John Mordaunt

John Mordaunt

An elegy for John Mordaunt given by Joey Tranchina at the Sixth International Conference for the Reduction of Drug-Related Harm, 31st March 1995.

Today in Firenze, I have the sad privilege of saying a few words on the passing of one of the heroes of harm reduction, John Mordaunt.

I came to Europe to get away from the weight of  death that comes with this work, in an agency in  California which serves people, a third of whom are  HIV+, with volunteers who are themselves drug injectors,  many of whom are positive. Just as I was finally realizing how much I needed a vacation, I watched Pat O’Hare  ascend this podium with tears in his eyes.

Before Pat  spoke I felt that I knew what he was about to say, when  I heard the sad announcement: “John Mordaunt died last  night, in hospital in England.”

What can one say about John, in outline form ?

Co-founder of Mainliners Ltd., London, England  Inveterate organiser, inspiration and irritant,  Model of heroic productivity in the grip of HIV  disease,  Co-director of the International Drug Users Network with Dave Burrows and myself, in our efforts to network drug user groups internationally.

That is a very short list; one which does not begin to  convey the impact of John’s character or personality on  the international harm reduction movement and upon  those of us fortunate enough to be touched by him.

Last night I wrote a lot of sad words but those words are inadequate. The number of people in this room who share this loss is a better measure of John’s life and his contribution to our work.  Night before last, Ernie Drucker asked if I had a photograph of John and if I would do an article for the Journal with a portrait.

I won’t go through our entire dialogue,  except to say that in a very short time, we both realised that I’d have a photograph, but the last thing in this world  John needed was for anyone to put words in his  mouth – we’d respectfully transcribe the text of his Berlin  speech.

No one will ever speak as eloquently for John  Mordaunt as John spoke for himself. At the Berlin AIDS  conference, in 1993, where John became the first active/out drug user ever to address a full plenary session of an international AIDS conference, John repeatedly
used the refrain: “There is no war on drugs. There is and always has been a war on drug users.”

John knew that  our battle is not only against the ubiquitous “them” but also and pre-eminently within ourselves for self-accept-ance to nurture that not uncritical human dignity which stands up for ourselves to demand human rights, because we are human beings. John’s refrain reminded me of another wonderf u l speech, about yet another anti-human war directed & financed from Washington, D.C.

When Dr. Martin Luther King spoke about Vietnam, he said: “The war is a war upon the poor.” John knew that, as he understood that, while we must cultivate and appreciate the good works and goodwill of colleagues who have never used drugs, no group of people ever attained liberation through the effort of outsiders. Moses was not a benign Egyptian out- reach worker. John led drug users where he had gone himself: to self-acceptance as a foundation for social action.

Eleanor Roosevelt said: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Each drug user in every country that I know of, is attacked daily, with publicly funded messages which proclaim that he or she is emotionally unavailable, irresponsible and incompetent – if not plain evil and an enemy of decent citizens.

This is the big lie of a propaganda ‘war on drugs’ which is designed to produce a most corrosive, persistent insidious assault on the human dignity of individual drug users, in order to render us mute and useless.

With eloquence, charm and courage, John Mordaunt won that war.

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