Text AA

An Inspiration to So Many

203590_395301043896815_1135208731_nDave wrote Aaron (Peak)’s tribute just a little while back; that was so hard for him. Now we’re writing his … in my life, he was a major determinant. I was cooling my heels in Seattle-King County Health Department in 1989 (or some thing like that, I can never get the dates right – Holly will remember), bored stiff, when I decided to drive down to Tacoma and introduce myself to this bloke who was on the street with a card table. As he gave some fits to a client on the street, he said “Man, if you OD and kill yourself, don’t you come running to me …” and got a big laugh from the client, the volunteer workers with the program, the clients around and about, the lady from the Health Department (what was her name, Holly?) … and I think even from the two police sitting in the patrol car chatting with the workers, clearly friends of Dave’s.

My life took a 90 degree turn at that point … I went back to Oz knowing what I was going to be doing for the next 20 years; the Asian Harm Reduction Network, the first of the regional harm reduction networks, was inspired by NASEN, and Dave was there to help form it. The following year (Holly, which year?), Dave convened the first NASEC, in Tacoma: Aaron Peak was there, told of how he had a dream, and in this dream Dave had appeared and told him to go forth and save lives … and after Hawaii, Aaron proceeded  to do just that in Asia, introducing harm reduction to a continent. Fabio Mesquita was there, and told of Dave’s inspiration to him, and how he was introducing harm reduction to another continent (I’ve copied Fabio on this). In 1992 Dave was awarded the first International Rolleston Award, on behalf of the gallant band of needle-exchangers in the U.S., very many of whom were doing what they were doing because Dave inspired them.

Aside from the intense, warm, trusting, accepting, lasting personal friendship Dave gave, this is what stays with me about his contribution – the ability to inspire others. When the accounting is made of Dave’s contribution, take into account the contributions of all those Dave inspired to contribute too.

Dave_PurchaseAnd all the people Dave inspired share one characteristic with him, one he had in spades, one he’d almost cornered the market on – like Aaron, like Fabio, like so many in this field, he accepted people for what they were, he valued them for their very existence, he made it known to them and everyone else that their lives were equally important as his and everyone else’s. This is the hallmark and the revolution of the harm reduction movement; it’s the hallmark of all the great people the harm reduction movement has spawned – and Dave stamped this all over the North American scene, and through his acolytes all over the world. The significance of his contribution to harm reduction – which was very much a part of Dave’s being and life, he didn’t have different personae for different worlds, what you saw was what you got was what was there – cannot be overestimated.

I cannot believe I am writing in the past tense about him; though we saw each other only once or twice a year, his presence in the world was a taken-for-granted, a defining pole, a constant point of reference when there was trouble or confusion, an ethical touchstone. I feel his loss as a void, in my life, and in the whole world of those who stand up for the powerless – really stand up, through their lives and being, not just through rhetoric. Not that he wasn’t as master of rhetoric too … whatever it took, that’s what had to be done.

Dave deserves a biography, not just a tribute. A book, a film, a documentary of an extraordinary person, an extraordinary life, in an extraordinary time. He should go on inspiring … even if it’s just for the few old farts he left behind, like Fabio and me and Jimmy and some of the others on this email, whose lives he changed forever …



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