Photos: Inside the International Drug Policy Reform Conference, part two
Editor's note: This is part two of correspondent Shannon Brandt's reports about the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Denver last week. To read part one, click here.
A logo is often regarded as a condensed, compressed, symbolic summoning-up of everything that a big entity means to represent in everyday life. In most cases, the logo can even be seen as the most visible sign of the collective intelligence seething and rattling away behind it.
The Drug Policy Alliance convention's special-made logo is simple and to the point: a blue circle containing the word "reform" and a bright yellow droplet encapsulating and emphasizing the "form" section of the word. The theme presented is one of movement transition, where a bright and shining new light on the "form" of remaking drug policy within our nation's existing institutions depends on professionalism and formal outreach. That is, taking the traditional power structure head-on by enlisting to your cause those regarded as its most staunch supporters: cops, judges, social workers, military officers and so on. In other words, the people who worked on the inside of the system, pushing the "Prohibition" doctrine firsthand -- the people who got to see everyday why repressive drug policies just didn't work.
You can contrast that labeling with the traditional imagery of a police officer's badge. Pinned to the heart of the agent of the law tasked with the on-the-ground enforcement of national drug policy, that image sends a very strong message to the public: that the cold mechanics of law enforcement hold precedence over the passions and emotions of the heart. That machine-like desire to fulfill a method of social control certainly doesn't bode well for the personal stories -- and human lives -- that get swept to the wayside.
Lynn Paltrow, of the Birmingham, AL chapter of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, explained in the womens' forum how new Alabama law classified a pregnant woman's body as a "non-drug-free environment" constituting arrest.
Photo by Shannon Brandt
Expanding the inclusivity of a movement to include not just those who have been victimized by the drug war, but also those who believed for some time that it could help people, invites a flood of new emotions and questions. In this new context, where does emotion truly fit alongside professionalism? Where do tears belong in the movement?
That last question might be regarded as a key tool for the movement in analyzing the power that combining both elements equally could bring to the table -- but it's a challenge that women within the community have faced all along.
In an all-womens' forum at the conference, a strong case is presented that this and questions like it have long been used not as a tool to empower women, but to silence their voice.
The idea that there's a time and a place for emotions, and that professionalism must come first and foremost, is actually a sentiment that the women in the room agree with. What they don't agree with is the way that this question is used to hyper-analyze and restrict their roles and capabilities.
That's a problem for the women here, and for the movement as a whole. Without a doubt, there is a great and somewhat untapped potential in the positive impact organized mothers could enact for policy change. The opposition knows this: Historically, parents -- and more often, mothers -- have been deliberately excluded from conversations on policy change by key decision-makers.
The reason? Decision-makers feel that mothers have an innate bias on the issue, due to their desire to love and protect their children. It's believed that this bias prevents women from making sound judgments on drug policy, and warrants their exclusion from the conversation.
I repeat: To have a child and to hold a view that the drug policy should protect children means you will likely be ignored by the very people with the power to protect all of our nations' children.
It is this vantage point that many believe reveals the intersection between the "War On Drugs" and the "War On Women."
Continue to read more about the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Denver.
There are a few new conversations starting now within the movement that emphasize some of its highest expectations -- and they begin and end with unique collaboration and the engagement of the youth community.
One example of the former was emphasized by a panel of industry and advocacy professionals, when questioned as to what measure of priority the movement should be courting in terms of an alliance with the burgeoning e-cigarette industry.
The answer? Top priority -- one firmly rooted in the right to personal freedom and the right to ingest drugs in a fashion that will not impinge upon others' rights to personal health via second-hand smoke.
"I don't think we can have an alliance with big tobacco.... They want nothing to do with us, lobby against us, and they're tainted now anyway," said Dale Gieringer, executive director of California NORML. "But I do want to put in a good word about a group we've been working with, CASAA (Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives). Their executive director lobbied for greater public protections on second-hand smoke, and now he lobbies for e-cigarettes as a 'harm reduction alternative.' (Working with a) public protection consumer lobby group is very different than big tobacco."
Right next door, a consortium of public officials from political climates as different as Kansas and Washington came together on one very key point of strategy when it comes to gaining drug reform victories nationwide. From their perspective, the youth community must be a part of any campaign to win -- but that community's focus and energy needs to be shifted to where it's needed most. Fighting intense pressure from the private prison industry by way of high-end monetary contributions and lobbying, the message from political leaders to the youth is clear: go where you're needed.
In comparing this sentiment to one held by youth organizers in the 1960s civil rights movement, a member of the audience proclaimed: "If you want better drug policy, you've got to act like the police. Cops respond to every call for help; they're never going to say its too dangerous or too hard, they're going to respond and act."
Bringing that issue home was one call for help that we should all be listening to, young or old.
Photo by Shannon Brandt
Daryl Atkinson, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, works for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSG), a multi-issue legal firm that represents the most vulnerable communities across North Carolina. Atkinson explained that the intersection of drug policy with his mission is present because the war on drugs is a "war on community." I asked how it felt right now, working in the South: Was it like working at the back of the bus?
"I just feel like it's ground zero," Atkinson replied. "Listen: If you think of the drug war as just the latest manifestation of social control of black and brown people, where is that most entrenched? In the South. Where is it most pervasive? In the South. So, this is where the fight has to be fought. It's like when you think about fighting cancer: Where are you gonna fight the disease but where it's strongest?"
The media tends to give an image of courtooms as these places of fast-paced drama, rife with competition and an almost sport-like atmosphere, I pointed out. Did he feel like this a fun game to play?
"Is this a fun game?" he repeated. "Nah, because every day when I'm going into courtrooms or when I'm trying to advocate before county commissions or city councils or state legislatures or whatever, I'm constantly going to battle against a system that was designed for the disadvantage of black and brown folks and poor folks. So that ain't fun."
The SCSG was celebrating a recent victory in new privacy protections for convicted felons, so I asked Atkinson what he felt the victory would have to be before he could consider himself done with this line of work -- to which I got a quick re-connect to the full decriminalization of all drugs.
"Nationally or globally?"
He smiled. "National would be a pretty good start."
Visit The Latest Word this week for more coverage of the International Drug Policy Reform Conference.
More from our Marijuana archive: "Photos: Inside the International Drug Policy Reform Conference, part one."
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