The War on Drugs, Progressives, Why People Don’t Vote

13 12 2015

I recently attended a Drug Policy Reform Conference in Washington, D.C. and it was a stellar, educational, inspirational affair about the current matters of inequality, progressivism in action, and alternative wellness healthcare strategies.  There were about 1300 or so people there and I’ve never been surrounded by a more stimulating environment where every person I met, every discussion and panel I attended had amazing positive intentions for contributing to making society a better place.

 

Whenever I go to these types of events I automatically feel like everyone will agree with me.  Everyone is a progressive right?  We all want Bernie Sanders in the white house or at least pushing the liberal agenda (which everything at this conference seems to fall under) seems a unifying component.  Although this is true on many levels it is not exactly the case and highlights the problems of progressives in general.  Progressives are a complicated bunch.  We like to talk, we like to ponder, we like to wish the world was a better place, we like to have work/life balance (which some interpret as not liking to work), we don’t like to settle on things we see as selling out the common person which comes across as uncompromising, among many other infinite complicated thoughts.  The point is that if you’re in a room full of progressives it is probably a complicated conversation with lots of beer drinking or cannabis smoking (among other illegal substances) or talk of how you enjoy the arts or if you’ve seen the latest Jon Oliver or any other show that highlights societal problems among many other topics that sound interesting that can come up as randomly as they can be thought of.  The problem is that while we are busy discussing all the finer points of what needs to happen in society and why things are not working the opposites of us are content with the status quo, live in a black and white world, and obey a hierarchal structure that dominates their lives where everyone knows their roles and doesn’t ask as many questions.  They get to the meat of the problem and spend more time actually in agreement over simple things.  Abortion is wrong!  Okay, in agreement, now how to make this a reality?  Meanwhile progressives get stuck in defining when and where and what types of abortions can be done and when and how and who is going to pay for it, etc.  Conservatives typically believe that gun rights should hold paramount importance and therefore guns should be in the lives of Americans if they choose to have them.  Progressives say not so much and then spend their time figuring out where guns should be sold, by whom, the differences between rural and urban gun rights, changing the 2nd amendment, going after the NRA, trying to go after the ban on doing research on gun violence, and on and on.  It gets murky and bogged down to be a progressive but the nature of being one is that you embrace that the conversation is complicated and you strive forth in an uphill battle to make the world a more reformed, better place.  The whole idea of life being complicated makes them ultimately right but by being right they don’t get much done in the face of easy solutions to complicated problems.  The conservative status quo that has so much easier of a time branding itself by it’s black and white ideology.

 

And speaking of black and white, most rooms full of progressives are all white.  They are the privileged populations who are using their privilege for good but that still doesn’t mean that they know any minorities or might actually put forth ideas that could in essence still hurt those they think they are helping.  During the war on drugs conference there were many rooms full of all white people and many rooms full of all minority presence (mostly black).  The white rooms were vehemently entrenched in the idea that legalization of cannabis needs to happen absolutely.  We are wasting money, time, energy on enforcing the war on drugs and going after non-violent offenders and prohibition is yet again a failure of an idea and needs to end.  Our country imprisons more people vs. any other country in the world and for every Black person arrested for a drug crime, two to three Latinos are arrested and and one white person is arrested.  Drug use is basically exactly the same per race and it’s also important to note that drug use stays about the same whether drugs are illegal or not.  What are we doing?!  Why are these statistics so easy to figure out and in turn nothing is done about it by our leaders?  Institutional racism is running rampant and jail has turned into the new form of slavery.  We are a country defined by mass incarceration and have been for a very long time.

 

The history of slavery has led to the war on drugs.  Slavery was physically putting Black Americans in shackles and forcing them to do work.  After the civil war which was from 1861-1865 there was the practice of “share cropping” that became popular which meant Blacks were free but had to then rent out farm equipment to keep making a living at what most of them had only ever known with working on the plantation/farm.  Farm equipment was rented out at exorbitant prices to a population that didn’t have any money.  So what came with being “free” was a financial slavery/debt to your old plantation owner that used to order you whipped.  The trade was physical shackles for financial ones.  As years passed you then had the implementation of Jim Crow laws in 1890 which were an extension of the Black Codes laws that were around before the civil war.  The Black Codes were put into affect to restrict the civil rights and civil liberties of Blacks and the Jim Crow laws followed suit.  They mainly focused on racial segregation and that separate but equal was the new law of the land.  Lets just put those old slaves over there and, yeah, that will be seen as equal right?!  Black America’s separate quarters and resources were dramatically under funded and as far from equal as one could imagine.  It was exponentially harder to vote, harder to get educated, harder to get jobs, harder to go into stores, harder to own homes/property, harder to get representation, harder to store money, harder to go to the bathroom, harder to ride a bus, harder to drink water, harder to go into restaurants, harder to enjoy social outings, harder to be accepted into a society that had previously enslaved you, and all under the delusion that Blacks were now equal.  This continued all the way until 1964/65 until the policy was officially struck down by the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.  However, as can be assumed, institutional racism still ran rampant and would soon be replaced by another policy put forth by the government.

 

The “War on Drugs” soon took affect as Richard Nixon began to usher it in by 1971.  This was after Blacks had been associated for many years prior with “Refer Madness” type hysteria that put forth the idea that black men who smoked marijuana (or really did any drug in general) would get agitated and out of control and want to rape white women.  Even the word marijuana took center stage from the word cannabis in an effort to “Latinize” the world and make it seem foreign.  The war on drugs was also a convenient way to go after the counter culture movement who were against the Vietnam War, our institutions that were racist and oppressive in nature, and led by the likes of Timothy Leary and Ram Dass (then Richard Alpert).  It was a direct, confrontational challenge to our government.  The war also further enhanced the pharmaceutical’s industries dominance over all of our lives by making holistic options to sickness and disease in the form of plants like cannabis and other psychedelics, that had been used for thousands of years, illegal.  The research and science into these “horrible drugs” led to them being characterized as Schedule 3 drugs which would have made them available for prescription and involved in medicinal uses.  However, the fear and negative propaganda political ideological agenda won the day and these drugs were labeled as Schedule 1 which meant they were extremely harmful and addicting and had no medicinal benefit, slamming against science and research as a result.  It was a win for big pharma industry, a win for uniting the majority class against the “crazy” challenging status quo counter culture, and a win for racist white America furthering the agenda of slavery and Jim Crow laws.

 

Ronald Reagan continued to usher in the next wave of the war on drugs by promoting “Just Say No” and “DARE” campaigns all around schools and communities in the country.  Drug users were bad and actually Black drug users were exponentially more bad than white drug users.  This law made the connection that since Black people were getting arrested at higher rates for breaking the law they are in fact bad people overall.  For the same drug ingredients, one being crack cocaine and the other being powder cocaine, crack was 108 times more punished than the powder.  The difference was that poorer black communities used crack and white communities used the more expensive powder.  This law has since changed but crack is still 18 times more punishable than powder.  Black Americans were arrested at astronomical rates and once in jail they would lose their voting rights.  Crack cocaine was an instant problem of epidemic proportions in black communities in the 1980s and the CIA has been known for distributing it among those communities to take affect and get Black populations addicted and fall into the hands of law enforcement.  For many of these citizens it was like a disease that came out of no where.  It was not on the streets one year and then the next every family member had somebody addicted and 12 year olds were selling it.  The CIA involvement in this situation is a whole other story that would involve another ten pages of writing so we’ll hold off on that for another day.  The simple point to be taken from what could be ten pages of writing: the government is the biggest drug dealer around and making the most money.

 

The end result is that the war on drugs is the continuation of slavery.  Same thing different name.  It costs roughly 100 billion dollars a year compared to it costing an estimated 60 billion a year to provide clean drinking water to the whole world as put forth by U.N. research teams.  We are a country addicted to punishment and racism.  Drug use doesn’t go up or down depending on if drugs are legal or not.  Drug use is roughly the same when comparing different races of people.  We have 5 million people incarcerated at the moment in our country and a large percentage are Black along with Latinos and other minorities and mostly all are poor people.  These people can’t vote in prisons except for in Alabama.  With every major election in the U.S. being decided by about 80,000 votes or less and with millions of people in prison, do you sense a connection here?  Think about the ways in which wars are fought nowadays vs. how they used to be.  Millions of soldiers used to invade countries.  Now an army of 25,000 is more efficient.  Compared to how we enslave a population, slavery is how it used to be done and now incarcerating a select amount of the population is more efficient.  You don’t need to go after a whole race of people, just about a quarter to a third of them and make it backed up by the law and you have the will of the people supporting that one shouldn’t break the law and people get what they deserve.  Sound familiar?  Pretty much the typical response that supports the government every time.  It’s a strategically crafted war and it has been largely successful against the Black/minority communities.

 

So back to the Drug Policy Conference.  When you go to rooms full of Blacks and minorities you have this whole history that has been lived and is common knowledge around the room.  There is a level of intensity that the system needs to fuck off and the defending of our communities and culture is still raging on and it has always been that way against the institutional oppression of the government.  To these people, when white people just say legalize cannabis and end prohibition for all the good reasons I mentioned above, it angers them because they know whites don’t know the history and they are leaving out a few monumental points.  Will communities of color just get screwed over again by their state sponsored oppressors by ending prohibition and letting the state profit from what has been plaguing and destroying their communities for decades?  With ending prohibition needs to come empowering these communities by letting them operate how they always have and reap the profits.  Many of these communities are obviously already running their drug trades.  They are feeding their families with it.  Their livelihood is a big chunk of it.  It is one of the only industries that is successful and makes money for them.  With legalization and ending prohibition the state needs to not be the only one making the money and thus taking away from these communities yet again.  And what about reparations?  What is owed to these communities for enacting a war on them for decades and really for centuries that have held them back?  What is the government going to really help them out with?  All the people taken from the drug war who are in jail for non-violent drug offenses need to be instantly pardoned and what about reparations for these people; for stealing their lives and breaking up their families for an unnecessary, racist war?  Do we as a whole country culture not believe in accountability?  The truth of the matter is that true equality does not come until you have economic equality.  Economic equality can come from the government giving reparations to these at need communities and for enforcing safety in these communities and allowing the people who already deal in the drug trade to be the beneficiaries of the profits.  The state needs to not be the only one benefiting.  So when a white person who smokes pot screams that all drugs should be legal they are on the right track but clearly do not know what is going on in the communities that have been most affected by the corrupt and mass incarceration focused war against Blacks and other people of color.  If the drug war just ends and nothing is done to actually help these people and hearts and minds don’t change with the end of prohibition then something new will pop up and slavery will just continue but be called something different as these people have witness directly for centuries now.

 

For these disenfranchised, oppressed communities of color politics doesn’t do anything for them.  It really doesn’t matter if Trump wins or even Hillary Clinton as incremental change does very little for them if anything at all.  This is why they don’t vote.  They’ve been told true change is around the corner and just be patient and wait but it seems to never truly come in the form that white Americans feel it and this gap is growing.  How convenient that is for white America.  Everyone just settle down and fighting back is a crime and is just a terrorist act.  Well that only benefits the oppressor while the oppressed continue being oppressed.  How long are these people suppose to wait?  For the most part, many have tuned out as politics is just a bad joke affecting the very few and dominant majority.  These communities of color might as well live in another country as their interests or representation never gets any attention.

 

When I wear my Bernie Sanders shirt in an all Black room, I get disgruntled looks but also an opening for conversation.  Instead of instantly writing me off as a stupid white person who wears a Trump shirt or a slightly less stupid white person who wears a Hillary Clinton shirt, it’s like the Sanders shirt is a starting point for connection.  I say things like “Bernie is the only option.  His record and history is consistent that he would help your cause” and they say “yeah that’s where it needs to start but unfortunately that is the peak of the iceberg for someone who might cater to us.  We’ve seen this before.  What does this old white man or white people in general know about what most colored people in the U.S. have gone through?”  They are totally right!  Progressives want to do the right thing but are ill informed but think they are very informed.  They are at least people who are willing to listen to others and who are willing to accept that the conversation is complicated.  Bernie Sanders and progressives need to absolutely connect their cause to the minority cause and they need people who have actually experienced the atrocities this country and government have committed to be leading the charge.  Having a white person lead an anti-racism training is a lot harder than having someone who has actually lived and felt it.  Having a man dictate what abortion laws need to happen is a lot harder and doesn’t make as much sense as a woman who has lived it.  In the meantime, and until real leaders emerge and take part in the conversation, we will keep getting more of the same.  Clinton, Trump, Carson, Cruz, O’Malley will bring upon more of the same.  Even if Clinton does get elected, it will be the continued incremental small change approach that will leave the door barely cracked open for people of color and poor people to get very little, if anything at all, by the political process and government that has continued to enact institutional racism and oppression while claiming they haven’t but just changing the name and being more strategic in their approach.  It’s another reason why Sanders is the only real option in this upcoming presidential election.  It’s a campaign about tearing down the structure that has fucked people over for so long at the promise of making change.  If Sanders doesn’t win then politics will continue to be something that most people are apathetic about and I won’t blame them for it.

 

We all could help by going and seeking out and learning and being led by people who have actually lived the problems that most plague our country.  If that means a democrat doesn’t win the Whitehouse then so be it.  If you really speak of incremental change being the best option then let’s make it incremental to the point that we actually start listening and seeking out people in our community who deal with shitty situations.  This might prove hard in the short run but will be of paramount importance in the long run.  When anyone goes through growing pains, or times of huge meaningful transition to be better, it’s always worse in the beginning/short term and then it evens out.  That turmoil then builds an infrastructure for an unlimited potential for growth.  Or simply, we could just keep voting for someone like Clinton and nothing really changes.  Until we wake up and apply these bottom up (or even middle out) principals and truly start talking and listening to the most at need people and stop catering to the media obsessed national politics of the American political two party machine, we are a fake democracy participating in a rigged game against most people.

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