Director's Message

By Nora Callahan,
Executive Director,
November Coalition


It's been a busy summer! On the eve of the days before we go to press, I take more time to think about what I should share with you above all else, and at a pivotal time of our struggle in "times like these".

Al Robison, executive director of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, sent an email on the eve of the vigils of September 29th. I want to share my thoughts about Al's "post" with you because it prompted thoughts about sparks, and the necessary patience of activism required for each of us to be that spark and become all it takes to build a fire. We need to have not a passive patience, but the patience of activism.

Al wrote on September 28th:

"To be absolutely honest, I don't know any more than any of the rest of you when future historians will decide to date the beginning of the end of the war on drugs. It could be as early as the famous two-page ad in the New York Times back in June of 1998, or it could be, as Ethan Nadelmann and others have suggested, the Shadow Conventions which have already passed into history.

It could also be something that happens long after we've done everything possible in Austin on Friday. All I know for sure is that this is going to be the last chance Texans are going to have for a long while - until well after the November elections - to let Bush and Gore, and indeed the rest of the world, know what Texans think of our current drug policy."

Those were Al Robison's words, and they got me to thinking about a train ride last spring. I was reading The Future of History, a book of interviews of historian Howard Zinn by David Barsamian. Barsamian posed this question to Zinn: I'm saving the easy questions as we proceed into the interview. How does social change happen?

Zinn replied:

"Thanks. I can deal with that in thirty seconds. You think I know? We know how it has happened, and we can sort of extrapolate from that, not that you can extrapolate mathematically, but you can sort of get suggestions from that. You see change happening when there has been an accumulation of grievance until it reaches a boiling point. Then something happens.

When I say, look at historical situations and try to extrapolate from that, what happens in the South in the 1950s and 1960s? It's not that suddenly black people were put back into slavery. It's not as if there was some precipitating thing that suddenly pushed them back. They were, as the Southern white ruling class was eager to say, making progress. It was glacial progress, extremely slow. But they were making progress.

But it's not the absolute amount of progress that's made that counts. It's the amount of progress made against what the ideal should be in the minds of the people who are aggrieved. And the ideal in the minds of the black people was, We have to be equal. We have to be treated as equals. The progress that was being made in the South was so far from that.

The recognition of that gap between what should be and what is existed for a long time but waited for a moment when a spark would be lit. The thing about sparks being lit is that you never know what spark is going to ignite and really result in a conflagration. After all, before the Montgomery bus boycott there had been other boycotts. Before the sit-ins of the 1960s, there had been between 1955 and 1960 sit-ins in sixteen different cities which nobody paid any attention to and which did not ignite a movement. But then in Greensboro, on February 1, 1960, these four college kids go in, sit in, and everything goes haywire. Then things are never the same.

You never know, and this is, I think, an encouragement to people who do things, not knowing whether they will result in anything. You do things again and again, and nothing happens, but still knowing that you have to do things, do things, do things; you have to light that match, light that match, light that match, not knowing how often it's going to sputter and go out and at what point it's going to take hold, at what point other people, seeing what happens, are going to be encouraged, provoked to do the same.

That's what happened in the civil rights movement and that's what happens in other movements. Things take a long time. It requires patience, but not a passive patience, the patience of activism.
I shared that with Al, his group in Texas and TNC leaders, and I will say it to you, all our readers, volunteers and future leaders, have a good day of planning all of you - and to those leading vigils, and those who will begin to ponder the commitment - thank you. There is dialogue, and a public majority now sees the failure of the war on drugs.

The gap between what should be in drug policy - a compassionate and reasoned response - and what actually is continues to be a modern tragedy. To Al Robison, Jodi James and Kay Lee who planned and carried out the Journey for Justice, and to all of your group in the United States of Texas, the families of drug war prisoners thank you for your willingness to work together and for all that you do to change the drug laws.

Together we will fan the flames ignited by our thousands of sparks, remembering that our patience must not be passive, but, instead, the patience of activism. We never know what action will bring down the thick social walls of indifference that became the walls of stone that have separated us from those we love.

In struggle,

[an error occurred while processing this directive]