Director's Corner: Megaphone customers look out for their vendors, and vendors look out for them too
Connecting to my community
Last month, Megaphone staff, vendors, volunteers, and a few customers gathered for a summer barbecue in CRAB Park in Vancouver. In the late afternoon sun we shared laughs and food, and some music, too. Rod, regular vendor at 8th and Cambie in Vancouver, sang a Pink Floyd duet with vendor coordinator Priyanka. Vendor Gwen took her turn on guitar and shared three songs, like she says she always has with her family.
Along with the opportunity to eat multiple burgers without judgement (the Megaphone community are a welcoming bunch) the barbecue was a chance for me to meet some customers who are special to our vendors, too: People I hear about all the time from vendors when we talk about their day-to-day, but who I rarely get the chance to meet face to face. From Karen in Kitsilano to Jeni on the Drive, the customers who support Megaphone vendors are a special bunch. And after the barbecue, they had me reflecting on the idea of neighbourliness.
What does it mean to be a good neighbour, in these fraught times especially?
When I talk with Megaphone customers, one little word always makes me smile: “my.” When I meet a reader and they say, “Eric is my vendor,” or “Evelyn, the hat lady! She’s my vendor!” my ears perk up.
It’s like a cue or secret passcode. I know this person is in the club. They’ve figured out something about being a good neighbour.
As someone who grew up outside Vancouver (like many residents of Vancouver and Victoria, I’m not from this city originally) it took me some time to get to feel like it was my home, like I had a claim to it. Part of what helps us be neighbourly is a sense of rootedness in our community: being able to feel like we’re part of it, like we belong, like we own a little piece of it along with our neighbours.
For me, Megaphone, and getting to know my local Megaphone vendor, was a big part of feeling connected to my community and feeling I had a place there.
Neighbourliness suffers when we don’t have connections to the people and the places, to the culture or the history of where we live. It suffers too when the city shifts under our feet, when rising costs make us wonder if we can afford to stay, or for low-income communities, when gentrification moves through. These shifts challenge who gets to say, “This is mine. This is ours.”
Stories like Christopher Cheung’s look at changing Chinatowns in both Victoria and Vancouver on Page 16 of this month's issue (download our app to find a vendor!) looks at similar ideas. Stories of Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Watuth, Esquimalt, and Songhees people being displaced from their lands do the same thing.
That sense that my community can be just that: “mine.” It can be deployed for good or ill. “Good neighbour agreements,” can often be a sneaky code, more about exclusion than inclusion.
But a neighbourliness that is based on inclusion, stitched together through the daily rituals of hellos and how are yous on our street corners, can bind together a community and build belonging.
Megaphone customers look out for their vendors, and vendors look out for them, too. That street-level connection with others, rooted in a particular place, helps us feel that place can in some way be ours. And it’s that interconnectedness, those stitches that make up a community, that will help us resist the hate emboldened by recent events.