I got off the plane in Washington two days ago and wow was it hot. I headed straight to the convention centre hosting AIDS 2012 and it was great to see some familiar faces - Katrina, Donald MacPherson from the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, Clare and David from the Portland Hotel Society, Michaela Montaner from the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy – after the long journey from Vancouver.
On Thursday morning AIDS 2012 was in full swing. The Global Village was buzzing with presentations, demos, and dancing. Katrina and I started the day by attending a packed session entitled, The Oldest Profession: Is Sex Work, Work? The panel speakers in the room were amazing and the live feed from the Sex Workers Freedom Festival in Kolkata (a satellite meeting organized because the US banned entry for sex workers – and drug users for that matter) featured speakers who made impassioned arguments on the legitimacy of sex work as work. It was great to be in room full of allies, united in their call for the decriminalization of adult sex work.
From there we attended two more sessions – one on legal tactics as advocacy tools and the other on the effects of US drug policy on global drug policy and HIV/AIDS. We rounded out the day with a private small group session with people who are working on decriminalization of sex work around the world (including people from Uganda, South Africa, Macedonia, the US, and Canada).
Although the day was a blur of sights, sounds, new faces, and ideas – I was struck by how similar all of our work was. The context, the laws, the culture were all different but the issues and battles all seemed very similar. The sessions on Thursday left me with one burning question – what is Pivot’s role in this international movement for human rights?
I am not sure I have a complete answer. In fact, I am sure that I don’t. However, after only two days in this international context, I am sure that a key part of the answer comes down to Pivot’s connection and respect for the lived experience of our clients. During one of the sessions I was listening to Anya Sarang talk about the horrific circumstances for drug users in Russia. I was amazed (but not shocked) to hear about the Russian government’s Orwellian response to the issue – basically denying that opiate substitution treatment has any positive health outcomes. I found myself wondering what was motivating the Russian government’s position. Whatever the motivation, I am certain it has nothing to do with evidence, and even less to do with people’s lived experience of drug use in Russia.
Pivot’s work is grounded in the lived experience of sex workers, drug users, homeless people and those who have experienced police brutality. Their stories form the evidentiary foundation to all of our legal work. They are our clients, our source of inspiration, and our priority. When in court, or at an international conference we are working to bring those stories, those voices, into the discourse. We are also offering our people-centered strategic legal action as a model that can produce success and real change for people living at the margins of society.