Time For Action

By Kevin B. Zeese, President, Common Sense for Drug Policy

The horrible consequences of the war on drugs are so clear that it is no longer debatable - the drug war must end. The time for academic debate is over - it is time for action.

We are in a battle for the hearts and minds of the American people. Our goal must be to get people to face the ugliness of the drug war being fought in their name and with their tax dollars. People need to be confronted with the facts, see those hurt by the drug war and face the truth.

The case against the drug war is so strong that once people understand it, they realize that the drug war must be ended. By our actions we must demonstrate that failure to take action is immoral. As Robert F. Kennedy said: Each time a person stands up for an idea, or to improve the lot of others . . . they send forth a ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

There is power in taking action. When you stand against oppression you gain strength. You show others they can take a stand; and still others see that this is an important enough issue that people are willing to put their bodies on the line for it. Those who are part of the apparatus of the drug war realize they are being watched and challenged; and are forced to rethink their position. These public acts force people to confront uncomfortable issues they would prefer to ignore. Once the issue is confronted they must decide which side they are on.

The November Coalition has been among the leaders in getting people to take action. The national vigil project - organized, public opposition to the drug war outside of courthouses, prisons and federal buildings - is something that needs to expand and be emulated by other organizations.

I saw the power of taking action when I participated in the Journey for Justice - a caravan of two-dozen activists who traveled for a week from Houston to Austin protesting at prisons, federal buildings and other appropriate places. When we arrived at a prison the authorities would react by bringing out manpower and vehicles, blocking the entrance to the prison and attempting to intimidate us. Their actions - against a small band of demonstrators - showed their insecurity. They realized that people were standing as witnesses against the injustices of which they play a part of. They began to understand that the times were changing, now that there are millions behind bars there are many millions more outside the prison walls concerned about what is going on inside. By taking action our opponents became fearful.

During the Journey one night at midnight a group of police officers came to our hotel. We were concerned they were going to harass us, but instead for two hours we discussed drug policy. They were obviously sympathetic to the abuses of the drug war and the need for a new approach. Similarly, after demonstrating at a woman's prison for several hours, the local police officer assigned to monitor our demonstration thanked us for being there; for raising the issues around over incarceration of non-violent drug offenders. By taking action we were winning the hearts and minds of front-line drug warriors.

At that same women's prison a brother of a prisoner stopped by our demonstration. He had driven two hours to see his sister but because he did not have any identification with him he was not permitted to see her. We gave him our microphone and he spoke to his sister - in heartfelt, loving terms - through the wall. The next day we received an email from a prisoner saying she heard our words and drew strength from our actions. By taking action we empowered our allies.

On the last day of the Journey we were joined by a busload of people from Tulia, Texas. The "Friends of Justice" had driven eight hours to participate in the final day of the Journey, a march in Austin. They came from a town that highlighted the racism of the drug war. After an 18 month investigation 43% of the African American population was indicted on drug charges. Their action in joining the Journey for Justice gave us more strength, confidence and energy.

There are many forms of action people are taking. Some work to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases by violating drug paraphernalia laws and providing drug users with sterile syringes. Their actions not only protect the injection drug user but also the entire community from a deadly disease. Others, seeing the recalcitrance of the federal government in refusing to provide safe access to medical marijuana find ways to provide medicine to the seriously ill. Still others are boycotting businesses that are part of the prison industrial complex. And others are refusing to let their children be drug tested and suing local school boards that insist on it. Another took action by returning a military medal to protest US military involvement in the drug war in Colombia.

We are at the moment in history where we must take action to save our nation from the folly of the drug war. Every person of humane convictions must determine what action they are comfortable with, but there should be no debate on one issue - we must all take action.

In the next decade ending the drug war has the potential of being the major social justice issue facing the United States. We are at the forefront of this struggle. Being in the lead requires us to be responsible. We must emulate Ghandi and King to stand firm against injustice. We must show peaceful protest in the face of the violent drug war-peaceful not passive. By doing so the public will not be afraid to join our cause.

In advocating peaceful protest Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: "Nonviolent resistance . . . is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice . . . The believer in nonviolence has deep faith in the future . . . For he knows that in his struggle for justice he has cosmic companionship."

Drug law reform is on the bright side of human history - consistent with battles for social justice, human rights, protection of health and the rights of individuals. Drug prohibition enforced by the war on drugs is on the dark side of human experience - prejudice, mass incarceration, injustice and loss of rights. By taking action people will confront the issue and choose the side of justice.

We are in the vanguard of a growing social justice movement, a movement that is confronting an aggressive and sometimes violent opponent. We need to meet their violence with peace; their hate with love; their desire to incarcerate with education; their racism with equal justice, their desire to warehouse people with freedom; their myths with facts; their desire to deny medicine with efforts to make medicine available and their desire for drug war with drug peace.

Each of us has more power than we realize - we can take action that will for once and forever end the war on drugs. It's time for action!

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