Harm reduction as a practice originated with sex workers, substance users, people in poverty, Indigenous peoples, Black community workers, and other “others” - people who understand from their lived experience that judgment and punishment can only further marginalize those already in crisis. While some non-profit orgs and government programs have mimicked or adopted some practices of harm reduction, their conditional, recovery-centered efforts—while better than nothing—allows too many to fall through the cracks. Instead, an unconditional peer-to-peer approach is a vital end goal. This fact is something I personally know too well, and while it is supposedly better “to have loved and lost,” I’d prefer to have my loved ones here and imperfect than dead in pursuit of a forced abstinence that would grant them access to housing, respect, a place in society. Hassan has not only laid out the intricacies of this practice but gathered testimony, strategy, history, and wisdom from people who have created, worked in and lived by the principles of liberatory harm reduction. Everyone who seeks a more compassionate society, but especially folks who work in public health or medicine, please heed this gift of a book.— From Ben's Picks
Liberatory Harm Reduction is one of the most important interventions of the 20th century, and yet a compilation of its critical stories and voices was, until now, seemingly nowhere to be found. Saving Our Own Lives, an anthology of essays from long-time organizer Shira Hassan, fills this gap by telling the stories of how sex workers, Black, Indigenous, and people of color, queer folks, trans, gender non-conforming, and two-spirit people are - and have been - building systems of change and support outside the societal frameworks of oppression and exploitation. This is a collective story of trans women of color, who were sex workers and radical political organizers, who created shared housing to ensure that young people had safe places to sleep. It is the story of clean syringes, "liberated" from empathetic doctors' offices by activists who were punk women of color who distributed them among injection drug users in squats in the East Village, and the early AIDS activists who made sure that everyone knew how to use them. It is the story of Black Panthers and the Young Lords taking over Lincoln Park Hospital in the Bronx to demand and ultimately create community-accessible drug treatment programs; and of bad date sheets passed between sex workers in Portland, who created a data collection tool that changed how prison abolitionists track systemic violence.
At a political moment when Liberatory Harm Reduction and mutual aid are more important than ever, this book serves as an inspiration and a catalyst for radical transformation of our world.
About the Author
Shira Hassan is the founder of Just Practice, a capacity building project for organizations and community members, activists and leaders working at the intersection of transformative justice, harm reduction and collective liberation. She is the former executive director of the Young Women's Empowerment Project, an organizing and grassroots movement building project led by and for young people of color that have current or former experience in the sex trade and street economies. A lifelong harm reductionist and prison abolitionist, Shira is the author of Saving Our Own Lives: A Liberatory Practice of Harm Reduction; and along with Mariame Kaba is the co-author of Fumbling Towards Repair: A Workbook for Community Accountability Facilitators. Shira's work has been discussed on National Public Radio, The New York Times, The Nation, In These Times, Bill Moyers, Everyday Feminism, Bitch Media, TruthOut and Colorlines.