Director's Corner: For 10 years, Megaphone has advocated for policy changes to the systems that entrench poverty and has put more than $500,000 directly into the pockets of homeless and low-income people.
Connection is the root of our power
I found Megaphone when I was looking for my place in the city. In 2011, I was spinning my tires, having recently returned to Vancouver and feeling frustrated, a little lost and disconnected from community.
I lived deep in East Vancouver and worked deep in Kitsilano. Most days, I walked by a Megaphone vendor on Commercial Drive on my way to work, and strangely, on other days I walked by the same vendor where I got off the bus on West Broadway.
He had a deep, resonant voice many Megaphone readers would recognize. It was vendor Richard Morris, and he sold Megaphone at both ends of my commute, on different days.
After passing by Morris for months (and ignoring him with polite determination, as is standard Canadian practice), one day I stopped. We chatted, and I bought the magazine for the first time. I read it and was pleasantly surprised. I’d underestimated the content and hadn’t expected the heart, curiosity and thoughtful journalism.
I became a regular customer, buying every month from Morris. And it started feeling like a secret club. I began to recognize Megaphone vendors where I hadn’t noticed them previously. That spring, I made a $10 donation to a Megaphone fundraising campaign. A few days later, a thank-you postcard arrived in the mail, hand written by Megaphone’s executive director, Sean Condon.
“The executive director is writing his thank-you notes to 10-dollar donors?!” I thought. “They must need help."
Little did I know that at that time, Condon was Megaphone’s only staff member. He and a handful of committed volunteers, alongside a crew of regular vendors, made up Megaphone’s team. They’d just moved from the infamous “closet” office on East Hastings to a corner of Pivot Legal Society’s space. I started a weekly volunteer shift there, writing thank-you cards, stapling fundraising envelopes into magazines, making sandwiches for vendor meetings and generally doing whatever menial tasks needed doing.
The best parts were the vendors – getting to know them, sharing a laugh, talking about their stories and their goals. It was the beginning of my journey with this feisty street paper and it all started with a conversation.
In the seven years since, I’ve had countless reminders of the power that simple connection can have. Every day, vendors and readers connect on the streets, bringing opportunities for both – a chance for the vendor to earn money, to participate in community and to challenge the persistent stigma around poverty. And an opportunity for the customer to learn about humility, to form bonds that bridge the boundaries of economic class and to share a little humanity.
Personally, my involvement with Megaphone has transformed me. I’ve experienced what it means when someone trusts you and values your contributions. Condon is an incredible mentor and friend. When I walked in green, he trusted me to take the lead. Condon, along with Megaphone’s vendors and volunteers, taught me how to persevere when the way forward is unclear, how to show up and get things done when you feel you’ve no business even being in the room, and how to leave space for staying human in a world that wants us to optimize, optimize, optimize.
I’m proud of what the Megaphone community has accomplished in a decade. With your help, dear reader, Megaphone has put more than $500,000 directly into the pockets of homeless and low-income people. Vendors have found housing, paid for dental work, fixed bikes, bought nutritious food and taken their grandkids to monster truck rallies. They’ve reached goals. And we all deserve that.
Together, the Megaphone community has advocated for policy change to the systems that entrench poverty. Through investigative journalism and personal narratives, we’ve told stories that explore solutions. We’ve published the work of hundreds of marginalized writers. We’ve made thousands of connections, stitching our communities together. These connections are at the root of the power we build together.
And we’ve just begun. Looking ahead, we have exciting news coming – about our Victoria vendor programs and a project in response to the overdose crisis. For the first time, we’re moving into our own space (take that, closet office!), which will be fully wheelchair accessible. Thank you for being a part of our first decade. I'm excited for what we’ll accomplish together in our next.
Jessica Hannon is the executive director of Megaphone Magazine.