By Karen Ward
It’s been less than three weeks since we lost Tracey Morrison. We are reeling, breaking, staggering. At the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), the fragile bonds we have built between all us broken people we turn and tear apart in confusion and anger and fear and the remembering of every terrible thing ever, because this is the punch in the gut and the kick in the head that tells you again, this is why it’s so dangerous to love.
And of course this is why we fight, because that is why she did.
And it was a complicated, long fight, and she fought it every day in many different ways and thought about it all the time.
Tracey had very clear thoughts about this. Of course she did. It was her work. All of it.
I forget where we were, now, and it doesn’t really matter. It was another situation where someone was talking about and explaining “intersectionality.”
The meeting ended, we collected our $5 stipends and Tracey gathered up the remaining snacks to take back to VANDU. Fifteen minutes to spare before a Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society (WAHRS) meeting so we had to discuss the meeting and smoke what we had fast.
“It’s hilarious when people explain intersectionality to you,” I said.
“Right after I said who I am and what I do, I know. The whole thing, I am an Aboriginal woman, I am a drug user, I am a poor person in the Downtown Eastside, work with WAHRS, the research, the health authorities, the city, the activists, the neighbourhood — and they throw down a fancy big word about it then explain it to me, as if I don’t understand my own life.”
“Good snacks, though.”
I actually lost my words. I lost the ability to speak for a long time. It’s been less than three weeks, and it comes and goes. I really don’t know now if sound will come out of my mouth when I get up to speak.
In my head, I hear our endless discussions about how important “our voices” are, and think about how determined she was to figure things out on her own terms. Tracey would tell the story, when meeting with a new group of people, about how she found her voice. How she was a mouse but now she was a mouth and because of being able to work with peer-run groups, she learned the strength to speak. She didn’t just find it, like a toke on the stairs. She fought for it.
Since she died, so many people are cast about in wild grief, looking for something to cling to, I see and understand why different interests would want to co-opt or claim some part of what she did or represented.
It wasn’t that long ago. I was in the back of VANDU, it was late in the day and I was waiting for her to get back from some damn thing because we had to go to another thing. I was writing and smoking and waiting and grumbling.
No, she’s here, said Dave. She’s talking to, you know, important people in suits. They look like they have jobs.
Ha ha, Tracey. So I went out to go see. They were visiting researchers from somewhere. She had introduced herself and talked about what she did, and in particular about the research paper that WAHRS had just published.
(The paper is called “They Treated Me Like Crap” and it is about experiences of urban Aboriginal people in accessing health care, and it’s published in a big-time journal and explains a lot of things.)
The people—all of them white, professional, important people with jobs—listened and then one of them started to explain what they did and how what they were doing would—
“No,” she said. “You’re not actually listening to what I’m saying.” She pointed to VANDU’s mission statement. “We learn this here, and then we teach it out there. You can’t tell us that you’re going to ‘fix’ us. We can do that ourselves, for ourselves, each other. You can help, but you can’t be shitty about it. And you have to understand this. We’re the experts here. You have to learn how to learn from us.”
I know that for her, all the different things she worked on were actually not different at all. Everything was connected and it was based on her experience, her understand of being Tracey in this world, in this place and time, and with all of us.
She got so pissed every time the project was referred to as a “Health and Wellness Centre.” That is how you know that they don’t get it yet, she’d say. They will, that’s why I keep going, she said, no matter what anyone says.
The idea is healing.
She was the best teacher I ever had, and it’s because she never accepted an easy answer or someone who always claimed to be right. And she always asked everyone around what they thought about things, because she took thinking seriously, and other people seriously. She thought seriously about what it meant: healing, the war on drugs, homelessness, the Downtown Eastside, how it’s all about decolonization, and that is all about what being Tracey meant. How, in this serious time, how do you do things in a good way?
We have to get together, she’d say. We have to figure this out.
We have to figure this out.
That is the first thing was all have to try to figure out if we can go on, in a good way, and make it in any way possible to deal with this fucking world, as it is now, this dim, broken shell when everything and everyone we love is dead and all of us are dying. The arrogant asshole sun still bothers to rise, as if there was still a world. My pipe explodes in my hand. I can’t speak.
We have to do all of this, and do it in a good way. All of it is about healing, about justice, about fighting to build a world where we can all be together, in a good way. And be alive. I am angry.
Stop this crysis.
She didn’t misspell that. She thought about it a lot and meant it and we have to work together to understand what it means, because it really matters.
Stop this shit. Stop this crysis. We have to do it in a good way. For Tracey.
She died because this is how we die, because injustice is fatal, because it’s not right, because stop this crysis.