Representation at UNGASS
By Michael "Miguet" Krawitz
(Michael Krawitz is a TNC regional leader for the state of Virginia and President of Veterans For Compassion, an organization dedicated to the notion that the Right to Access Medicine is a Human Right.)
Three months ago I began explaining to fellow Virginians the importance of objecting to the agenda that would be presented to the UN Special Assembly on Narcotic Drugs. Now that seems like a year ago. Three days in the United Nations building in New York City, is a single, long moment in my memory. Like a pebble dropped in the water, I have watched the ripples from our efforts effect the entire world.
Nine thousand people marched on the streets in Amsterdam. Officials from New Zealand, Netherlands, Canada, and others dissented on the general assembly floor. With help from the Lindesmith Center, five hundred of the World's best and brightest sent an open letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan by way of a full page declaration in the NY Times saying, "We believe that the global war on drugs is now causing more harm than drug abuse itself." (See "500 Signatories: Letter to Kofi Annon) Over 150 articles in the world's leading newspapers reflected sentiments of the Lindesmith letter with equal or greater intensity. Local events and demonstrations occurred in virtually every corner of the globe.
Several firsts occurred: "Common Sense for Drug Policy" sponsored a television announcement opposing the war on drugs. (Click Here); General McCaffrey acknowledged publicly there is opposition to the war on drugs, an opposition that should be taken seriously; and the entire reform community of over 100 organizations made their voice heard with a unified message.
On May 8, I arrived at the UN building. In excess of a block in all directions from the UN was a barricade created by a blue wall of police officers. Showing my admittance identification card, I made my way to the garden plaza (the main hall of the general assembly where all our displays were set up). There were two rows of displays, the first row contained: the ONDCP (Office of the National Drug Control Policy); UNDCP (United Nation's Drug Control Programmes); my display, Veterans for Compassion; Lennice Werth, Virginian's Against Drug Violence display; Lindesmith Center display; NY State Department of Mental Health; and Interpol ending the row. On the second row was: Lions and Rotary clubs; D.A.R.E., which was moved from the front row by ONDCP, in itself hilarious to watch as the D.A.R.E. representatives complained to the management, "Put me anywhere, but get me away from the Marijuana Policy Project." They then settled for being off to themselves); Trans Radical Party; HRDI (treatment activists) then Marijuana Policy Project; F.A.C.T. (treatment oriented); Women's International League for Peace and Freedom; and a hospital physician's group.
Joe Griffin and I attended Clinton's presentation. The point of his speech that stood out in my mind was this: The National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA) pays for 85% of the world's drug abuse research. That makes the U.S. the voice of the world drug war. Joe and I made sure that no matter where someone might walk around the building , there was a stack of November Coalition tabloids of prisoner stories and Razor Wire newspapers.
Monday afternoon, Lindesmith Center's press conference was excellent. Kevin Zeese, Ethan Nadlemann, Joseph McNamara and others eloquently addressed the media. Monday night, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom had a panel session. All the Non-Government Organization (NGO) panel sessions were ostracized to the UN Church Center. I thought it fitting that the Drug Warriors of the world were assembled in the UN building, while we who seek peace, were crowded into a church across the street.
Women from Latin American countries spoke to a horrified crowd about atrocities they endured in their homeland because of the drug war. In Columbia the drug war has become a sick ritual of western imperialism in action they explained. The government attempts to placate the U.S. by spraying herbicides on cocoa producing regions. For this their government receives U.S. tax dollars. The frightened and poisoned civilians protest and soldiers are summoned to shoot them!
On Tuesday afternoon Chuck Thomas of MPP led a scheduled panel on medical marijuana. Irvin Rosenfeld, Greg Scott, myself, Chuck Thomas, and Dr. Kildare Clarke all spoke to the issue from different perspectives, stressing that patients are, but should not be arrested for using their medicine.
Many of the drug policy reform displays had portions of the HR95 prisoners of the drug war profiles. It was amazing to watch the impact of these personal stories and photographs on the delegates and dignitaries that paused to read them. It presented a powerful message about the human cost of imprisoning people for drug law violations.
People from India, Israel, Africa, and elsewhere around the world were moved by our displays and our words. I copied (with permission) and distributed 85 copies of the National Review's The War on Drugs is Lost and at least one copy made its way to the UNDCP office when I personally gave one to a member of their staff. All in all we made a significant impact and I am proud to have been a part of such an efficient international grassroots effort.