Debbie Krull, “The Woodward’s Occupation & Woodsquat: Then”

A talk for the “Woodward’s: Then & Now” panel at the Right to the City conference organized by Vancouver Action and Streams of Justice on 6 November 2010.

I have been asked to describe the Woodward’s Occupation & Woodsquat and how it affected me personally. The only way I could possibly attempt to honor the Occupation & Woodsquat is to use the Medicine Wheel as a framework. My name is Debbie Strong Woman Krull. I am Cree & Belgian, fostered in German, African & English families & adopted into a Irish, English, Ukrainian, Scottish & Dutch family. I have also been adopted by Gitxsan & Nisga’a families. In Sept 2002 I was an active steering committee member of the Anti Poverty Committee (APC), which I co founded as a momsonthedrive member. Myself and Ivan Drury were the voted APC delegates to attend Jim Leyden’s organizing meeting for a proposed 9 day occupation of the Woodward’s Building for homeless action week.

I had absolutely no relationship with my cultural identity or the aboriginal community until the Woodward’s action. This was one of the many gifts & teachings I received at the Woodward’s Occupation and Woodsquat.

The East – The Physical Teachings of the Woodward’s Occupation & Woodsquat

This action took place on within the traditional unceded territory of the Coast Salish People in the DTES, spearheaded by one of their support & outreach workers who worked in the community for over 10 years (Jim Leyden). He had done a call out within his network in the DTES community & the established network of social justice based organizers & organizations who had been organizing to resist the BC Liberal cutbacks within their respected entities steadfast for a year… and in the spirit of solidarity had been brought together on a 24/7 accessible listserve & in some cases listserves. We were basically Facebook before Facebook even existed. Calls to actions & support demos were routine.

The South – The Spiritual Teachings

I’m aware many people have different spiritual languages so I will be as neutral as I can be.

We were brought together by something that was greater than our physical selves and something greater than our emotional & mental selves kept us together: OUR SPIRIT. I can share that I’m still affected by the spiritual relationship we had and have at Woodward’s.

Our sprit grew strength as discussions of the occupation vision & demands formed within the circle within the occupation. Our spirit transitioned from being separate persons & organizations with a common goal to being a community with a common goal that established relationships with the international community consciousness.

The West – The Emotional Teachings

Each and every person that attended or supported the occupation & squat has a strong relationship with their emotions—this cannot be taken for granted. Remember many of the people at large are silenced by their own emotions and stay at home and do nothing and call it apathy & apolitical. We worked side by side with people who listen to their emotions and take ACTION on them—passionately refusing to be silenced or oppressed. This was real rewarding & challenging dynamic to work & learn in.

When people feel safe… which we felt in the beginning—they can begin to feel other emotions and we witnessed and experienced many emotions: Solidarity, relief, happiness, fear, love, infactuation, anger, frustration, sadness, hunger, contentment, security, silliness, protective & militancy. Each emotion carries deep meaningful teachings from direct experience for each individual: Self esteem and self confidence were gained once the silence was broken in the space we created: we were extremely blessed to have people within our circle that had the gifts of listening, documenting & advocating building unity, love & trust. Our Unity was the biggest threat to the City, the Province & the Olympic bid process. The unity blew apart the original 9 day action & the evictions the injunctions. It was our internationally witnessed confidence & determination made them collaborate & strategizes a plan that entertained discussions about our demands. Because of our unity the city bought the building after they learnt that we had no intention of backing down to negotiate with the developer in fact we told them we’ll buy the building.

The brutal tactics used were definitely intended to instil fear—it didn’t work on some but it worked on me. I was definitely afraid of having Wren apprehended. One of our supporters did have his child apprehended and one of the reasons was attending a homeless demonstration. He requested our support so I went to his family court case and addressed the poor bashing. But the experience was definitely enough to reduce my involvement and change my tactics.

The North – Intellectual Gifts of Woodward’s

I’m going to list “tags” of the social language that was used and shared daily and was imprinted into my mind for life: Home, Community, Safety, Social Housing, Addiction, Harm Reduction, Homelessness, Cop watch, Deportation, Police Brutality, Affidavits, Legal Defense, Injunctions, Colonization, De Colonization, Gentrification, De Gentrification, Imperialism, Class War, General Strike, Neo Liberalism, Capitalism, Unceded Territory, Status, Non Status, Anti Oppression, Anti Homophobic, Anti Transphobic, Solidarity, Living Wage, Squatting, Self determination, Poor-bashing & Feminism.

The Woodward’s Occupation, the Woodsquat & Woodward’s 54 represented more than squatting—they were our front line warriors that put their lives in our hands.