Friday, March 21, 2014

On Your Mark

Awoke this morning as I often do to our city's once top-rated commercial AM radio station and its morning host interview, with a degree of genuine hostility, the former front man of the Portland Hotel Society, Mark Townsend, as the latter explained in a calm and reasonable voice some of the "questionable expenses" the PHS accrued while managing the 17 million dollars or so of government contracts given to his society to help with the lives of those that too few in this city give a shit about, lives that the PHS helped to turn around, and, in many cases, save.

As someone who has lived and worked in the downtown eastside, someone who has dedicated the better part of his life to a means over ends philosophy, I can relate to the particularities of this most complicated place and how sometimes these particularities lead to decisions (sometimes contradictory) that are geared more towards things happening than the way they happen, something I learned as an auxiliary volunteer at The Lookout emergency services shelter in 1983, and later (1987-1993) as a musician working the neighbourhood's bars and clubs (many of the musicians of this era went on to work at aid agencies like the PHS and The Lookout).

All of which is to say that I am sympathetic to Townsend and admire the way he handled himself on a program designed not to explain the particularities of the work the PHS did in the downtown eastside (and indeed throughout the world) but further inflame those ignorant of this kind of work. For example, when the radio host asked about expenses for flowers, Townsend spoke of PHS managers who, after experiencing a particularly stressful assignment, were sent bouquets in recognition of that stress (compassion). Same with expenses related to bringing to town the deputy mayor of Rio de Janeiro, whose knowledge of his city's social issues were seen to be relevant to our own (knowledge sharing).

Of course in saying all this I am aware that private radio stations are under the illusion that they need to take a provocative approach to reportage rather than one of conciliation, as outrage, they insist, drives ratings, and ratings raise ad revenues. Townsend knows this, and I am sure he was equally aware that this radio station's approach to him (Townsend is not Rob Ford) would be the price he had to pay to explain to those tweeters and emailers who, no matter how hard you try, will forever cling to narratives impressed upon them about worlds they feel threatened by and, as a matter of childish pride, refuse to understand.

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