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 A View From The Booth

The booth we have been taking to these Eastern Washington Barter Faires is a low-tech version of our November Coalition website.There's Max, our "virtual" prisoner, at the desk, giving out copies of our first Newspaper, from behind the bars of his "cell", along with whatever other information we have on hand. On the outside walls are the Prisoner Profiles, which seem to make a big impression. Some people give them a glance, others ignore the whole thing -- but many people read the entire Wall, quite intently, and the reactions are varied.

Some people are amazed at the stories, themselves. Some are disgusted at the injustices they read about. Others are incensed by just these few samples of what is going down. Often they want to do more than just sign a petition. Occasionally we have to calm them down a bit, and tell them to let other people know what is being done in the name of "justice" in the "Land of the Free."

Some senior of citizens stop to relate stories of how Alcohol prohibition failed when they were young. Many middle-aged types are outraged at the resources being wasted on drug enforcement. Often people stop by who have spent time in jail themselves, and they really appreciate our efforts to alert people to the ongoing situation. But it is usually the younger crowd, teenagers and twenty-somethings, who are most surprised at what they read on the Wall.

Many of the younger set thought the Drug War was "winding down", and the Prisoner Profiles make them realize that this is definitely not the case. Some are too young to remember those "far away" 1980's. We do what we can to educate them as to what still transpires on the Drug War front.

It may not seem like much, but spreading the word is a vital first step, no matter how small, toward turning this thing around. Just showing the stories and faces of the families affected seems to make a powerful impression on people "out here".

Children seem intrigued by Max, and his virtual "cell". Some kids think he looks scary, others can't resist going through the flexible plastic "bars". A few kids feel obliged to point out that Max is not a real person, and that the booth is not a real jail. (But more than a few kids take home a copy of our newsletter.)

So the booth seems to work, as an information station, and as political "street" theater as well. At one point, the booth blew over when the wind shifted. We managed to grab it before it capsized completely, but Max was thrown into the thoroughfare. Down the way someone began yelling, "Run! Run!"

Even before we had it pegged down again and were still holding it physically, people were walking up to read the stories on the Wall.

At the end of the fair, when we were quite literally stuffing Max back into his sack, someone passing by commented: "Just like King County Jail." After the whole show was back in the truck, a booth person came by and wanted to trade for our only sign that reads: "Drug War P.O.W.s - Don't Let Them Be Forgotten." We are making more such signs, and adding more Prisoner Profiles to the other side of the booth.

Certainly any new ideas for bumper sticker or button type messages to further educate the public would be helpful. It's only a beginning, but it's a start...

--- Another Peacenik Against the War on Drugs

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