It’s time to hear from members on which issue we should prioritise in our next campaign – making drug use safer or cleaning up our air.
Hundreds of Bristol Cable members have been voting in recent weeks to choose what change they want to see – in the form of our next editorial campaign. The two potential campaigns are to call for a safe consumption room, which would stop drug users dying on the streets of Bristol and reduce drug litter, or to fight for cleaner air in our polluted city.
Lots of members saw merit in both campaigns, but here is a breakdown of why people are choosing each option.
Campaign 1: Make drug use safer
Cable members voted for various reasons – from personal experience, a belief that drug users should get more support, and that drug use an issue that needs more attention.
A priority for safe consumption rooms is to prevent drug users from dying by giving them somewhere to go, which is why John voted for this campaign. He said: “I’m a drug reform campaigner and safe consumption rooms will save lives, minimise harm and big a big step forward in sensible drug policy.”
A number of members were critical of current drug policy, and saw this campaign as a chance to break the mould. Stacey said: “A successful campaign to reframe drug use as a health issue could genuinely have a positive impact on people’s lives and help people to live. It could also have a wider impact on drug policy and cut through the moralistic crap!”
Bertie agreed, saying: “The prohibition of drugs hasn’t worked, we need progressive thinking and to try new approaches to help people who are trapped in addition, poverty and homelessness.”
Jack said this was a crucial chance to treat addiction as a medical issue rather than turning our backs on those affected. “Its something I’ve believed very passionately in for a while and I feel like there’s a real lack of awareness of the success of safe drug consumption policies in other countries,” he said.
Although this campaign sets out to reduce the harms of drug use for marginalised people, it also would impact people all over the city. People like Michael
, who lived next to St Agnes Park, and saw how drug litter affects the local community: “My dog got a needle in her paw,” he said. “Others including children had the same thing happen. It wasn’t unusual to see human excrement. All the while addicts are getting no help to get out of this situation.”
Some chose this campaign because they believe a safe consumption room could save time and money for emergency services, who have to deal with the knock-on effects of drug use. Roisin said: “I believe that safer drug spaces are essential for minimising the harm experienced by vulnerable people addicted to drugs who live on the margins of society. I also think that there would be a positive impact on resources in the NHS/the police/and social services, and it would clean up our streets. It’s a nobrainer!”
A number of people who chose safe consumption rooms did so because they saw problematic drug use as an underreported crisis. Tim said: “It’s a crisis that doesn’t get enough airtime and people are vastly misinformed about.”
By contrast, some members voted for safe consumption rooms because they thought air pollution was already on the agenda. Noelle said: “Clean air has a lot of proponents already – there isn’t much campaigning for safer drug use and it’s a very vulnerable group of people affected.”
Other members described getting a pilot safe consumption room as a more concrete and easily achievable goal compared with tackling the huge issue of air pollution.
Campaign 2: Let’s fight for clean air
“Along with climate change, air quality is the environmental crisis of our time and the Cable should be at the forefront of raising the profile of this issue.”
Robert is one of the many members who voted for the second campaign option – to tackle air pollution. An issue that another, Jessie, called “the biggest crisis facing modern society”.
A reason why members chose the air pollution campaign that came up again and again was because it affects every single person breathing in Bristol’s dirty air.
Jane said: “Arguably, air pollution harms more people, particularly very young children, than drug use (although I would like to see better facilities for this section of society). Clean air should, in my opinion, be a basic civil right.”
This was echoed by Caroline, who said: “Air pollution is a widespread public health concern with far greater adverse outcomes for the general population including asthma, COPD, Cancer, CVD, stroke, dementia etc. Air pollution and associated behaviours are also related to climate change concerns, which again eclipse drug using in terms of the reach and severity of the outcomes.”
Lots of members raised specific concerns about traffic and commuting. For example, parent Rebecca said: “Bristol is choking. When I open my window in the morning, the air smells of diesel fumes. This wasn’t the case when I first moved here. I love this city but I hate the fact that my children are suffering by living here.”
Tom also identified traffic as a main worry. “Traffic in Bristol is going to get even worse as new housing goes up. I feel this is the biggest problem facing the city in the coming years,” he said.
This is particularly felt by people like Arvind, who cycle to work. She said: “As a cyclist who commutes for about 90 mins a day, I can feel the damage done by breathing Bristol’s polluted air. This affects everyone and is a matter of life or death.”
Lots of members told us how Bristol’s dirty air was affecting them every day, especially those with asthma. Anna
voted for campaign because she lives next to a busy main road and her son has asthma. Rob said he was “experiencing increasing problems with asthma”. And Debbie was sure pollution was making asthma worse for herself, he partner and one of her grandchildren.
Although air pollution affects us all, lots of Cable members raised how it is also more likely to hit poorer areas hardest. Kate said: “Air pollution hits hardest poorer people in more deprived inner city areas leading to chronic illness and sometimes acute episodes of ill health, even death, particularly for already more vulnerable citizens.”
Many felt frustrated at the council’s lack of action. Joanna criticised them council for “not even complying with their government-funded, legal obligations”. This was echoed by Rani, who said: “For a city that declared a climate emergency we are not doing anywhere near enough,” and David: “Pollution is killing Bristolians. The mayor seems incapable of doing anything about it.”
However, some members pointed out that now was good timing to call for cleaner air. Kate said: “With a mayoral campaign gearing up soon and the government accusing the Mayor of breaching protocol by delaying the Clean Air Zone, this issue has traction in Bristol right now and the Cable could affect real change to clean up air pollution in Bristol.”
Some thought this meant that Bristol had a real opportunity to blaze a trail for other cities. Henry felt optimistic about this opportunity: “With the right policies, forward-thinking cities can tackle two birds with one stone – air pollution and climate change,” he said. “Walking, cycling and excellent public transport – Bristol, we can do this!”
There are still two weeks left to take part in democratic local media. It’s time to join the conversation and vote for what change you want to see in our city.