This day, the end!

(Editor's note: To open our coverage on The Shadow Conventions 2000 we have chosen the actual introduction and benediction given August 1st, at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)


By Ethan Nadelmann, Director of the Lindesmith Center - Drug Policy Foundation*

Today, today we are going to talk about what the War on Drugs has done to the Bill of Rights, today we're going to talk about the extra cost and consequence of the drug war in America and around the world, and today most of all we're going to try to give voice to the literally millions of people, millions of citizens in this county who have a mother or father, a brother or sister, a daughter or son, behind bars today for a non-violent drug offense. Not just to them but to those who have lost family members to drug overdoses, to HIV-AIDS, to those who've been arrested unnecessarily for petty drug possession or marijuana use, those who cannot medications in hospitals, those patients on methadone, subject to discrimination: to all of them we hope to give voice today.

Now it's a great honor to introduce the first real speaker of the day, Reverend Edwin Sanders, II, senior servant and founder of the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church of Nashville, Tennessee. If there is one man in America who has emerged to give voice to the beliefs and practice of harm reduction in both secular and in scripture, it's Edwin Sanders. . .


By Reverend Edwin Clifton Sanders II, Senior Servant and founder of the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church, Nashville, Tennessee

This needs to be the time when we collectively raise our voices and say that this is THE END, that we will not sit by and allow this drug war to continue in a way that systematically undermines, in a way that systematically destroys, in a way that systematically continues to exploit and take advantage of people in our society who are vulnerable and find themselves unable to fight back against this war.

It's important for us to lift our voices together and say it is THE END. That we understand that this issue is defined not by political party, not by race, not by class, not by sexual orientation, not by any of the things that people have used to systematically fragment and divide and undermine our relationship to each other; but rather is an issue that is destroying us all, and we have to say today that this is THE END.

For those of us who are part of the faith communities across this country, it's important for us to take up our position. When I think about a war, and the necessity of being able to counter the effects of it, you have to position yourself. You have to put yourself in those places that allow you to be able to counter the forces that are working against you. It's time that the faith community takes its position.

It's time that we step forward and say that we can no longer be satisfied with going to prisons and visiting and taking worship services and song services and prayer services to people who are incarcerated. It's time that we understand that our work has to begin outside of the prison walls.

It's time we understand that we can no longer sit back and allow these acts of injustice to continue to be perpetrated in the name of something that is right when we know full well that it is something systematically undermining and destroying the core fabric of our society. There are too many people whose lives have been destroyed. There are too many people who have been robbed of opportunity. There are too many people who have been relegated to the scrap heap of life. There are too many people who find themselves being systematically misused and abused by a system that is loose to destroy, and if indeed we don't give voice to it then you can be sure that no one else is going to.

If we are truly a people of compassion, if we are truly a people of concern, if we are truly a people who want to be about the right thing, then there is a way we have to individually and collective be about the business of saying in one voice, This is the end! We will not sit back and allow this to go any further. If the war analogy works for you, there a term which, for what we are experiencing, describes casualties every day from what they like to call "friendly fire" on the battlefield.

For indeed there are those who are supposed to be on our side who are, in fact, the perpetrators of the ongoing injustice. There are those who are supposed to represent us in political office who end up being those who continue to advance a system that represents nothing less than something to destroy the human potential that is a part of all of us. I am convinced we need to be the ones who are saying in no uncertain terms that we will not sit by and allow this to go on any longer. And we have to stand together.

We have to be a people willing to say that all the things that have fragmented and divided us are no longer going to be things that will we will allow to stand between us and the mission of the responsibility that we have. After all, at some point we have to speak up and say that what we are dealing with in terms of addiction is what behaviorists have come to talk about as a disease.

Can you imagine that because your grandmother had a stroke they come and picked her up and put her in prison? Can you imagine that because a loved one has had a heart attack they end up being incarcerated? Can you imagine that just because you have some physical condition that you can define as a disease that you, then, end up being one who is subject to being incarcerated? That's what we need to say to the world, that this is not the right response. This is not the right strategy. It's ill conceived, and it cannot succeed. And we have to be people who will say it has to stop now. Today we declare this is the end!

We are in a city where the Declaration of Independence was framed and signed. We're in a city were there were ideals put forth, established and lifted up, ideals that to this day we find ourselves trying to measure up and live up to. I find it to be very interesting. For indeed, the words and the ideals that we find in that Declaration are principles and philosophy that we all embrace in a way that allows us to have hope in the midst of a time when things seem to be systematically going wrong within the government this country has put together.

I'm convinced on this day there has to be a new declaration, and I say that declaration comes forth from this body. There are those who need to hear the message being delivered in this place. There are those who need to turn their attention and their eyes here, because indeed this is where the platform is being formed that could serve the interests of the people. This is where the agenda is being set that will make a difference in the time to come, and I'm convinced that we have to be the ones who say there's a new declaration. And that declaration is going forth in the name of all of us here in Philadelphia today.

We are declaring that we will no longer sit by and allow the families being victimized by the drug war to carry the burden alone. We are the ones declaring today that we are not going to sit by and allow profiteers to continue to gain riches from the exploitation and taking advantage of those disproportionately affected by the impact of this drug war.

We have to be the ones who are going to say in no uncertain terms that there has to be a major investment in education, in treatment, in prevention, in all of those arenas that we know can make a difference in what drugs are doing in our communities. We have to say that we are not going to sit by and continue to watch the ways in which the legal system and the criminal justice system have systematically taken advantage of, and exploited our people.

Especially the institution of "corrections", because what has happened is, you all, they have found a new gold, and it's a black gold, and they are mining it in our community. I'm convinced that just like they were willing to steal, to trample over, to beat down, keep down, hold down and exploit those in times past who occupied the land that had the resources desired, they're now after a new black gold and that black gold is fueling a 'corrections system' where profiteers, in the name of a war on drugs, are getting rich every day at the cost of those of us who sit in this room. It's wrong, and we have to say in no uncertain terms that we won't stand for it, and we won't sit by quietly and let it happen.

One of the things I have come to appreciate is what can happen in moments like this. You know, a lot of people don't appreciate the facts of much of what happened in the civil rights movement, the human rights movement, the movement of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. A lot of people don't realize that it was moments like this that translated into the action, into the activity, into those moments that had monumental transforming effects on the world community and our society. It was on days like this.

You know, whenever I find myself reading the writings of great spiritual teachers or any person who writes significantly about experiences in life, one of the things you often will see at the beginning of sentences is, "One day". And I'm convinced that what follows one day is something that can be very significant for us right here because THIS day is a day like none we've ever known before. THIS day, something could start here that can have a transforming effect upon our society. THIS day!

Something can start here that will translate into laws being changed. THIS day! Something can start here that will translate into people finding themselves, not sitting back and being quiet when they need to stand up. THIS day! We can say that there's a voice amongst the people that will not be silenced by anything. THIS day! What can happen in this place can have a transforming affect upon the world and the times in which we live. So don't take it lightly.

I remember now. I can look back, and everybody wants to say they were in Washington on the day of the March on Washington. Everybody wants to say they were at Selma the day they crossed the bridge. Everybody wants to say they were a part of all those events. But guess what? THIS DAY we will look back in a few years and say that it was on August 1st in the year 2000 when a group of concerned people, a group of committed people came together and said THE END . . . THIS DAY.

We're going to allow our voices to be heard in a way that will make a difference in no uncertain terms. So you are here, and we are here, and what we can do THIS DAY can change the landscape in terms of this so-called war on drugs. We come together and we say Stop! . . This day . . . This day.

We are writing a new declaration and the first words that we will pen will be, "This Day, The End."

I say that when we leave here we will take the insight, the understanding and the knowledge with us back into our communities and those places where we live and work and insist that this war on drugs be brought to an end. And I pray that when it all comes down to that moment when victory will be declared in the names of those who have been beat down, held down, kept down, misused, disenfranchised, oppressed, hurt and harmed for too long, that we will all be able to say we were all part of the day that something was set in motion that translated into the END of the war on drugs. Thank you.

*The Drug Policy Foundation and The Lindesmith Center have merged into The Drug Policy Alliance

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