Director's message

By Nora Callahan, Executive Director, November Coalition

Battling for resources

At a breakfast meeting in early November, Godfrey Sperling, Jr. of the Christian Science Monitor asked Asa Hutchinson - the former Republican representative from Arkansas now serving as head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency - how the war on drugs had been affected by the events of Sept 11th. Quickly, Hutchinson had to admit, "It is a battle of resources."

The Coast Guard, formerly deployed on illegal drug interdiction primarily in Caribbean waters, is now hard pressed to guard our harbors against biological and conventional weapons threats. Many of the National Guard personnel called from their home communities had jobs in law enforcement, others as paramedics, fire fighters, hospital workers and teachers. They now boost security in our airports - large and small.

The FBI once devoted agents and overall resources to drug investigations both home and abroad, but is now scrambling to follow wave after wave of terrorist activity from the actual- crashing planes and anthrax outbreaks - to the whispered possibilities of smallpox and nuclear threat.

Meanwhile, Congress has passed numerous new laws restricting more civil rights for the sake of a safer America, a safer world. Asa Hutchinson promises us that even though there is a "battle for federal resources," the DEA is "holding their own" with regard to the war on drugs.

Part of that "holding their own" included war on the terminally ill on October 25 when about 30 DEA agents spent six hours raiding the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center, closing it down. Even as a legally authorized agency, the federal government has stubbornly held to the notion that marijuana can't be medicine, no matter what physicians and voters might say. Now LA County has nearly a thousand patients looking for marijuana on street corners, in the parks, anywhere they might find it for sale, at street prices they probably can't afford to pay.

Locking up people for drugs and minor offenses hasn't proven to have any measurable result in our crime rates, especially with regard to drug arrest and incarceration. So, why do it? Don't we have some bigger fish to fry?

Nationally, since our prisons are costing taxpayers in direct expenses a whopping $46 billion annually - those who pay this bill might reasonably expect a corresponding drop in crime and drug availability, and an increase in purpose and benefit. Asa Hutchinson says that all we've done is reach a "plateau," back in 1992, and it hasn't budged much since.

On the subject of the 'battle for resources,' November Coalition is in the thick of the fray. Our mission is the same; our plans to educate and organize our communities still guide our work, but if you're reading this and haven't joined, we need your support now more than ever. We will only strengthen this independent, grassroots organization of volunteers if our base of small and medium contributors grows, but there's no magic rabbit to pull from the hat here, just a freely-given $6 from your envelopes and letters of support from prisoners, at least $25 per year if you aren't in prison. We have a student rate of $15 per year; so pick a category of membership you fall into and send the membership form you can find on page 5.

In the coming year we hope thousands of prisoners and their loved ones will help sustain and accelerate this membership drive. Please talk to your family and neighbors about becoming a member of the November Coalition right away. We need to confidently tell our lawmakers that we have a committed, invested membership of tens of thousands of people who demand changes in drug laws. The power base to demand these changes is a unity of many, many active prisoner supporters who still have at least $6/year of hope.

If you've read this far, I'm certain you will agree with this grand strategy for satisfying our just demands. Tired of being counted daily by your keepers? Please let us count on your financial support that will count down the days until the drug war is over.

Louis Younger is "counted in," and wrote in response to an appeal and update letter he received last month, "It really upsets me to see these politicians stacking more laws on top of this drug war. I've just about lost hope for a change. I'm afraid that we are losing the fight we are fighting. This terrible tragedy has just given them a shovel to add coals to the fire. Even so, I'm still going to give you my support."

Jose Martinez, Chuck Armsbury, Nora Callahan and
"Buddy" (far right) - Missoula Montana Sept. 16, 2001
Louis, the terrible tragedies of September 11th did indeed set back many progressive causes. Most nonprofits are scrambling to cover expenses, and this means there is an intense battle for scarce donations, too. New anti-terrorist laws do threaten freedom, and some people are afraid to speak out in tenuous times. Let me stress again, however, that we are not giving up this long fight. We may be forced to do as much or more with less money - but if we all pitch in with many small contributions, we can 'ride out' this storm and remain effective voices for drug law reform. Our message does not change. We remain committed to justice, and demand the release of drug war prisoners, an end to the drug war, and restoration of civil rights.

We encourage our members to thoroughly examine what it is to be a responsible, patriotic citizen. Patriotism shouldn't be something we practice only when we are under physical attack. And what is patriotism anyhow? Isn't it caring about our country, and the policies we adopt that affect our country and our world? It's working to make our country better, encouraging our fellow citizens to be active in their government.

Active members of the November Coalition have been practicing their patriotism daily for some time now. Nothing within the events of 9/11 or its aftermath suggests that our mission to end the drug war is outside the bounds of true patriotism; it is patriotism. And, Louis, thank you for your donation, and your optimistic commitment to continue this fight for justice. There's no giving up, and so please take hope -we can't work without it.