In the fall of 2000, John Richardson listened to a man tell a story about the Downtown Eastside. The man described being pushed and knocked to the ground by a cop on East Hastings Street. Police harassment had become so commonplace that residents no longer felt like they had any rights under the law. Justice was out of reach for many in this impoverished neighborhood.
After hearing other residents repeat similar stories, John – a recent law school graduate – could not ignore what was happening to people in this twelve-block stretch of Vancouver. As an environmental advocate committed to using the law to affect change, John realized that people living in the Downtown Eastside needed legal tools to tackle the problems they faced on a daily basis.
Over the next few months John attended meetings where residents openly disclosed their accounts of police abuse and the impacts of a decade of provincial and federal cuts to social services and housing programs. Recognizing the power of people’s lived experience and shocked by the rights abuses, John connected with neighbourhood residents, members of the legal community, and local activists – including VANDU founder Ann Livingston. Together they prepared to act.
The following spring Pivot Legal Society was born. John explains, “the concept of Pivot came to me fully clothed— name, concept, everything.” The pivot point which allows maximum force to be exerted on a given structure made perfect sense as a symbol. By making the most tangible violations of human rights the focus of our efforts, Pivot could create the kind of force needed to carry out legal campaigns around policing, housing, and sex work that would result in meaningful positive change for people living in poverty.
Since then, Pivot has exerted this force through legal challenges, legal education campaigns, public engagement, and innovative projects that highlight the struggles, hopes, and insights of people living on the margins of society. The success of the organization can be attributed to an unflinching passion for justice, the support of thousands of people, and strong partnerships in the downtown eastside and beyond. With compassion, force, and resilience, this tiny staff and an incredible body of volunteers and supporters allows Pivot to function as a punchy vehicle for social and systemic change.