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North Star Statement


2017 has been a challenging year for many of us in the harm reduction movement. Between a dramatic shift in the political landscape and the increased toll of the overdose epidemic, we are challenged to rethink how we do our work, and to what ends. What is the work of harm reduction in this moment, and how do we imagine harm reduction futures?

Harm Reduction Coalition remains deeply committed to our mission and the harm reduction principles that have grounded our efforts and inspired our staff for over two decades. But we also recognize that we’re at a critical juncture in our movement, demanding that we take a more strategic and intersectional approach to securing transformational change.

We realized that we were seeking a new way to orient us, a clear vision to guide us moving forward: a North Star.

On behalf of the Harm Reduction Coalition, we are thrilled to present our new North Star statement to you—our beloved community.

Harm Reduction Coalition creates spaces for dialogue and action that help heal the harms caused by racialized drug policies.

Our North Star statement has three key implications for Harm Reduction Coalition:

First, the mandate to create spaces for dialogue and action compels us to play new roles as conveners, facilitators, coalition builders, and mobilizers that move us beyond our traditional core activities in training, capacity building, and policy. Second, the call to help heal harms makes explicit a broader vision of harm reduction that extends beyond prevention and risk reduction, pushing us towards reparative strategies to address trauma, social divisions, injustices and inequities, and health. Third, we name racialized drug policies as a nexus of damage and threat to all people who use drugs.

Our drug policies – the set of laws, systems, practices, and assumptions that govern how we treat people who use drugs – have never been race-neutral. From their origins as tools to target immigrants and people of color, to the recent public health turn towards compassion for the predominantly white families and communities caught up in the opioid crisis, our shifting responses to drugs have always been intertwined with race. Racialized drug policies both reflect and amplify profound disparities and structures of disadvantage.

Harm reduction alone cannot heal the harms of the drug war without bridging the divides it has caused. We live in a world where the presumption of guilt and criminality follows nearly every black and brown person every day. This is the rationale for our North Star statement: the importance of remembering who historically has borne the burden of oppressive, racialized drug policies. We are loudly proclaiming that we will never forget.

This may be challenging for some of us to hear, but the harm reduction community is not immune to institutional racism—no matter how enlightened we believe we are. And if we can’t talk about racism, we’ll never see the end of the institutional violence, social inequities, and health disparities caused by the US drug war.

The harm reduction community operates within a society built by racism. To advance our work, we have to look at ourselves and our organizations to identify patterns, practices, and policies that perpetuate inequities between whites and people of color—especially among those of us who use drugs. Real change requires having hard conversations, hard work, patience, and advanced planning. It may involve conflict, but through conflict we grow, we transform.

Our belief is that the harm reduction community is strong enough to look past our fear by collectively examining whether we are truly reflective of the changes we want to see for the communities we serve. In doing so, we help move harm reduction from singular public health interventions to an intersectional approach that centers racial and social justice.

We hope you’ll join us on this journey of discovery. We can’t promise it will be easy, but we hope it will be rewarding. Let’s work together to identify and address institutional racism and personal biases. Let’s commit to growing out of our comfort zones. Let’s truly unite around the most important thing that binds our work together: never forgetting who’s been most harmed and fighting for the health and dignity of everyone affected by the drug war.

In Solidarity,

Monique and Daniel

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