The poem below was read by Bud Osborn, a poet, former user of drugs, and activist from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, at a workshop that was held as part of the Inaugural International Conference in Critical Geography, held in Vancouver in August 1997. The workshop, organized by then graduate student and area activist Jeff Sommers, brought Bud together with gentrification scholar Neil Smith and local novelist Pete Trower for an evening of readings, comparisons, and discussions around gentrification at the Downtown Eastside Senior’s Centre, in the heart of the city’s poorest neighbourhood. The audience was made up both of local residents and of activists and critical geographers from all over the world.

It was first published in Society and Space in 1998. We reproduce it to mark Bud’s death on May 6, 2014. Bud continued to ‘raise shit’ through poetry, music, and activism. He was a leader in the successful campaign for innovative harm reduction programs for people who use drugs in the Downtown Eastside – a campaign recounted in his book, Raise Shit! Social Action Saving Lives, written with Susan Boyd and Donald MacPherson (2009). Two months before his passing, Take Back Space(Osborn, 2014), a poem that draws on geographer David Sibley’s work on geographies of exclusion, was published in a Downtown Eastside community newsletter. Bud never wavered from the campaign to resist the displacement of this ‘poor beloved community reeling from global upheavals’.

The poem published in Society & Space is an eloquent and passionate cry from the streets, that combines anger, passion and empathy, but it is also a scholarly analysis, that deliberately works in (and reworks) academic insights. One participant at the session described it as the best ‘paper’ he heard presented at the conference, which is both a compliment to Bud, and an implied criticism of the work of many self-defined academics. Like many in the neighbourhood, his poetry combines personal experience, political insight, and an artistic sensibility. He was pleased that the poem was published here, in order to enhance outside awareness of the Downtown Eastside’s struggles and successes. While the community has proven remarkably tenacious and creative, the imperative to speak ‘hope and possibility into situations of apparent possibility’ remains.

— Nicholas Blomley and Eugene McCann, Department of Geography, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada 


Boyd SC, D MacPherson, and B Osborn 2009 Raise Shit!: Social Action Saving Lives. Fernwood Publishing.
Osborn B 2014 Take Back Space. Carnegie Newsletter, March 15.   

raise shit

downtown eastside poem of resistance

by Bud Osborn

“…the myth of the frontier is an invention that rationalizes the violence of gentrification and displacement”

neil smith 1996

“these pioneers in the gradual gentrification of the downtown eastside say their hopes for a middle-class lifestyle are undermined by the tenderloin scene down the street”

doug ward 1997

“prominent amid the aspects of this story which have caught the imagination are the massacres of innocent peoples, the atrocities committed against them and, among other horrific excesses, the ways in which towns, provinces, and whole kingdoms have been entirely cleared of their native inhabitants”

bartolome de la casas 1542

there is a planetary resistance

against consequences of globalization

against poor people being driven from land they have occupied

in common

and in community

for many years

and while resistance to and rapidity of global gentrification

differs according to specific local conditions

we in the downtown eastside

in the poorest and most disabled and ill community in Canada

are part of the resistance

which includes

the zapatistas in chiapas mexico

the ogoni tribe in nigeria

and the resistance efforts on behalf of and with

the lavalas in Haiti

the minjung in korea

the dalits in india

the zabaleen in Egypt

the johatsu in japan

and these are names for

the floor

the abandoned

the outcasts

the garbage people

the homeless poor

and marginalized people

and gentrification has become a central characteristic

of what neil smith perceives as

“a revengeful and reactionary viciousness

against various populations accused of ‘stealing’ the city

from the white upper classes”

and this viciousness and violence

brought to the downtown eastside

by friendly predators

such as builders planners architects landlords bankers and politicians

is like violence brought to our community

by other predators

by johns and oblivion seekers

by sensationalizing journalists

by arrogant evangelizing Christians

predators like

developers and real estate agents

who remind of no one so much

as gilbert Jordan

the serial killer

who came down here repeatedly

and seduced bribed and bullied

10 native women

into drinking alcohol until they were dead

and one woman

revived after a night with jordan

though pronounced dead on arrival

at st pauls hospital

described jordan as

“a real decent-looking person

very mild-mannered

a real gentleman

he looked like a school teacher

white shirt and tie

I trusted him”

and in our situation in the downtown eastside

the single weapon we wield

like the weapon native indian prophets

like the weapon ancient hebrew prophets

used in situations of vicious displacement

and threatened destruction of their communities

was the word

words against the power

of money and law and politics and media

words against a global economic system

the word ‘hebrew’ originally designated not a racial class

but a social class

of despised drifters and outcasts

who existed on the margins of middle eastern cultures

and those advocates

those ancient hebrew prophets said

“the wealthy move the boundaries

and the poor have to keep out of the way

the poor spend the night naked, lacking clothes

with no covering against the cold

the child of the poor is exacted as security

from the city comes the groan of the dying

and the gasp of the wounded crying for help

damn those who destroy the huts of the poor

plundering their homes instead of building them up

those who tear the skin from off our people

who grind the faces of the poor

who join house to house

who add field to field

until there is room for no one but them

those who turn aside the way of the afflicted

who trample upon the oppressed”

and the native prophets of the americas who said

“when these times arrive

we will leave our homes like dying deer

the land will be sold and the people will be moved

and many things that we used to have in this land

will be taken from us

we have been made to drink

of the bitter cup of humiliation

they have taken away our lands

until we find ourselves fugitives vagrants and strangers

in our own community

our existence as a distinct community

seems to be drawing to a close

our position may be compared

to a solitary tree in an open space

where all the forest trees around have been prostrated

by a furious tornado”

we have become a community of prophets in the downtown eastside

rebuking the system

and speaking hope and possibility into situations

of apparent impossibility

a first nations’ man recently told me

he had come to the downtown eastside to die

he heard the propaganda that this is only a place of death disease and despair

and since his life had become a hopeless misery

he came here specifically to die

but he said

since living in the downtown eastside

what with the people he has met

and the groups he has found

he now wants very much to live

and his words go directly

to the heart of what makes for real community

a new life out of apparent death

and this is what we speak and live

with our words our weapons

our words

like bolts of lightning in a dark night

lighting our way

our words

like tears like rain like cries like hail from our hearts

feeling with each other in our suffering for each other

our words

angry as thunder exploding in the ears of those

who would ignore or dismiss or inflict upon us

what they in their ignorance think is best for us

our words defiant as streetkids in a cop’s face

our words

brilliant and beautiful as the rainbow I saw

spanning our streets

our words

of resistance and comfort and commitment

like mountains

our words

prophetic on behalf of the hard-pressed poor

our words

buttons tshirts fliers inserts newsletters pamphlets

posters spraypaint slogans stickers placards speeches

interviews essays poetry songs letters chalks paints


for as one prophet said

“when all is dark the murderer leaves his bed

to kill the poor and oppressed”

our words

to block the murderers’ paths

our words spoken by

jeff and muggs and eldon and kathleen and frank and maggie and

carl and lori and duncan and margaret and mark and sonny and ken

and fred and sheila and liz and tora and terri and ian and chris and

bob and leigh and jen and shawn and darren and sarah and

irene and cathy and ann and lorelie and nick and linda and lorraine

and john and Joanne and judy and allison and sharon and deb and

marg and dan and jean and don and libby and carol and lou and dayle

and mo and barb and ellen and sandy and torn and luke and gary and

travis and bruce and paul and deidre and jim and so many others

our words and our presence create

a strange and profound unity

outraged at each other

disappointing each other

misinterpreting each other

reacting against each other

resenting each other

unhealed wounds dividing us

when to be about unity

is to be caught in a crossfire

of conflicting ambitions understandings and perspectives

still our words and presence create

a strange and profound and strong unity

as in memory of

the long hard nerve-wracking battles we’ve fought

for the carnegie centre

against the casino

for crab park

against brad holme

for zero displacement by-laws

against hotel evictions

for poor people living in woodwards

against condominium monstrosities

and for our very name

the downtown eastside

removed from city maps

the most stable community and neighbourhood in Vancouver

suddenly disappeared

but recovered through struggle

our name reclaimed

but the meetings

the pressure

the downtown eastside community

besieged and beleaguered

strung-out and dissipated

running on constant low grade burn-out fever

meetings and meetings and meetings

a dozen fronts to fight at the same time

deal with one and a dozen more appear

another dehumanizing media story

or new condo threat

a hundred needs crying out all at once

a hundred individuals with emergencies crying for a response

sirens and sirens and sirens

construction noise

automobile mayhem

a disabled population

a poor and ill population


up against globalization

pressure cooker emotional atmosphere

excruciating questions and dilemmas

so much happens so fast

how much compromise?

how to organize?

where to fight?

more sirens and screams and break-ins

welfare cuts

more murders and suicides

more bodies on the sidewalks and in the alloys and parks

space and places for poor people shrinking

and the ambiguities of advocacy

the rumours

the well-founded paranoias

the political manipulations

exploitations confusions deliberate obfuscations

and seductions of the gentrification system

the backroom deals somewhere else

in office towers and government offices

meetings and more meetings

and yet

beneath the ostensible reason

for attending another goddamned meeting

is that which truly holds us together

holds and has held every real community together



not as passive abstraction or a commodity privatized

but love

as fiery personal and collective social justice passion

love as in our public celebrations

love as in our public grieving

love going past fatigue again

love taking risks in the face of uncertainty

love as stubbornness sticking to community principles

love as willingness to go one more length

to make one more leaflet

love sitting down together one more time

love saying hello to hate and fear and goodbye

love as resistance tolerance and acceptance


for this poor beloved community reeling from global upheavals


taking on the consequences of a system producing

more wounded

more damaged

more excluded

more refugees

more unemployed and never-to-be-employed

and love’s

immense capacity to care

and love as courage

like the other day near main and hastings

an old white man headed across hastings

in the middle of the block

traffic roared and blasted in both directions

the old man was using a cane and moving very slowly

his eyes fixed somewhere beyond

it sure looked like he’d never make it

but would become

another vehicular maiming or death down here

and then a native fellow

waiting at the bus stop

like a matador dodging furious bulls

dodged into the traffic

and stopped it

using his body as a shield

and escorted the old white man

safely to the curb

words and courage and love and hope and unity

if only we had

the means for self-determination


“the real estate cowboys … also enlisted the cavalry of city government for

… reclaiming the land and quelling the natives, in its housing policy,

drug crackdowns, and especially in its parks strategy, the city devoted

its efforts not toward providing basic services and living opportunities

for existing residents but toward routing many of the locals and

subsidizing opportunities for real estate development”

wrote neil smith about the lower east side of new york

sounds familiar literal

like the day the police showed-up on horseback

to patrol the 100 block of east hastings

horses on the sidewalk

where some of the most ill and suffering human beings

most drugged and drunk and staggering human beings

slipped and stumbled through the huge horse turds

left laying on the sidewalk

I remember attending a kind of gentrification summit

called by a vancouver city planner

to examine the city’s victory square redevelopment plan

david ley jeff sommers nick blomley and chris olds

reached a similar conclusion

the plan does nothing to prevent

displacement and gentrification

but when recently reminded of this verdict

the city planner still pushing his plan said

“I don’t care if god and david ley …”

and that’s just it

the necessity for heeding

the prophetic blast and rallying cry

delivered by larry campbell

now the provincial coroner

in the carnegie centre last summer

“raise shit’ he said

raise shit against the kind of “urban cleansing”

gentrification unleashes

it’s a war

against the poorest of the poor

1000 overdose deaths in the downtown eastside in 4 years

highest rate and number of suicides in vancouver

lowest life expectancy for both men and women

fatal epidemics of aids and hepatitis c

and lack of humane housing

identified as a major factor

in all this violence against us

raise shit

when a friend of mine a gay native man tells me

“I’ll try anything to get a decent home

I’m gonna become a mental case

I’ll even go into an institution

if it’ll help me get a decent home”

raise shit

when both young people and hardcore addicts either deliberately infect

themselves with h.i.v. or take no precautions to prevent infection so that

they have a better chance at obtaining housing income health care and


raise shit

when a city cop in a newspaper column says “the locals were at their best

fighting and howling” and calls drug addicts


raise shit

when an extremely influential north american

theoretician of displacement george kelling

is brought to vancouver by the business people and the police

to define and divide our community against itself

against panhandlers and prostitutes

raise shit

when a city planner involved with the convention centre scam says “the

voters of vancouver can easily live with 20 to 25 000 homeless people and

not even notice it”

and when I think of raising shit

I think of this basketball team I once played on

composed of middle-aged beat-up alcoholics and addicts

from the streets

who’d been sober for awhile

and we entered a city recreational league

against teams that were

younger stronger faster healthier and more skilled

and though we lost most games by a large margin

we determined that

no matter what the score

each hotshot team we played would know

by their fatigue and sweat and bruises

that they had been in a game

that they were up against an opponent

we knew we couldn’t out jump or outrun those teams

but we sure could raise shit

better than they could

and amazingly we actually won a few games

to raise shit is to actively resist

and we resist with our presence

with our words

with our love

with our courage

we resist

person by person

square foot by square foot

room by room

building by building

block by block

we resist

because we are a community

of prophets of activists of advocates

of volunteers and agency workers

and we you and I us

are all that stands between

the unique vulnerable troubled life-giving and death-attacked

community of the downtown eastside

we are all that stands between our vast community of thousands

and those who would

gentrify and displace and replace it

replace with greed

the singular leadership we have here

where it is said we lack

a single dynamic individual leader

but we have

the most powerful leader there is

the most effective leader we can have

in this grave situation

our community

our community itself

has emerged as our leader

the downtown eastside community itself

leads us

and it is to our credit that this is so

for it is from our

prophetic courageous conflictual and loving unity

that our community

raises shit

and resists