Time to Rethink Drug War Strategy,
03 Oct 2002 - Detroit News (MI)
Ann Arbor and Detroit, MI
From Kevin Zeese - October 14
I just returned from the first stop on the November Coalitions' Journey for Justice. The Journey had an incredibly strong send off from the Detroit/Ann Arbor communities. They set a standard for other communities to emulate, meet and hopefully-as good as Detroit was-surpass!
The Michigan stop included seven events, along with a number of media opportunities. As Congressman John Conyers, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee in the US House of Representatives (and who will be Chairman of Judiciary if the Democrats retake the House) said at the main event in Detroit-"If the victims of the drug war stand united they will form a political constituency that could end the drug war."
That is the essence of the goal of the Journey for Justice-to activate a constituency of people directly effected by the drug war so that they can become an effective army against the drug war.
Events began on Friday, October 11 with a small meeting with a dozen African-American men in Detroit. After meeting with Nora and Chuck -- discussing the drug war, sentencing, lack of treatment-they agreed to form a new chapter of the November Coalition. One thing they said-that became a common refrain for the weekend-was "it is time for the various races to work together to end the drug war." If you want to get active with the new November Coalition chapter contact Amanda Brezel at: email@example.com - Amanda reports that the new November Coalition chapter will be holding meetings at the Unitarian Church in Detroit.
The next event was held at the University of Michigan that night. The SSDP chapter of U of M worked with the Drug Policy Forum of Michigan to organize the event. A November Coalition slide show was shown at the beginning-highlighting the lives of many drug war victims and providing key facts about the drug war. Nora, Chuck and I spoke along with representatives from SSDP and DPF MI. Approximately 60 people attended the event on a Friday night. About half of the attendees joined us in a march where we carried signs urging an end to the drug war and chanted slogans through Ann Arbor after the forum. The goal of these events was to give attendees the tools they need to become more active and effective in working for reform.
Nora filmed a local television show the next morning-"For My People" -- a discussion show where the impact of the drug war with a special focus on its impact on the Black community was discussed.
The main event for the Journey in the Detroit area was held at the University of Detroit School of Law. The Saturday event, lasting from 1 to 5:30 PM was attended by over 100 people. Happily, two members of Congress attended-Rep. John Conyers and Representative Cheeks-Kilpatrick (who also happens to be the mother of the Mayor of Detroit). To have two members of Congress attending, just a few weeks before very important elections, was a major coup for the Journey for Justice and DPF MI. Rep. Conyers is strongly with the reform movement-he believes the drug war needs to be ended and wants to see us develop the political base needed to effect the national legislative process. He congratulated the Journey for its effort at building a national grass-roots base. Rep. Kilpatrick began agreeing that there is "No Justice in the War on Drugs"-the slogan of the November Coalition and also applauded the national coalition building of the Journey for Justice. She noted "we are all recovering from something." Rep. Kilpatrick, while still needing some education on some drug policy issues, understands that the drug war is unjust-DPF MI and others will build with her from there.
Interestingly, opposition to reform felt a strong need to be at this main event. Indeed, when I was in the hallway I overheard an opponent of reform on her cell phone saying-"we need to get some people down here to speak up" - a handful of opponents did show up and did speak against reform during question and answer periods. However, they were largely ineffective. The opponents came primarily from people in the drug treatment industry. Having opponents in the room actually enhanced the dialogue as attendees were able to hear their arguments and the effective reform responses to them.
The formal event was followed by an informal event for core activists at the home of Tim Beck. Tim is the advocate who so professionally approached the medical marijuana issue in Detroit with a voter initiative. While he was unsuccessful in getting the issue on the ballot (through no fault of his own), he has shown great leadership in the way he approached the issue and promises to continue with his good work. The evening event allowed for excellent opportunity for informal discussion of next steps for Michigan activists.
On Sunday, the Journey for Justice had two events at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in downtown Detroit. The pastor, Larry Hutchison, gave a sermon that weaved the drug war and its impact throughout. Nora was asked to address the UU church service to over 100 people from the pulpit. This was followed by a small meeting of 13 people who were interested in getting active. Once again the common theme of white-black-brown unity came up-the recognition that we are all in this together and need to work together was expressed.
The final event for the first stop of the Journey was a vigil at the Federal Correctional Institute at Milan outside of Detroit. A half dozen activists stood near the sign of the FCI at a major highway holding signs proclaiming there is "No Justice in the War on Drugs."
In addition to the taping of the television show mentioned above, the NBC affiliate for Detroit took footage of the main event at Detroit Law School. In addition, the Metro Times attended both the event in Ann Arbor and at the law school along with several smaller community and college papers.
After this series of events, where at each there was a mix of new people as well as reform activists, Nora came to the conclusion that we have a lot of community education still ahead of us. While the new people attending had heard some background noise about the problems with the drug war, they also were largely uninformed about reform and did not know there was a growing reform movement throughout the US. Basic information is still needed for the community, media and community leaders. People know the drug was is not working, often they know people hurt by the drug war but have not yet committed to the need to end the war on drugs.
There were other lessons learned from the Detroit experience that Nora will be sharing with November Coalition leaders and those who have expressed interest in working on the Journey.
This is the first phase of the Journey for Justice-a journey that Nora and Chuck plan to stay on the next four years. So, if you want them to come to your community let them know.
The success of the first stop of the Journey not only goes to the November Coalition but also to many local individuals and organizations -- especially-DPF Michigan, SSDP at University of Michigan, the Unitarian Church and Police Officers for Drug Reform. Congratulations to everyone involved for a very good beginning of a historic Journey for Justice.
Adding to Kevin's report: Nora's reflections: 10/16/02
We were moved quickly here and there in the Detroit and Ann Arbor areas, to great events and media interviews, but accompanied by a variety of organizers and able to spend quality 'commuter time' with some; long urban walks with others.
Shared meals, parking lot discussions, and event preparation periods gave us time to get to know local organizers beyond email or phone exchanges of the past. Chuck and my deepest appreciation is extended to those organizers in both directions of this Journey path-for all the work you have done to prepare for our arrival.
At the vigil near Milan, an African American man slowed down and in response to our banner message: There is no justice in the war on drugs, he shouted out to us, "I hope you didn't just figure that out!"
Chuck drummed up contacts for informal "camp meetings" by asking the kids in the hotel pool if they were visiting their daddies at the prison. "We are here to talk with people about ending drug war injustice."
One boy jumped out of the pool and said, "What do we gotta do? We're here with our auntie." We met with her late in the evening; elderly with a bad cold, she brought children of the family from Chicago to visit her son, "Doing 20 years for 2 grams of crack. Had we known you were going to be here, we'd have been outside at that vigil with you," she promised.
At breakfast next morning, the cashier asked where we were from. We told her, and added why we'd come to Milan, Michigan. Chuck went to the men's room and the cashier whispered, "I was a junkie and they sent me to prison. I got this job, and a few of us gals that work here have done time on drugs. I'm a criminal, I know, but...."
"You have a treatable medical condition - the law made you a criminal," I told her. She grabbed my hand for a moment, and said, "Thanks for telling me that - I'll tell the others. Do you have any information you could give us?"
We do! We left it with her to share with others; and I take with me the look in her eyes when I explained to her that sometimes laws are more culprit than those who break it. There was a look of relief in her eyes that will stay with me.
The Journey for Justice is in great part due to our extreme need for relief from the injustice of the drug war. Our learning, by meeting the war's victims, reveals the ubiquity of it. The war's casualties are all around us.
I urged those at the UU event in Detroit to look inside the prisons that are hidden in the cornfields. After meeting the recovering addict cashier, I would add - look inside the souls of this war's victims. They need relief!
We have online instructions for the vigil at the Federal Medical Facility in Devens - just Northwest of Boston about 35-40 miles. This prison facility houses many sick prisoners; many with HIV/AIDS, who are nonviolent, no threat, under-treated; and should be released under present 'compassionate release' that our laws provide for, but our prison officials won't press for. To understand the nature of this terrible agony on prisoners and their loved ones, please visit the story of Isidro Aviles, on the Wall portion of our web site.
Aerial photos of the prison, and graphics and other photos were provided by the Massachusetts State Patrol that are working with us to make the vigil 'successful and safe'. There are a lot of truckers that use the highway through that area we were told.
Ray Brook Federal Correctional facility is our next event - a vigil and 'camp meeting'. This time we know how to find the relatives - visit motel pools and cafes. November Coalition member Shirley Kessel told us while meeting at Milan that we needed to go to the cheaper strip motels to find our members.
Our strategy at Ray Brook will be to visit every area hotel/motel and ask to place our brochure and meeting place and time on their counters. We meet tomorrow with families to vigil and hold a 'camp meeting'. Ray Brook prison is the only federal prison in the country that has not one November Coalition member. The associate warden wants to meet with us before the vigil with his questions - we have some questions to ask as well.
One message we are driving home to our members is this: Sending annual dues to have "Nora 'n Chuck" end the drug war isn't the way to think - not now or ever. Hell will freeze over before that would happen. More and more of us working together, building a movement of active people, will result in reform. Dues help us do the work of leadership, but thinking you are paying us to do the work - .... nope, get that out of your heads. Take one or more projects, or organizing ideas we put out to you, and work with us. We are in this - together. Network with others in your community, become an active member in the movement to end the war on drugs.
Visit http://www.JourneyForJustice.org - photos of Michigan events are being posted and labeled now. Upcoming event details for the northeastern portion of the journey can be found there.
We hope to find you on the Journey!