by Katherine Dodds

In this issue of News of the Cool, we are focusing on the projects of our current cohorts, specifically the Outreach Street Nurse Program as seen in the multi-platform DVD Bevel Up, and the Aboriginal Program Chee Mamuk. Both are part of the Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) division of the BC Centre For Disease Control, and we are linking their approaches to prevention with our Campaign 4 Corporate Harm Reduction.

Harm Reduction is a loaded term. According to Wikipedia (the authority on everything!), “Harm reduction refers to certain controversial public health policies intended to reduce the harm associated with illegal activities such as illicit prostitution and drug use.” So when we applied it to corporations it was a tongue in cheek way of addressing the concept that the very nature and legal form of the corporation has led to its addictive law-breaking (and ‘psychopathic’) tendencies. Straitjacket or Cure? Can we rehabilitate a psychopath?
What we are on about is not just harm reduction but social marketing (not to be confused with mere marketing by using social media). Two of the key trademarks of social marketing are to identify root causes, and also to change behavior or policy by working with target market based on where they are now rather than where we would like them to be. Harm Reduction becomes part of the bigger goal of positively changing the behavior of individuals, or of the systems that control their behavior.

Of course we’d like to change the very nature of the corporate form. That’s our ultimate vision. But in the meantime, in the sense we're using it for the campaign, harm reduction is about making chips at the problems rather than waiting for a complete overhaul (aka calling corporations to account for those harms they would prefer to externalize).

In the current moment, business as usual has failed us all. And what we can be sure of is that as the economic crisis spreads, the substances that dull our pain will not be suffering a similar downturn in consumption. The sales of legally addictive substances like beer are already showing signs of growth. I can’t prove it but I’m pretty sure that street drugs sales are not down.

And in the midst of all this, many middle class North Americans are now facing potential homelessness, a crisis that is usually seen solely as the plight of the marginalized. But as some of the Outreach Street nurses pointed out in a meeting we had about this e’Zine, marginalize is something that we as a society do to people -- until we find ourselves on the other side of the coin.

The mainstream media is still not casting the economic situation as a crisis of the corporate model. It’s being interpreted more as a lack of regulation and a culture of greed within the financial industry. People are starting to make links to years of wage declines and growing inequality but not corporate power or structural imbalances of the corporate model. And corporate culture is very good at making marginalization seem normal and inevitable.

Those involved in primary health care also understand that the system is part of the problem. As Outreach Street Nurse Caroline Brunt puts it: "The biggest disease in health care is control and power. We are like a bloody corporation."

In a recent issue of the Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives publication (CCPS Monitor) Bruce Alexander connected the root causes of addiction to the concept of corporate globalization. (His article was in response to Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente’s recurring damnation of harm reduction efforts amongst Vancouver’s addicted and homeless populations.) According to Alexander, “hypercapitalism and social fragmentation are the underlying causes of devastating spread of addiction in modern times.” Addiction will not be controlled, he says, “until society learns to domesticate modern technology and the free market economic system so that it serves us psychologically as well as economically.”

It is precisely this understanding that effective prevention (and intervention) is most likely to succeed when it fosters connection to community that leads to Chee Mamuk’s approach. Using culturally appropriate programs, their mandate is to reach out to Aboriginal communities in BC. This capacity to understand the interconnected nature of people as social beings is what makes empowers the message that to stigmatize individuals for any reason is to damage the social body. Put in less academic terms, it just doesn’t help. But connecting people to community does help.

Ultimately our one connecting message for this issue is to highlight the efforts to re-humanize people and, while we are at it, to demonize the corporate form and it’s absurd legal definition as a “person,” a person that cares more for profit than for society.

—Hello Cool World & The Corporation