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If the People Will Lead

. . . the Leaders Will Follow

Supporting State Initiatives that change drug policy.

It is time that America disimprison and move away from incarcerating Americans in what has become a blatantly obvious unwinnable war - one that has only created vast social instability and eroded our civil rights.

Many of us who have been involved actively and chosen not to turn a blind eye to the Drug War have wondered what we could do to change bad policy. We wrote our federal legislators, state legislators, judges and newspapers till our fingers were blue. Some of us have thought it was time to hit the streets with placards and unspent rage and end this war the way this country ended the war in Vietnam.

The limit that constrains an activist is always the same. If you preach to the converted, you create a good feeling for a while and little else. Effective activism has a lot in common with effective theater. In essence, it is the exercise of free speech. If an activist event involves behavior that becomes too rowdy - or infiltrated by troublemakers - street theater becomes courtroom theater. Activism walks a line between theater that does not and theater that does bring in the police. On one side of the line there is the feeling that one is doing something to serve the cause, but few outside the ranks of sympathizers turn up to share it. On the other side, it brings exposure to a wider audience if the media covers it. News of the cause reaches a wider public, but only through a filter of censorship. Demonstrative activism has definite limitations.

We ponder the dilemma we face when evil has been sanctioned by the government and is buttressed by the apparatus of law. One may respond by doing nothing, out of indifference or out of realistic concern that the terror of the state will unleash upon us. The times in which we live are not unlike the times of Nazi Germany in that to object is to often become suspect.

One may act in the belief that one is responding effectively by writing to elected representatives, newspaper editors and so forth. But a protest letter to a hawkish legislator about the Drug War is akin to writing a letter to a bank robber, objecting to his act of pointing a gun at a teller. Congress, after all, is part of the triad of government that funds and carries out the Drug War.

For all the calls to drug policy reform, there has been little accomplished. The Drug War has changed in one direction only; that of an ever greater disregard for civil rights and ever increasing violence and brutality. Drug War conditions have been getting worse each year and congress has authorized increasingly harsh penalties. The Justice Department has virtually given law enforcement the right to take the law into their own hands. The courts, most notably the Supreme Court, has always put Drug War interests before justice, and seldom have they leaned toward protecting our constitutional rights. No wonder the widespread apathy of today and those that want to fight against this tyranny are left to wonder what to do!

The passages of the initiatives in California and Arizona have changed the picture however. You can forget about a letter to your elected representatives. We can also forget about activism in the usual sense. We might not need theater anymore.

Who would have thought last year that, as far as the Drug War goes, the three traditional branches of government would be irrelevant? But they are. A war for national survival takes priority over the activities people normally engage in. Our congress, our president and our state legislators have taken the stance that winning the war comes first. This is the deception that has been practiced on the American people since at least 1986. The campaign against illegal drug use has been touted as a war of national survival. The rhetoric has convinced large portions of the electorate that illegal drug use poses a threat to the nation - a threat as grave as the one we faced in the Cold War - of that of communism, or as the word goes in Washington today, one such as cancer.

In normal times we expect the checks and balances prescribed in the Constitution to shield us against undemocratic tendencies. The action of one branch of government checks and balances the other two. But when at war, national survival suspends rational thought and the system of checks and balances is put in abeyance for the duration. Only after victory does a traditional arrangement resume.

Depicting America's dependence on illegal drugs as a crisis of such magnitude that the existence of American society is at stake is absurd. That the War on Drugs is the sole possible response has created a tyranny and led to a collapse of the principle division of our three branches of government. Legislative, executive and judicial branches have merged to speak with one voice and the voice is irrational.

Some have said that the California and Arizona initiatives were a miracle, but we don't have to think of the outcome of the Arizona and California initiatives as a case of divine intervention. We may think of the human yearning for common sense and moderation as a force which emerges when the right time comes.

The people of California and Arizona simply took control of an out of control situation. The government has shown its incompetence to govern, and so the people took charge and made laws that will work. That is the beauty and the simplicity of the recent initiatives that passed overwhelmingly in California and Arizona - the people can and will declare their presence as a fourth branch of government as a necessary corrective to the other three.

We are not on a road to anarchy, we are simply reminding our representative government that we will not go unheard. Things will settle down when rational thought returns. We the people yearn for justice however, and the gap between law and justice has yawned too wide in this War against drugs so we must assemble and prepare to intervene. State law will bend federal drug policy to reform and we will have our loved ones home again.

In time the prisons of America will resume their normal function, which is to deal with the problems of violent criminals. Ill health due to the improper use of drugs will get the professional medical attention it requires. America's War on Drugs will be remembered as a time when in the end, the power of the people brought order to an errant democracy.

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