In response to the apparent dangers that intoxicated individuals pose to themselves and to society (when they are poor) and the necessity of detaining Winnipeg’s intoxicated public (if they can’t pay at the door) -Margaret Howison
Have you ever been shown the Indian Macarena?
“As a volunteer it is instilled into my head to treat Intoxicated persons with compassion. We are reminded that we could easily trade places with people suffering from substance abuse, we are only one paycheck away from being on the street and we don’t know what it’s like to be in their shoes. I can’t even begin to tell you how much the Watch Patrol does not target Aboriginal peoples and harass them.” -downtown Winnipeg Biz volunteer
We may be one paycheque away from clearing our student loan or visa debt, some of us may be a few credits away from a university degree, and may even have been few grade points short of attaining a full university scholarship, but I doubt that as university students any of us are ‘one pay check away’ from being in the shoes of the drunken public of downtown Winnipeg.
I doubt that many of us are one generation away from the bloody effects of colonialism, one generation away from cultural devastation and systemic imperialism that continues to create poor people and subsequently denies them a space to be poor. I doubt that many of us are much more than a phone call away from our parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles that encouraged us to be in school; I doubt that many of us haven’t at times saved ourselves from a night of serious debt, i.e. “I can’t pay for dinner tonight, because I get paid tomorrow mom…”
I also doubt that any of us are as close as a King Can away from being escorted out of our favourite drunken stomping grounds; I doubt that there would ever be a private sector police force created to monitor popular clubs and tell all of the girls in all of the skirts that they are wasting our time, and creating unsafe spaces for others and themselves as they guzzle drinks with fancy umbrellas, and talk smack and pull hair or slap faces of strangers or rub their bodies against one another to their own devastation the next morning. The reason that these troublemakers are less culpable than the intoxicated persons who occupy the streets of downtown Winnipeg is that they have money. As such, it appears that our society doesn’t have a problem with public drunkenness, only the public drunkenness of poor people.
We as a society seem to have come to an agreement that spaces to consume alcohol in public are important to us, regardless of the regular effects of alcohol consumption; all of the loud talking, clumsy walking, sometimes vigour, sometimes sap, all of the “I love you mans”, and all of the backhands are expected to take place at Winnipeg bars: in other words, all of the same shit that seems dangerous on the street is all okay as long as you’re not poor.
As I was drinking a King Can with some friends outside of a Winnipeg bar, two aboriginal men approached us and took a snowy stance next to us. We shared a few drinks with them and one of them told me that he wrote his own songs. He proceeded to sing one of them to me as his brother stood next to him and grinned ear to ear. We continued to drink our beer, (cheaper outside than it is inside), and the two men starting telling us jokes, one of which was to ask us if we’d ever seen the indian macarena, and then, to the beat of the popular song, he began to put his hands up in the air, turn and face the concrete wall, and put his hands on the wall and then behind his back, mimicking the act of being hand-cuffed.
My friends and I were not a King Can away from being escorted away, and I assume as young white university students – King Can or not – we never will be. Thankfully, though, none of us were too many closed minds away from drinking with each other, so that we could hear their songs and understand the weight of their jokes, and the resilience of their spirits at the onset of such apparent cultural assimilation.
In response to public drunkenness, yes I agree that alcohol can make people act silly, sometimes aggressive, sometimes joyful; usually in one way or another people are carefree, and uninhibited, which can lead to problems, fights, or harsh words. But, before we take the stance of criticizing only poor people who can’t afford to conform their habits to expensive bars, let’s criticize all of the public drunkenness that goes on inside of Winnipeg bars, too. After all, the drunken hotshot masses are only a door fee away from being as dangerous as the wild indian macarena dancers of downtown Winnipeg.
Margaret Howison is a musician and writer who has worked in both the “hospitality industry” (serving those who can afford to have a drink in that more socially acceptable milieu) and as an urban youth worker. She was a featured performer at the first-ever saint benedict’s table house concert, held in November 2011.