Søndag, 3 januar, 2016 - 20:00

From resistance fighters in World War II to the modern-day locals who transformed a used ambulance into a safe injection facility, new museum initiatives are memorialising Vesterbro as a site of resistance. - The MURMUR write about Vesterbro - THE REBEL.

Rebels transformed drug policy
Vesterbro's history of civil disobedience doesn't stop with World War II. Almost 70 years after Stjerne Radio's days of resistance, locals defied the authorities again, this time to help the area's drug users.

Michael Lodberg Olsen is the founder of Fixelancen, an old ambulance that was converted into Denmark's first safe injection facility. Brimming with good humour, he's almost like a bearded, fairy godmother to Vesterbro. As we walk around the small pocket of Vesterbro still frequented by sex workers and drug addicts, he never manages more than a few minutes before someone stops to chat.

 "We used to collect between 8,000 to 12, 000 used needles from the ground every week, people were injecting in the open and dying on the street," Olsen says.

He knew something had to be done, but for 20 years the state and the city council maintained that a safe injection room wasn't legal. Instead, he took matters into his own hands. In 2008 he opened a café with healthy food for drug users and allowed them to safely inject in the toilets. While the police were happy because it kept drugs off the streets, the authorities weren't. It was shut down after 18 months.

Undeterred, Olsen rallied together a group and created Fixelancen. In 2011, they transformed a used ambulance into a safe place to inject, and parked it in downtown Vesterbro. Staffed by volunteer doctors and nurses, no one knew what would happen. He recounts a story where a doctor began to panic at the mention of arrest. 

"'Oh my god, arrested? I can't get arrested, I have to pick up my kids!'" Olsen imitates the doctor's reaction with a laugh. "He had totally forgotten that what we were doing was possibly illegal."

"We had put it to the test and to find out if a safe injection facility would be allowed or not," says Olsen. "Our defence strategy was to say that we were there to save lives – because who could possibly be against that?"

Luckily, they never ended up having to plead their case.

"The politicians shouted at us in the beginning, but we soon won them over and they made a law permitting councils to set up safe injection facilities. It turns out that it wasn't illegal, but for two decades, the politicians wrongly informed us that it was."

Addict factory
The group ended up cooperating with the government to create two mobile injection vans, and closing the original project.

But Olsen isn't happy with how it's been co-opted. After the creation of permanent injection rooms on Istedgade and Halmtorvet, the mobile drug rooms have been standing still, parked in the same Vesterbro spots. Olsen thinks they're needed all over the city.

Soon, they'll be completely replaced by a giant injection facility, currently being constructed on Vesterbro's Halmtorvet. He calls it a 'factory' that will only attract more drug dealers to the neighbourhood.

"They're creating the largest safe injection facility in perhaps the smallest open drug scene in the world, and focusing all that drug use in one big space."

Olsen wishes that civil society were more involved in the community efforts, and worries about the impact of letting the state take over yet another welfare programme.

"200 years of welfare was actually created by civil society taking a stand. The story of Fixelancen, the story of Stjerne Radio, is the real story of how we created the welfare system in Denmark," he says.

"Now, we are too fat and rich and think that democracy means dropping bombs in foreign countries and voting every four years. We have to reimagine how to create a relevant society."

READ THE ARTICEL AT THE MURMUR

 

Social Iværksætter
Michael Lodberg Olsen

Initiativtager til: Sexelancen - et sikkert sted for Sexarbejdere. Forening for Bæredygtig Pant - fagforening for pantsamlere, Danmarks første Fixerum - Fixelancen, Cafe DUGNAD og Sundhedsrum for stofbrugere på Vesterbro, førstehjælps-organisationen for stofbrugere Antidote Danmark, gademagasinet om stoffer - ILLEGAL! Magasin, Gademagasinet om minoriteter Stradá m.fl.

Om Michael Lodberg Olsen
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