Dying to be Heard

This all brings me back to one of the best guys we could have on our side as a community (or not even!) of people who use drugs. Theo Van Dam, once a strident, unflinching, innovative, brilliant user activist in Amsterdam (a real honest to God fore-runner of the whole user movement) -who now, at late 50’s/early 60’s or so, has put aside his fighting talk, his incredible persuasive manner who could sell an ice to an Inuit (as they say!) has re-invented himself and naturally as a humans evolution, he now speaks at funerals and remembrance days.

Not Theo's quote but an interesting comment on how funerals are changing;click on pick to hear about a womans take of different funeral styles

Not Theo’s quote but an interesting comment on how funerals are changing; click on pick to hear about a womans take of different funeral styles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He stands with the family and friends and says all the powerful, and beautiful words of remembrance that no one else dares to say. He acknowledges their place in the community, even if the community was ‘one of the guys on that park bench, you know, the one with his ol’ dog close at his side and his little woven bag that doubled as a pillow yet held everything in the world that was necessary and loved. Theo would talk about the whole person -the time this or that happened, talk warmly about the generous, kind, stubborn yet loyal person that would always have time for a chat for anyone who passed by the park bench. It didn’t even matter whether Theo knew the person lying prostrate in front of everyone -or not. Whether he admired and adored them, or wasn’t on very cool terms with them at the time they died. It was OK. Theo was there to ensure the person themselves -their life -with all its ups and downs -were captured and celebrated, not brushed under the carpet and hidden so everyone felt to uncomfortable to even mention what the person had been doing the last 30 years. Even more so – allowing the parents to hear that their child was a real person -who loved, lost, laughed and fought -like all of us -and that their drug/alcohol use should/must be accepted as part of their life, their journey, their experience. It contributed to who they are. It cannot be denied – or you deny your child/sibling/friend – and those who cared for him that lived in the same world.

We all need a Theo at our funerals, a celebrant to shine a touching light on our friends, ensuring they are laid to rest with everyone knowing the person -not the myth, not the stereotype, not the’failure or tragic child led astray. We are the summary of our experiences – all of our experiences – the good, the bad, the ugly.

Some days, Theo didn’t need to know who lay there in the coffin. The idea had been to simply turn up (he is now always invited!) and if he felt that heavy, asphyxiating silence fall, like heavy clouds of snowflakes on the shoulders of the family and friends, and the gentle but nervous shuffling of the priest’s ceremonial slippers as he looked around for someone to stand tall and proud and say a heartfelt speech about their loved one, talk briefly about their huge, momentous loss, and wait for the niece or uncle to read out a piece from the deceased favourite novel or poem…well, it sounds comforting doesnt it? But the person in the coffin has been living on the street for almost a decade. Their toes needed operating on to stop them rotting and re-infecting the next one. There parents hadnt seen them for 15 years…they wanted to cover over their fears…

dont let your loved one be constrained by legal and societal judgments even in death

dont let your loved one be constrained by legal and societal judgments even in death

The reality was that no-one at that funeral knew who the person in the coffin was anymore. Close buddies hadn’t been invited, Christ -they were all alcoholics and junkies! The parents expected it would be a disaster. No, they must be buried quickly, happy memories of the childhood rehashed, and everyone would just smudge out the last 20 years. It was a wasted time anyway, those years, they ruined their life, wasted chances, threw offers of help back in the families faces. God, they hadn’t even tried to pay back any of that money nice auntie Kay gave to them to get a deposit on bedsit. No, his homeless friends were not invited -some of them were with him when he died. ‘Imagine that’ the relatives think. ‘They are so wasted and hopeless, they can’t even tell one of their ‘friends’ are dying -they said he was just snoring…No, the funerals of  many thousands and thousands of us have been like this. It needs to change now.

So many families hadnt really known their loved one for  years. They hadn’t invited them to a family function for over 15 years -no birthdays, no christmas, no easter, no new year….it could have been embarrassing after all. Even if someone had been bold enough to invite them,  would they have gone? Would the feel comfortable, welcome, relaxed???What would they wear? What would they say they had been doing ‘lately’? How does one cope with the stares, the feelings of fear, of children’s wide eyed staring from behind mums skirt;

No, most funerals of people who died from drugs are strained…But strained for different reasons. Not from holding back waves of pain and loss! Or rather, pain and loss that is secret. Dark and lonely. shameful. Words that lie stuck deep down in the throat, words of love and caring locked inside a black box of shame and confusion. Of crippling pain, pain that will never fully ease for the parents and loved ones because they know  they judged their loved one in life when they didn’t really understand anymore. It weighs heavily forever. The funeral Theo encourages, provides a chance for everyone to relax and share and celebrate a human beings life – all those they loved, things they shared, families they were a part of, tragedies they fought through, those special and raare qualities they had.

We alll need a Theo.

Remember that on International Remembrance Day July 21st, or any day a drug using friend dies. Dont let their lives be erased in ignorance. Celebrate the whole life, and bring everyone peace.

If you want to reach Theo in Amsterdam to talk to him further about his ideas etc, add comment and we will forward them to him immediately.

Travis Jenkins Award 2008; Thanking Theo

As the lights dimmed in the auditorium and, for the last time this year the spotlight zeroed in on the podium speaker, a tall lanky Dutchman in a sharp black suit made his way up the stage steps to collect a few dues.After 2 decades of innovative and inspirational work within the drug using community, Theo Van Dam smiled broadly as he accepted the 2008 Travis Jenkin’s award from IHRA on the final day of their popular international conference. An award presented to current or former drug users who have made an outstanding contribution to reducing drug related harm, this year Theo was publicly acknowledged by a distinguished international cohort of colleagues, peers and admirers.He wasn’t the only one smiling. As this greatly admired and respected Dutchman sprung up the steps of the IHRA stage to collect his award, I felt myself grinning from ear to ear. It was a great moment – a chance to acknowledge a lifetime of workfrom one of the most well known and respected drug user activists of our times.

Theo has been at the forefront of the fight for the health, welfare and rights of drug users, from within his home in the Netherlandsand internationally. His creative and freethinking approach, his willingness and commitment, his humour – all coupled with his highly principled nature has made him one of the most inspirational and active Drug User Activists in the world.

Throughout the 90’s Theo fought hard to put harm reduction not just on the political agenda, but inside the minds of the using community. His direct approach was unique and he was as up front about how he delivered harm reduction to Dutch users and dealers, as he was to government officials and drug workers.

To try and write succinctly on Theo’s unique contribution to harm reduction leaves me hampered. I’m not sure of the finer details or of the dates of his projects and work.

I do know however, that as a young activist at the IHRA conference in Geneva (in 98/9?) hearing of the work Theo was doing amongst the using community left me feeling anything was possible. His idea behind starting International Drug User Day on November 1st was inspired and the 1st ever international gathering in Amsterdam in 2002? is still talked about today. The IDUD in now an international event, where drug users all over the world unite to protest, lobby, debate and discuss ways to reduce drug related harm, throw off the shackles of stereotyping and discrimination, push forward for effective peer and societal education about drugs, drug use and drug users and save lives.

Theo Van Dam came with the first wave of true international user activism, his experience is valuable, his commitment and belief in his work, is total. This year, the harm reduction world acknowledged and, most importantly thanked Theo Van Dam for his efforts, and I, still an activist he still inspires, thank him wholeheartedly too.

Thanks Theo. xx

 

Update on the banning of foreigners from Netherlands Coffee Shops

Video streaming by Ustream

Many of us have been listening with trepidation as our favourite pot smoking friends on the continent -the Dutch – the ones who gave us sanctuary in the form of a safe place to buy dope when abroad, and a friendly environment to smoke it in, without the fear of getting busted, deported, imprisoned or ripped off are now slowly being forced to close their doors to us. Yes, that’s right- the foreigners who have appreciated being able to sample a well produced product, toked, eaten or vapourised in a chilled out, social environment – have always been grateful for the civilised and pragmatic way the Dutch have shared with us their wares. A welcome relief from the persecution and harassment many of us experience at home around ‘soft’ (and ‘hard’) drug use.

It never ceased to amaze me when visiting Holland that it was always the milder varieties of dope that were the biggest sellers to the Dutch people, they just didnt feel like they had to get smashed at every opportunity. They knew where the dope was, it wasn’t going anywhere, they could get the stronger stuff any time they wanted it in fact, which it turned out, was not that often.

A giggly smoke, some great conversation, a serious munch out on the way home and voila, gone is the image we have in the UK of smoking skunk that  always too strong, sitting catatonic in front of the TV, curtains drawn, paranoia setting in indoors coz its illegal to go outside and just be social with a spliff…

However, due to surrounding countries still not budging with their own punitive cannabis laws, it is inevitable that many of us in neighbouring countries – or as far afield as Australia and the US, feel compelled at times to skippity hop across the border to stock up on some of the good stuff, in a relaxed and hassle free exchange. But those who’ve been keeping an eye on the Dutch developments around both the shrinking the availability of Coffee Shops, as well as the drive to freeze out the pot smoking foreigner, will know that the first door, in the first city of Maastricht, has been firmly slammed shut.

The city of Maastricht, which is about 130 miles south of Amsterdam (towards the German border) is the first place – (though unlikely to be the last) which has just begun to expell what it sees as the boisterous drug tourists who clog up the streets,  engage in street dealing and petty crime, and regularly cause traffic jams. Determined to prevent them from accessing Maastricht’s coffee shops, hi-tech security scanners have been set up to check passports and ID cards, and police will carry out random checks.

In an effort to bring the coffee shop owners themselves on board with the governments cunning plan, only the Dutch, the Belgians and Germans will be permitted to cross the smokey threshold due to the fact that they make up the largest part of the 6000 customers who  pop in to light up every day.  The irony here is of course that if the vast majority of the 6000 smoking tourists visiting coffee shops in the Netherlands are indeed German and Belgian, how will this go any way to reduce the numbers of ‘drug tourists’ clogging up their streets? There is always more to these drug stories dear readers, so do check back to our earlier story on the Netherlands Coffee Shop ban to uncover a little more about the politics behind it.

However, what can be more easily deduced from this sinister exercise is that blackmarket sales of hash and grass will certainly increase, sold to the illegal alien up a back alley all because his passport won’t allow him to enter the smokey but safe environment of a Maastricht Coffee Shop. Let’s hope our British, Spanish or French friend doesn’t get ripped off, end up in a scuffle or get arrested – after all the cultivation and sale of ‘soft’ drugs is decriminalised – but not legal so one might well stilll end up in the boob.

With over 700 coffee shops across The Netherlands, correspondents say the Dutch justice ministry wants them to operate like members’ only clubs, serving only local residents. Yet despite  previous difficulties when trying to enshrine such an exclusive ban in law, The European Court of Justice ruled last December that Dutch authorities could indeed bar foreigners from cannabis-selling coffee shops on the grounds that they were combating drug tourism.

Check out the video above – it’s the lead story -and follow the link to NORMLs website, which is full of video debates, vox pops and discussions on the world of cannabis.

 

Related articles

Dutch step up efforts to ban tourists from coffee shops

Hi, Here’s a depressing news item from The Netherlands on their push to ban tourists from the cannabis coffee shops. Understandable in some ways considering the loud and drunk foreigners who, escaping from their own countries heavy handed laws on smoking socially, come across as rather unappealing in civilized Dutch coffee shops. But thanks to the EU, it may not be quite legal to ban other EU citizens from Dutch shops. When will they learn that people will only head to the street to score? A much less appealing option for everyone, surely? Anyway, here is the article, written 7th Dec 2010.

Using a spate of prohibition-related organized crime violence as a backdrop, the Dutch justice minister and the mayors of five southern Dutch cities said late last week that they will move quickly to implement a number of restrictions on the area’s cannabis coffee shops, including a “members only” pass system designed to keep foreigners out. But critics said such a move would only increase crime and lessen public order.

 

Eindhoven city center (Image courtesty Wikimedia)

After five violent incidents in Eindhoven in recent weeks, the mayors called on Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten to get involved, saying their police forces did not have the manpower to “end the drug war in the south of the country,” according to Die Telegraaf. After a Thursday night “emergency meeting,” the mayors and the minister said they would send in detectives from the national police to fight the violence, and that they would shut down some cafes, use tax and accounting laws to seize criminal assets, and institute a pass system.

The rightist national government wants to institute the pass system nationwide, so its implementation in the south could be viewed as a pilot program for the rest of the country. But it could run into a bump in the road in Brussels. A court case questioning whether barring European Union citizens from Dutch coffee shops constitutes discrimination will be heard next week.

Tilburg University researcher Nicole Maalste told the newspaper Trouw Monday that creating a pass system that bars foreigners from the coffee shops would not reduce violence, but increase it. Tourists who want to buy drugs will simply go to the street dealers to buy them, and many Dutch nationals do not want to be registered marijuana users, she said.

“Which problem do we want to solve with the pass?” she asked. “Eindhoven does not have a problem with drugs tourism.”

The coffee shops aren’t just lying down, either, said cannabis café representative Nol van Shaik in an email to supporters. “The coffee shops of the cities involved in this scheme have spoken out against the pass and its consequences,” he said. “Some of the mayors in the area are in favor of the pass, but half them are against it. There is a lot of criticism from opposition politicians and drug experts,” van Shaik noted.

The criminality that would supposedly be reduced by the Weedpass has nothing to do with the cannabis cafes, van Shaik continued. “It is organized international gangs involved with Ecstasy,” he said.

Van Shaik added that he did not expect the pass system to be implemented unless—and until—the discrimination case before the European Court of Justice is decided several months down the road. “As long as there is no verdict in this particular case, the Weedpass cannot be imposed upon us,” he said.

Eindhoven, Netherlands
 

by Phillip Smith, December 07, 2010, 01:49am Link to the original article is here

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