graduate students act as consultants to non profits in the neighborhood, they give presentations here. We've had about seven operas there now in a couple weeks. We've had Karen Jamieson, who is quite well known, a dance troop and we have a whole bunch of people and events coming up to Vancouver. The Opera Association has got Cecilia Bartoli coming.
I'd even walk to that - from Toledo!
Yah! And those kinds of events are doing a whole lot of things. First of all, opera is a way for people to change their own feeling about themselves, it's amazing.
Yes, absolutely, it's really interesting because I love it too, and it is transformative in a way that is indescribable.
It is, and you know, I probably have been doing this for about 25 years. When people go to the opera from the Downtown East Side here, there is something about it. I mean I usually talk to them about an hour or an hour and a half on opera, that this opera, it is not rich people's stuff, it has been taken away. Opera is a peasant art form. If we just sit down and think about it and try to enjoy it and know a little bit about what's going on and what the structure is. And you know, they ask a lot of questions about how to dress there and everything. Vancouver Opera is pretty good. You have tuxedos and bluejeans and nobody gives a shit. That's what I like a lot. But they all get very dressed up. It's when they leave that they realize the show has conquered an art form, that they might not know, they may have just opened the door to opera but that's something they never thought they could do. And just, the lights go on.
And the experience of the opera itself is just magic. And you take it with you, you take it with you.
Yah. One of the things that really got to me is when I did a piece for CBC a while back and we went and talked to people in the neighborhood about the opera. We went to 2 of my ex-humanities 101 students that had taken the course and I couldn't believe these two, when I was walking in to their little room in some SRO hotel. I opened the door and they were all crimson and black, beautiful heavy crimson drapes, and I just stood there in awe. They had collaborated and were writing an opera. They had a really dirty sound system. I had a feeling that the woman, Melissa was the really creative one, they had done this opera based on shadows reflected in reality, the old Plato bit, and we saw it's about someone who is on crack cocaine, and how their reality shifts as they get their methadone and so on. I said, well, Christ, we donít have to test that theory anymore! That guy now, Avery, he is on the board, an organizer of humanities 101. You know, so I mean, it's just dramatic. So that's kind of where I am now, I guess. I'm working on a whole lot of other things, but I forgot what the question was.
Can you tell me a little bit more about what this organization does, what your role in it is,
Okay, there's actually 2 groups - there's three. Steven Leary, who was in DERA, Steven and I were visiting, working here in 83. So we've been here a long time. This place has gone through various transformations, over the 9 or 10 years that we've done it. My position is executive director of the social alternatives unit. And Steve is the executive director of urban community development, but we take them kind of as one. The things that we do, we try and work so that low-income communities can have the abilities, to assist the abilities of those communities to transform themselves. Now, that's a pretty hard job. Especially in parts of the Downtown East Side. There's not a lot of national news on the Downtown East Side of the city. The drugs, poverty, murder. We have three levels of government that are working together, and try to work for the community and we have community groups all banded together and no real residents. I say, no real, I mean there's some, obviously, but not to the fact that they're pushing the agenda. So what all of us are trying to do here with what we have is to build up the infrastructure in the community. And part of the infrastructure is politics. Putting associations in hotels and stuff like that. Thereís also employment. Programs like the blade runners. Did you meet Laura Stannard, was she around?
Yah, Laura is working on that. We pick up street kids and develop them into construction workers and they build much of the major buildings that you see around here. We've got about 250 of them in the province now. It's what's called cleaning for these kids, these kids are hard nosed. So Blade Runners is a huge huge success story. Now there's 250, and if you look there are 70,000 new jobs that are out there. If that is true, I don't know, I don't work in that area, I work in turning kids around and 85 % of them, we help. I can't tell you anything else about them. But crackíll fuck you up, we know. And we have seniors that are some of them are no longer on crack, like they're the new mentors, they come back you know, so they're key. Home ice for the Canucks is the big arena here,
We have people that work in the concessions there. We do all the maintenance work and stuff like that. So there is training cultural components, always, always trying to build what you could build.
And the title of these two units together make up the,
It's called the ministry of community development, cooperatives and volunteers. It's much bigger than us. But we are the main local component.
Okay, I'll just switch the tape.
Have you ever seen the film "BurnĒ?
I just showed that to my classroom. Pretty amazing film, I hadn't seen it in quite a while.
And it clicks with them.
Oh very much, Burn is about the whole ideas of professors, the celluloid interpretation.
So that's what do you do and why do you do it, you talked about how you came to do it and some of the issues. One of the questions that I'm asking folks, and really in order to try and figure out programmatic responses, but what sustains you, what gets you through the hard days, what gets you to come back to work every day?
You know this isn't hard compared to what my life was supposed to be. You know, if I had grown up in the situation that I should have, I would have been blown to shreds in Vietnam or killed in a fight in a bar in South Carolina, or for the rest of my life pumping gas, or driving an ambulance, or,
And you'd have been dead long before you died.
Yup, exactly. So I mean lots of things sustain me. I mean, Christ every time I run into somebody that's developed a few million dollars in housing that's been associated with my work, that's
Probably like that even better, I would suspect that!
And there are some hard times, let's be honest, I mean there are things that drive you insane, when you see people you've worked with asking you know, what is your real job, that is very painful. Yet again if I compare with what I should have been, it's okay.
But, and also, I think the most uplifting thing for me, Dave, are things like the people.
It's so exciting.
They didn't come to me and say, they went out and have done a lot of work. And what they did, they inspired me to now, we're putting together a thing called momocracy. In the Downtown East Side weíre building capacity, cultural experience. The idea is we live in kind of a semi-political democracy where at least we get a vote. Some people don't have that. But where there is no democracy there is a lot more rebel culture, right? We've been trained but it sucks. All right it sucks, what are things we can change, what do we accept. It sucks. All those things are crap and you also believe you can't, and I also know this from my own personal background, I know how hard it is to overcome being told you're stupid and you're a this and that, you're a swamper. To these people worthless. I never quite got used to that, it pissed me off the most. So seeing people overcome these things and do things like that, boy, it is so uplifting. You know, somebody doesn't like me, right, so I say to them, gosh doesn't it make you mad when people are hurting? I mean I'd like to be loved by everybody but unfortunately the type of society we live in, I understand that to be an impossibility. I mean I try to be polite, you know, I try to allow people, but there are certain resources that I have to pursue, and I'm sorry if I offend, right, so,
Let's not be unrealistic! Right.
So all those things sustain me. And I have a pretty good life, I mean I get to hike, I like to shoot pool, I like the opera, you know, and I like to live downtown. And like everyone else I wish I had certain other things. But I like the age I have attained, I like my grandchildren, I like them.
Grandkids? See them all the time?
Yah, quite often, they're over on the island, most of them, and I have my grandson here, and I see him quite often. Yah, that's one thing I'd like to have more time with them, but I will once they get over. He's really close to his mom and that's really cool. So I don't know that I need that much sustaining. The one thing that does drive me mad is that I find myself getting bitter, I get bitter about things and I wish I didn't, I get bitter about the government I work for, I get bitter about the party I'm a part of,
Yah, I think you were about to do a leap.
I think that's very true, and I think those are mistakes I've made. And that'll be an interesting battle since the guy that's being pushed, Gordon Hammel, a liberal, I ran against him for mayor, I got 46% of the vote, and basically I was beat, and then, when he ran in the last provincial election, I ran against him and got 46% of the vote again, so I got the number one guy, Iím not exactly on his Christmas list.
If he gets elected he wants to fire me; there are certain ways he can do that and certain ways he can't.
Bring it on.
Yah. The thing that does trouble me and the reason that I chose to run against him was to try and keep the projects that we're working on alive, so they can sustain themselves. And there's one that we haven't talked about, Woodwards. It's a huge department store that closed down downtown in 84, closed down in 90. I've been working on that project since 86, I knew it was going to close down, I started putting together a project for it. And here it is what 12 years, 86, 14 years later, and we've developed it into the Woodwards cooperative Downtown East Side which has already produced 200 units of housing while we're trying to build,
Not in Woodwards,
Not in Woodwards, it's the Woodwards coop we're a block away,
Yah, and if we could get the Woodwards that would be another 300 units, it's a 75 million dollar project, which will, I think be an entire way of turning the Downtown East Side around. When Woodwards collapsed then a lot the small business and the legitimate ones closed. Youíve got the businesses in Downtown East Side there, there are a bunch of drug dealers or they're selling illegal stuff like that. So that'll change again drastically. And I think that there is a chance it will pick up then. The other thing that maybe we should talk about a minute here is another project called Destinies. A downtown First Opportunities Target area and empowerment zone. This is based on a Portland, Oregon model that we discovered when we were studying the impact of trade and convention centers. We rarely have the opportunity for lots around to look at, and this was a project we took the time to look for. So the idea for this one is basically in a nutshell, quick, is you know there are all sorts of ways that people are tinkering with the Downtown East Side and I'm one of the tinkerers. We just set up a dental clinic for downtown eastsiders mainly because when you train people to work in hospitality and they have shitty teeth, they can't get a job. So we've got that point. Got a few hotels, good, and the hotels have started using those, itís running on its own, doing beautifully. But there's no overall mechanism, there's no, everybody's just taking their shot,
There's no generator.
That's right. And four corners may be the economic generator, that's what we're hoping in the long run, that it will be able to really start lending in the area.
Now it's doing some. But it's very small; it takes a while because you don't have the tap on. But the idea is that like I worked on general motors place and all these other things and we've gotten employment for people, which is good. When I was doing that I had ministry people, employees of this department standing there telling people while they're being trained, you'll never get a job, you'll never make it. And the other thing is that people have gone through so many training programs,
And what are they learning, the same stuff over and over again, but they aren't getting all that stuff. So if you were able to have an overall structure so that you knew what businesses might be hiring, so you could determine what they would do; and if you set up a structure like this, that the three levels of government are here to assist the Downtown East Side, we need a way that they could assert without them postulating, without them doing anything other than doing what they do now. That's why we call it a first opportunity target area, itís our downtown there. That they need to start hiring from the downtown, which we are in right now, and secondly purchasing. So if they want to buy yellow pencils, they need to go to the Downtown East Side first and the city needs to come in and say if you want to set up a yellow pencil company we're going to give you some zoning rights, here, right, so we will assist businesses to move into this community.
But it takes an analysis of all the inputs and outputs.
Look, it's a lot of work to get into this.
Yah, to understand what the, you know,
Yah, but if you have something like, the reason I led with the first source hiring to start, then you have one major purchaser that you can then use as a model to expand out from. We're not going to have that right now. So we're going to just look at doing it without a major ticket, and see what happens. We've got a model in place that works pretty well, so basically, it's not like I invented this, what we're doing is transforming it into a Canadian plan. It's called FOTA, First Opportunity Target Area. It's around the Oregon Trading convention fund. They are very smart in Seattle. I still like watching them.
The bike path people.
Oh, yah, they have a park that runs the entire length of the river, east of the freeway. It's just amazing, public art, you know they started all that stuff. The capacity for hiring and purchasing is unreal. They have some contracts that they call protected contracts, that you have to be a woman's organization to even bid on it. And you have to be one of the ones that they've already tapped as being okay. You can't get into that until one of them is kicked out by making too much money. And here we are as Canadians who can be maybe more social democratic, and you have the American free enterprise just running around creating models that we have to walk on. I mean, it's kind of embarrassing. And we're supposed to be the better people.
You know the context of Canadian politics, from, not politics, but at least the government, from the streets of the Downtown East Side, what's the state of activism and organizing that you see around?
In the Downtown East Side?
Well, yes, and beyond.
I see a lot of professionals, and I don't see too many rank and file people. Across the board that's what I think I would say. And of course there are massive exceptions to that, but I wouldn't be too concerned about it at all. I mean who are the environmentalists that have seemed to do the most work, probably people who are known, they're brilliant. You know, the environmental groups are often times made up of students predominantly. I'm mad at Greenpeace, because they came in and declared a part of our province to be the great bear rainforest, and I mean, you know, I don't appreciate people coming in, naming things that never existed before, although what they want to do may be quite correct. And I know the First Nations people kicked them out at one time because of the, so you know there are a lot of mistakes that people have made. But there is a lot of hope, on a lot of levels. I am quite impressed with a lot of the students that I have this year at UBC. I think they're coming a long way from where they were ten years ago. And they have a great opportunity because 60% of the faculty will be retiring in the next 5 years.
Really, maybe we need a sectoral analysis of academia. So, you're hopeful?
Oh, yah, I always am. Yah, I guess so, yah, I mean look at all these people, just come up and talk to all of the people that work for us, and all of them are jewels, they're talented, devoted, inspired, inspirational themselves, you know. Celine was one of my graduate students, you know, the best researcher you'll ever find, totally devoted, lives in the downtown south. Paul next door, Aboriginal guy, totally involved, always was, smart and then we have a woman who is coming up. You know that we have 400% higher involvement of women. And the same with aboriginal, 50% of our staff are aboriginal.
I only have a couple of other questions. They run sort of the direction of the other folks I'm going to be talking with. One is, I do want to make this a conversation not just with me, but among folks. So, I'm going to talk with more organizers across Canada and in Australia, and I talk to organizers in the States all the time. What questions do you have to put on the table for that conversation of how to advance organizing?
Well, huh. Okay, let me first start with a statement. It seems to me that whatever field you are in, that you have to be able lead. There is no reason to call yourself an organizer and abrogate leadership. And leadership doesnít mean domination. That's very difficult, how do you let 1000 flowers bloom and at the same time provide leadership. And if you're not there as a leader, what are you there as? A lot of people seem to be afraid of that. There may be a role for people who are facilitators, or whatever, but in organizing a community there is a very special term, you look back at the 30's and all the history of the labor movement organizers put their lives on the line for what they were doing, and put other people's lives on the line, so you had to really know what you were doing. And that's one of the reasons, too, why as a professor of anthropology that I rely on people like Al, because they had to make life and death decisions. This wasn't,
They were engaged,
Yah, this wasn't theoretical discussion over wine. So you know, how do we do that, how do we get that kind of leadership? What are the techniques to ensure that rank and file people are involved? This doesn't mean kowtowing to backward elements, this means, how do we develop those human beings? What are the different processes? I mean, I've used the bank and other things to develop this capacity in individuals. That's what itís about for me. So, again, if you take that film Burn, you can see the power, but if you don't know how to sell sugarcane you're in deep trouble. And again from Che, you've got to have the capacity to operate, to be the best producers you can be, you have to know how to govern, you have to know how to do all those things with the people that you don't like, but in a new way, right, I think it's new. We don't necessarily have a template or a paradigm which we can apply. We have to apply that.
Good question. It's the dangerous prospect of winning.
Yah. A lot of people arenít really good at making a decision, even if they know that it's correct, this is the war. And that's the leadership, you have to be able to make tough decisions. That doesn't mean you sit down and kind of give people orders. But somehow you have to bring a group together that can say, this is it,
Going in a direction, not just around in a circle.
Yah, and there may be, unfortunately some casualties along the way. I mean, you've got to minimize, that's a huge thing. And a lot of times we need to speak within those revolutionary terms. But it doesn't do a lot of good just sitting around and waiting for things to happen.
It's not a tea party.
That's right. It's not. To understand the apple you have to bite the apple.
Okay, anything else I forgot to ask?
I don't think so.