The War on the Drug War must escalate, and it must be Total War. June 17th marks the 40th Anniversary since Nixon declared the War on American people known as the War on Drugs. It is the 39th anniversary since the same president declared “we are winning.” And what does winning look like? What would the Ku Klux Klan say to the fact that more Black men are in prison today than were enslaved in 1850?
There are ample signs that the tipping point has passed, as people around the world are condemning the Drug War as a phenomenal failure. Legislation proposing legalization, or (more modestly) Decriminalization of marijuana has become standard fare across the nation. This week, people and organizations in all parts of the country are holding actions and events to mark this line in the sand, to say No More Drug War. The push has been helped by Drug Policy Alliance, and their dozens of partners, including the chapters of Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
I will be in New York City on Friday with several of those partners, including Women On the Rise Telling Herstory (WORTH) and VOCAL, for a roundtable discussion in the Harlem State Building followed by an outside vigil. The roundtable starts at 1pm. On Saturday, I will be in Providence at the Block party put on by Direct Action for Rights & Equality. A 3pm War On The Drug War rally will highlight a day of live music, BBQ, and fun for the whole family. Check the DPA website for events happening in your area.
So, what does “total war” look like, you might ask? It means everywhere is a battleground, and every element needs to be considered as pieces on the chessboard to move or eliminate. A new civil rights movement must recognize the history of the past 40 years and the broad shoulders of responsibility that can carry the blame, shame, or remorse for developing a Trillion dollar investment in 40 years of tears.
There are many in the world of government and non-profit organizations who grew fat on their complicity; those who chose to sit at the table, take the money, and believe in the basic concept of incarcerating someone for what they consider to be amoral behavior… And then will take responsibility for helping these people with chains figure out how to walk with them on.
Prisons have developed their own “rehabilitation” arm of operations, with the stated intention of helping the formerly incarcerated to stand upright, yet refuse to advocate for the removal of these chains in the first place. Government itself has been taking over the roles once solely in the hands of community organizations, clinics, and faith groups. But of course, it is not “prisons” that do anything, it is the men and women who make their living working for them… And the tendencies of bureaucracies to produce conservative results.
Consider that one narrative lost in the official Caste-erization of the community is the one of redemption, transformation, and change. By focusing support solely on those who are akin to “first time, non-violent offenders,” we are looking at people who many would argue should never have been in prison in the first place. We no longer want to confront the process of the Prodigal Son returning, nor deal with the moral conflicts of redemption and the challenge that presents to family and community.
We need to emphasize De-Entry over Re-Entry. People should not be going to prison in this War on Drugs that has spawned our Prison Industrial Complex. So let’s pause to take a grim look at economic realities, and understand what’s really going on:
There are not enough jobs. There have been excess “baggage” (a.k.a. People) for about 40 years… Since the Baby Boomers came of age. Since that time, multinational corporations have responded to their prime directive (make their shareholders money) by moving operations to where labor is cheapest, and automating as much as possible. The theme is that workers cut into profits, and overeducated workers can be troublesome… But the bottom line is that there is an excess of people in the American economy- the one that enriches the few, who justify this imbalance by claiming they will provide everybody with jobs.
How should the Power Brokers maintain their status quo? And a status quo so potent that it survived the colossal failure due to the full support of the politicians they fund? Clearly they need a systemic approach to the excess people; nibbling across the board is too much diffusion of effort, and cannot yield the results of a major Swoop of an operation. Enter: Urban Education.
There is no sense in educating 10% of your population if the only role they are serving is as the Savage, the Beast, the Anti-Social Unemployed Client that justifies prisons and the Rehabilitation Industry. The Providence School Department, for example, is responsible for educating 22,000 students this year, 65% of whom are Hispanic; only 11% are White students. How to eradicate a large percentage of an economy, and render them as residents of the Under-Caste? One could demonize the teachers, destabilize the Working Poor parents that were born under this system, and militarize schools by putting police on every corner. And the few who escape the gauntlet can take on $100,000 worth of education debt to Enter the Middle Class… Possibly.
Total War means we need to label “law enforcement” for what it is, and recognize what it is not. It is the domestic military of the War on People known as the War on Drugs. It is not a preventer of poor education, not a preventer of hunger, not a preventer of homelessness, not a preventer of addiction, and not a preventer of violence. They do come after milk is spilled, and try to clean up the mess with the blunt instruments at their disposal.
The police are not a holy institution. Their occupations are not as vital as most believe. Where in this militarized approach to safety have we prioritized our food supply as Monsanto and others play genetic experiments out upon billions of people? Where is the environmental safety, such as British Petroleum’s self-enforcement of their offshore drilling procedures? Where do the “Guns and Steel” fit into our national education and national health care compared with other nations? Clearly, the Power Brokers have long since embraced two Americas within the same borders- one of which gets a Third World dictatorship form of rule, and the other we keep telling ourselves exists for those who “earn” it.
The War on The Drug War must acknowledge that criminalization is based on a policy of concentrating domestic military into urban areas… Where People of Color have critical mass. If the goal were to raid and suppress drug use, rather than destabilize and control certain communities, the U.S. Police forces would be raiding college campus and fraternity houses on a daily basis. This is where one will unquestionably find the most intensive drug use, and in widespread numbers.
How often have you read the story about a DEA raid on Alpha Beta Delta House, or the like? Case closed.
Total War demands politicians have clear positions on the War on People known as the War on Drugs. They need to confront families of prisoners and former prisoners (who also make up the bulk of victims and victim’s families), to defend the policies of billions servicing this militarization on an annual basis. There are many aspects, various participants, and many battlefields in this dilemma- thus a simple marching order will not do.
Many of the supporters of the Drug War are racists and elitists, no matter how cleverly they attempt to cloak themselves. Such people will probably always exist. They need not be converted; they need to be rendered irrelevant. Whether it is by deconstructing and exposing their arguments, or simply outnumbering and outvoting them, they will fall by the wayside. Consider that it is impossible to openly state racist sentiments and promote fascist policies. This is progress, but we have been letting the closeted rationale hold sway long enough.
Be encouraged (or forewarned, depending on your position) that millions of people did not vote for Obama with the belief that we need more militarization and domestic oppression. The fact that Obama has disappointed millions by maintaining the bipartisan status quo of surveillance, incarceration, prohibition, and war… This is yet another indicator of where the hearts and minds of America can be found: within the realms of peace, equity, and community.
The enemy has an economic incentive to maintain the War on People known as the War on Drugs. Those enemies do not need to have malice in their heart, it is only their complicity that matters.
Why the military lens to frame the War on the War on Drugs? Ask Richard Nixon who declared the war… And Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, Bill Clinton, George W Bush, and Barack Obama. None of these men felt any need to pacify the War, nor change the language connected to it. They are the Commanders in Chief, heads of the Executive Branch that police and attorneys general work for… And the Bully Pulpit for legislators living in fear of a de-election.
Unlike those who declared the War and wage it, we know it will not be won through violence- a fact they have failed to recognize. Our counter-offensive will be fueled by Love, Learning, Community, and Love.