Saturday, November 19, 2005

What about the children?

SSDPers all around the country work continuously to combat certain misguided policies that directly target young people, such as student drug testing, the HEA Drug Provision, or misleading drug "education" programs like DARE. But do we stop often enough to consider the way punitive prohibitionist policies in general so often discard youth as collateral damage in this Drug War?

RawStory has a review of the new book All Alone in the World: Children of the Incarcerated. The book, by Nell Bernstein, talks about the short- and long-term effects a parent's arrest can have on a young person. In addition to being left parentless when moms and dads are serving time, kids continue to suffer when their parents come out of prison and aren't able to find jobs, get food stamps, and secure housing.
[S]hutting down every means by which a parent can hope to go straight is a recipe for recidivism that punishes both parents and their kids. "Children," Bernstein writes, celebrate their parent's release "with cyclical regularity, then lose hope in increments as she fights a losing battle against joblessness, untreated addiction, and the intractable stigma of a criminal record." When a parent can't get a job or food stamps, or live in public housing or get into a decent drug treatment program because of her past conviction, the resulting strain undermines the parent-child relationship, humiliates and enrages everyone involved, and increases the chances of the parent turning to crime again and the child following her example.
There are 2.4 million children in the U.S. who now have a mother or father behind bars. And hearing many of their stories is enough to outrage anyone with a shred of compassion or common sense.
The police who came for nine-year-old Ricky's mom were in such a hurry that they left him alone in the apartment with his infant brother. For two weeks, Ricky cooked for himself and his brother, and changed his diapers, until neighbors noticed and called Child Protective Services. Antonia was five when she saw her mother arrested on the street for prostitution — handcuffed and put into the back of a police car. At home, she and her ten-year-old brother were on their own for a week until their mother returned.
There's got to be a better way than this.
...Bernstein argues that the well-being of both prisoners and their children is better insured through drug treatment, regular family visits, and parenting classes than it is through simply locking prisoners up, forcing them to communicate with their children by phone or through glass, or farming a child out to a foster home "for their own good..."
Sounds to me like Bernstein's book is worth checking out. Here's an idea: buy a copy for your favorite state legislator for the holidays.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Drug Czar gets bad report card, loses his allowance

Melissa at D'Alliance (a former SSDP national staffer herself) has the scoop that Congress voted today to slash the Drug Czar's advertising budget by $20 million, down to $100 million. This is the lowest it's been since the ineffective National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign was created in 1998.

Federally-funded studies have repeatedly revealed the ad campaign to be a failure:
There is little evidence of direct favorable Campaign effects on youth, either for the Marijuana Initiative period or for the Campaign as whole. The trend data in marijuana use is not favorable, and for the primary target audience, 14- to 16-year-olds, past year use increased from 2000 through 2003...
It's only a matter of time before elected officials take away all of little Johnny's allowance and send him to bed without any dinner.

I can't say it any better than Melissa at DPA does here, in her open letter to the Drug Czar:
It's a matter of time before America cuts you off completely, so make a move and walk away with some dignity.

I know it's painful to hear, but America's just not that into you, and she never will be. I'm sure you wish it could be different, but as we say down South, "You can wish in one hand and sh** in the other and see which one gets filled first."
Drug Czar displays how much his budget will be next year: zero

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Souder and Meth Mania

This morning, a subcommittee of the House Education and Workforce Committee held a hearing titled "Combating Methamphetamines through Prevention and Education."

What a show!

Aside from being pointless, since the committee heard from no oppositional voices to the status quo on meth, Rep. Mark Souder in particular demonstrated that Congress has yet to take a sane look at dealing with the serious harms associated with meth.

Souder rolled out the typical arguments about meth being the new crack, and then touted the new ONDCP/PDFA meth "awareness" campaign.

Awareness, huh? Souder praised Rep. Darlene Hooley (D-OR) for her advocacy of a program in Oregon through which teenagers compete for the most ridiculous or frightening ad alerting their peers to the stupidity of using meth. Of the two ads that Hooley showed to the committee, one attempted to make the viewer laugh at a caricature of an infomercial and the other takes the fear angle by showing a raid on a house of a little girl who will never see her daddy again.

Clearly, our elected representatives favor hyperbole and overexaggerated scare tactics to facts and sound science.

Oh yeah, the news wasn't all bad. Souder emphatically, and of course authoritatively, declared that the meth high is "twelve times better than the best orgasm." There you have it.

Rep. Souder gets "leid"

How we fight the drug war

It strikes me that the post "Why we fight the drug war" should be part of a larger depiction of all the questions which face us as we move forward.

The "Why," which certainly seems to most fundamental question, is also the most unspeakable and the most eligible for "agree to disagree" solutions.

As some may know, I have recently taken an interest into the important question of “how” – that is, which tactics are most likely to effect change, and how they fit into a larger strategy of implementing the “what” and the “why.”

This, the “how,” appears to me to be the most visible stumbling block facing the movement. I’m not saying this is a problem – this and all movements, when they become sufficiently serious and cared for, become a list of stumbling blocks which must be resolved one at a time.

My efforts to address the “how” at the SSDP national congress seem to have resonated very well with people with whom I’ve never personally discussed the issue – I received more private praise for my comments than I think I ever have before at an SSDP congress.

However, the people I have come to know and work with, and in many cases love, seemed to be dismayed by some of what I was suggesting.

Let me first debunk what I feel was a major misperception of my comments: that I was advocating the dismantlement or de-emphasis of the national office in the short term. I was not. In fact I love the national office, and my observation has consistently been that the national office and chapters have a stronger, smarter relationship than either of those entities have with the board of directors.

Likewise, while I did describe my vision of a future which does not include a board of directors, I also tried to make clear that this was my vision of the far future – years and maybe decades away – and in fact this is a part of my vision for all of human interaction, not just SSDP.

The most contentious of my comments, however, seem to have been those regarding our involvement in the national legislative process, and I’d like to start a serious, well rounded discussion about this subject.

Please understand that my comments on this subject come in a very specific context. I strongly considered applying to become SSDP’s legislative director. My own interest in the legislative process is what has compelled me to seek and win the highest legislative office at my school, and also that which has led me to form relationships with my own congresscritters and to frequently engage in the process of lobbying and engaging legislatures personally.

Following my decision not to apply, I began to think much more critically about my place in the movement and what it means in relation to the board. I realized that I and many of my chaptermates are quite capable of engaging the legislature when needed, but that as students, this tactic was simply not as effective as other tactics.

Make no mistake: It is clear to me, as I imagine it is to chapters, the board, and the office, that under our current system of government it is necessary to engage the legislature to make change. No question about it.

Until this changes, the drug policy reform movement clearly must have a strong and efficient legislative component.

The real question then, is this: Is it the place of SSDP to engage the legislature or does it make more sense to leave this task to other organizations who are in a more logical place to employ this tactic?

I believe that the latter conclusion is the only sustainable one.

I have many (many) more thoughts on this subject, but I’m interested to hear what others think as well.

I would like to say, though, that I have the utmost appreciation for the work that many individuals have put into this movement to make our current and future situations possible.

I am sad to see Scarlett leaving us, and although I’m sure this will be the topic of future posts, I would like to reiterate my comments at the congress that our current stagnation cannot be blamed on her, but must be attributed to more systemic causes.

More to come soon – including updates on the SSDPNE conference, Rock Against Racism, our fight to end the expulsion policy at New Paltz, and much more.

Finally, Tom: thanks for setting this blog up – technology is the way to revolution. Thanks also for letting me add to this project – I am excited about it.

A bigger tent. A stronger movement.

Along with more than 100 SSDPers and a thousand other reformers from around the world, I attended the International Drug Policy Conference held last week in Long Beach, CA.


The breadth of information, concern, and participation was so intense that I am still reflecting and unpacking my thoughts five days later. As always, I am continually amazed by our student activists who are so passionate and accomplish so much.

One recurrent theme throughout the entire conference was the lack of diversity within the drug policy reform movement. I was impressed by the level of attention that conference organizers paid to the need for broadening our tent. An impromptu plenary session, featuring Ira Glasser and Cliff Thornton, linked the drug war to a dark history of oppression, from slavery to Jim Crow. Subsequently, the DPR movement was framed as the successor to the civil rights movement.

Let me restate that: Our movement is the current civil rights movement.

This should make us take serious reflection on our intentions and the urgency with which we conduct our work. We should also take a look around our tent and start asking hard questions about why so many of those faces are so pale. Although people of color are the disproportionate targets of drug war oppression, they are not proportionately represented in our movement. If we truly believe that our movement is one that is fundamentally about justice - and we do! - then justice dictates that we should be linking our arms with those who bear the brunt of drug war brutality.

Reflection is important. Discussion is critical. But, ultimately what really counts is whether or not we act to widen our movement and work alongside those who bear the deep scars of the drug war.

We all heard the calls from Rev. Kenny Glasgow at the Ordinary People Society and Judge Arthur Burnett of the National African American Drug Policy Coalition, among others, to act. We all squirmed and we were all uncomfortable. Good. Now, let's do something about it.

In solidarity,

Throw the bums out

Voters in Athens, OH ousted two incumbent school board members who voted for a student drug testing plan that was fervently opposed by parents and students. The voters reelected another incumbent who opposed the testing proposal.
New board members Gordon Brooks and Mike Chapman both acknowledged that the policy, which met with fierce opposition from some district parents, helped spark their decisions to run.
Let's hope that elected officials elsewhere take note that supporting programs that do nothing to protect young people and instead needlessly infringe on their civil rights - all while flushing taxpayers' money down the toilet - will only jeopardize their political careers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Student journalists forgot to do homework

The geniuses on the editorial board of the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, the student newspaper at the University of Massachusetts, recently opined in favor of the HEA Drug Provision.
Short and sweet, the federal government is not funding a student's college education so they can get high. If that is how they choose to spend their money and their time in college, they certainly do not need to be wasting the government's money in the process; money, mind you, that could have gone to students who take their education and time here more seriously.
Someone needs to (respectfully) tell these fools that there is already a measure that makes sure students are getting the most out of their college education and the federal financial aid they receive - it's called grades. That's right, students must maintain a 2.0 Grade Point Average to receive aid. So if students are wasting all of their time using or selling drugs instead of studying and going to classes, they're already going to lose their aid.

The HEA Drug Provision is discriminatory, causes much more harm than it prevents, and should be repealed immediately.

If you have five minutes, please write a letter to the editor of the Daily Collegian and send it to: Don't forget to plug SSDP for any interested students who might read your letter!

Drug War: Still keeping little girls safe at school

Two incidents from last week show how the Drug War - purportedly aimed at protecting young people - actually makes matters worse for us.

The first example comes from across the pond in England. At an elementary school there, police officers conducted a demonstration aimed at scaring kids out of bringing drugs to school by showing them how dogs can easily sniff out controlled substances.

But the doofus officer conducting the demonstration made a BIG mistake:
Ch Supt Dave Wheeler for Lincolnshire police said: "When the packages were being hidden two packages were inadvertently placed in the girls bag and when the dog found the drugs only one package was retrieved.
Understandably, the parents of 10-year-old Kia Butterfield are pissed:
She added her two younger children aged one and three were running around the house at the time and might have thought the bag of speed was sweets.
And back here in the U.S., we're now giving drug tests to teenage girls experiencing the symptoms of PMS.

16-year-old Nicole James of Raymore, MO wasn't feeling too well when her special time of the month came for her during the school day. Understandably, she was too embarrassed to tell school officials that her queasiness was a result of her period. When administrators thought she might be under the influence, they decided to give her a field sobriety test.

Dale James said Nicole did not fail the test, but the school told him she did not pass with flying colors. So, the family was given two options."Either a police officer could take my daughter down to juvenile hall, or we could have her tested (for drugs) ourselves," Dale James said. He said they opted for a drug test, which Nicole passed without a problem.
The parents are now trying to get the school to pay for the cost of the drug test. Good luck to them and all of the other families sick of the Drug War's invasion of young people's privacy and its infringement on our safety.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Why do we fight the drug war?

That was the question being asked and answered repeatedly by almost a thousand drug policy reformers (about 100 of them student activists) as we gathered at the Westin in Long Beach, CA this weekend for the Drug Policy Alliance’s 2005 International Drug Policy Reform Conference.

The issue was pondered as speakers delivered remarks, reformers chatted next to exhibition booths, and other guests at the Westin saw dozens of students wearing t-shirts bearing the words “I fight the drug war - ask me why.”

Some of us are primarily concerned with the way the drug war deprives human beings of autonomy over their own minds and bodies, while others are more motivated by the way current drug policies waste taxpayers’ resources and proliferate violent crime, disease, and death. Most of us have a myriad of reasons for dedicating so much of ourselves to the cause of ending the drug war.

From the disproportionate impact U.S. drug policies have on people of color, to the diversion of otherwise-taxable transactions to the criminal market, and from the impact prohibitionist supply-reduction policies have on the rain forest in Colombia and other countries, to the implications for federalism and states rights, the war on drugs reaches into almost every area of human life and public policy.

Writing now from Long Beach and reflecting over a weekend that went by way too quickly, I have to say I’m in awe of the quality and dedication of so many SSDP activists who traveled here from across the country to meet each other and talk about how to win campaigns and build our organization. Not surprisingly, brilliant students with diverse backgrounds and experiences don’t all agree on how exactly to win this decades-old war. Spirited discussions about how to most effectively move forward took place during breakout and plenary sessions, the SSDP Congress, on the nearby beach sands, and in hotel rooms into the late hours of the night and early hours of the morning.

And I’m further encouraged as I sit here and think about how many conversations activists had over the weekend with other guests in the Westin’s elevators and with pedestrians on the way to and from the other hotels in the area where many attendees slept and hung out.

But of course, we can’t and won’t stop there. If we’re going to put an end to these destructive policies, we need to tell everyone we know and everyone we meet about how the drug war negatively impacts them and everyone they love. No person or family is left untouched, which was made eminently clear by the wide assortment of backgrounds conference attendees came from. Students, cops, judges, drug users, current and former addicts, substance abuse treatment providers, elected officials, medical marijuana patients, former prisoners, and many, many others came together from many different perspectives in unison against a war that destroys lives.

As Ethan Nadelmann, DPA’s executive director, said during the conference’s opening plenary, the reform movement is made up of people who love drugs, people who hate drugs, and people who just don’t give a damn about drugs one way or another.

The diversity of perspectives represented at the conference shows just how complex issues surrounding drug use and abuse really are. There are no silver bullet solutions to these problems, but it is especially up to us – young people who will incur the consequences of these policies for the rest of our lives – to formulate and implement more effective ways to minimize the potential negative consequences associated with the demand for and use of drugs.

I hope that those of you who attended the conference will comment here and share your thoughts on the historic gathering. And if you have any digital pictures of the weekend’s events, please send them to me so we can put them on the SSDP website and share the memories with everyone.