Each of our local areas have issues related to their local regions and issues their members feel are important. The only requirement for an issues is that it may not be supportive of abstinence based traditional drug systems or support racism, sexism or discrimination in any way.
Historically, marginalized groups often suffer more than others simply because they are already discriminated against and have already been denied access to culturally competent education and services. We encourage our members to explore and be true to their “authentic selves”. For many of our members USU spaces are the first place they have ever felt free and safe to be who they truly are. We do not allow hateful talk or judgmental words under any circumstances. Minority members, women, undocumented, LGBTQ and other marginalized members are welcomed and celebrated.
Why Harm Reduction
Harm reduction is an evidence-based and practical approach to dealing with the harms associated with drug use. Harm reduction is any program or policy designed to reduce drug-related harms without requiring the cessation or stopping of drug use. Along with efforts to address harms experienced on an individual level (such as through the distribution of safer use supplies and information), harm reduction also aims to respond to harm experienced on a structural or societal level (such as stigma, discrimination and criminalization). USU’s “Apathy to Action” Program focuses on structural and societal level problems. A2A is grounded in the values of respect, non-judgment, and in the promotion of self-determination and self-empowerment for folks involved. The literature shows that the very engaging of marginalized individuals and the building of networks and relationships within and across constituencies is impactful.
A2A mobilizes former and active drug users, toward advocating for sustained change in their communities through educational campaigns, participatory research, coalition building, and direct action. Within Urban Survivor’s Union’s dynamic and holistic model of organizing, our participants are offered programming which presents tangible skills in organizing drug users, presenting information, cultural competency, train the trainer disease prevention, and leadership development. Our programs nurture self- care and improve self- esteem as well as develop and build self -efficacy. We offer both age specific and intergenerational opportunities for people who have mental illness, struggle with addiction issues, and people who are affected by prohibition and drug war policies. We utilize a strengths based perspective and intersectional analysis of social justice. Harm reduction theory demands that participants shape the conversation and create the framework for action. Our members are our greatest asset. USU listens to it’s membership; our advocacy and community organizing issues are born directly from the presentations made by members during A2A weekly group meetings.
Asset based community development (ABCD) is an approach that catalyzes change and development based on utilizing the strengths and existing gifts and capacities of the people we are working with. We work to energize change from within. People who have struggled with chaotic drug use have vastly different life experiences and conditioning. There is not one “addict” experience or drug user experience. Now that being said, most people that have experiences using illicit drugs have experienced stigmatization on some level. They have felt the effects of prohibition and criminalization if not because of a penalty imposed on them by society then by their own self hate that stems from the collective hatred our society has imposed on the “drug user”.
An experience that sticks out in my own mind comes from an experience I had reversing an overdose. When the person woke from their overdose and we told her what had transpired, she said, “thank you, I can’t believe you cared enough about me to bring me back.” This is the experience I see all too often in the work we do at the union. People who believe they are not even worth reviving. We must energize change and development from within our fellow brothers and sisters. We must show them they are worth life. For truly sustainable development, it’s important to focus on a community’s strengths versus solely its needs and we do just this. People need to find passion for life again, they need to feel they are loved and wanted. They must feel they are needed and that they have a community who believes in them. So many of us are so broken and so tired. USU builds hope and restores passion.
Apathy to Action seeks to end the war on drugs and transform the lives of people who have lost hope due to these dangerous policies. USU believes that substance use and misuse must be viewed as a health issue. We understand there to be two kinds of change “piecemeal change” and “paradigm change”. USU will not stop until we have stopped punishing drug users, destroying their lives and futures, and created policies that promote health and healing. We are demanding systemic or paradigm change.
Our plan for bringing systemic change starts with increasing the knowledge of people who are most effected, the allies of this community and then the community at large. Once people have a basic understanding of how we got where we are then we believe attitudes and behavior will follow. Most people are unaware of how seeped in racism current drug policy actually is. Many drug users don’t even believe they have the capacity for change because they are taught they are powerless.
First we build awareness around the need for change. We increase knowledge of our membership, the community at large, and policy makers. We then promote new ideas, task forces are formed, new ideas are spoken about and shared. USU and our partners are creating a vision for life after the drug war. Simply ending the drug war will not be enough. The damage done and the toll on people and society requires an enormous development of new systems to help people reengage in their lives with promise and purpose. It is past time for a new paradigm beyond criminalization