By Chuck Armsbury
This Razor Wire literally wraps itself around the historical challenge to unlock America. The inserted Unlocking America document gives you the latest research findings, arguments and recommendations for decarceration.
I hope every Novemberista studies and appreciates the authors' comprehensive work. Pass it on to a preacher or a teacher, or 'be one' with Unlocking America as your guide.
The authors of Unlocking America envision a future date when we'll have found "a way to re-allocate the money, political power, and jobs that the current system provides" in the years following passage of decarceration laws weaning us from addiction to mass incarceration. Dream on, eh?
But begone with cynicism -- what on Earth do we adults want or dream for our children's children's children? Dreams of a future free of mass incarceration laws? Dreams of former prisons as monuments to ignorance? Dreams of you 'Unlocking America'?
Unlocking America gives few clues about how the public might "pass referenda," or convince lawmakers to "better understand the realities and move on their own to make necessary changes." The authors conclude with brief remarks about stimulating a serious debate on imprisonment and decarceration.
Some persistent realities to understand include how voters can organize effectively to get action from members of Congress. And First Amendment realities: whether prisoners can or should organize for their common rights and interests. Or the everyday reality of thousands of formerly incarcerated people seeking to re-enter safe and nurturing communities of family, friends, and citizens who welcome us back after years inside prison.
Whether it's the Drug War, the War on Iraq or a single-payer health care system for the US, three out of four voters surveyed want these wars to end now and a national healthcare system like Canada's enacted soon. US voters differ radically from our elected officials in other significant ways: November Coalition archives contain almost 130,000 names of people collected across the nation petitioning Congress to enact laws for early release of drug war and other nonviolent prisoners.
How much longer will we call it a "failed drug war?" Is it nearly time to declare victory? But what happens then? What happens when the Drug War is over? When the billions of profit in illegal drug trade have shrunk to mere millions of dollars? Or hundreds of thousands? Why think about this now, anyway?
Eric Sterling is one drug reform leader who is thinking about what happens when this bogus war is over, when prohibition is ended:
"We can safely predict that a real consequence of legalization of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana is that many individuals will lose their jobs. And many communities will suffer because the illegal drug industry has been a major economic force in that community -- for good and ill -- and will be eliminated. Isn't there a responsibility to plan for that event?
I think that a humane society when it ends prohibition needs to address the recovery of those communities after legalization cuts off the livelihoods of so many," wrote Sterling in recent correspondence.
Sterling offers his own plan for recovery and strengthening a democracy in crisis:
"Well-meaning people that we are, as we build a movement we must continuously look in the mirror and see who is standing by our side. As drug policy reformers we are struggling to create the political power to end prohibition. We must have the humility to understand that we too could wreak unintended havoc, especially if we inflict further economic devastation upon hurting communities when our reforms 'lay off thousands'."
Sterling definitely raises gnarly questions about targeted populations. But answers to those really tough questions about organizing for the end of drug prohibition in "hurting communities" must come directly from those communities, and why shouldn't they? In the last year I've met some ordinary people with answers about what oppressed communities need. Let's listen for a change.
Commemorator is published six times a year. The dedicated men and women who put together this newsmagazine of community activities and social commentary are continuing the finest traditions in grassroots journalism.
Inspired by the Black Panther Party's 1967 Programs for Community Survival, Commemorator is all about, in Sterling's words, "hurting communities," and their well-documented, immediate needs: quality food and water, a clean environment, decent work, affordable housing, a true education, easily available healthcare, and freedom from crime.
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Here's Eric Sterling's advice to those who would dare to end the War on Drugs:
"It is preposterous for reformers to have forums on legalization without participation of the communities that will be transformed by ending the illegal drug business. For our forums to be legitimate conversations, we must have the partnership with the communities where drugs are used and sold in the debating and planning of reform."
I second such thoughts and add that the voices of incarcerated people must also be solicited for such educational "forums to be legitimate conversations" in our communities.
Photo taken in the Wallingford neighborhood, Seattle, WA, during Meaningful Movies night, November 9, 2007. (Left to right): Doug Hiatt, Nora Callahan, Chuck Armsbury, Larry Gossett, and Sunil Aggarwal (speaking). The film, American Drug War: The Great White Hope, directed by Kevin Booth and featuring Freeway Ricky Ross, is currently on a national tour. (Photos by Andy Ko, ACLU Drug Project, Seattle, WA)