Sequel needed

Posted on October 3rd, 2014 by Bill Weinberg and tagged , , , , , , .

Dean BeckerDean Becker, a former reporter at non-commercial KPFT in Houston, has produced a worthwhile if deceptively named book in To End the War on Drugs: A Guide for Politicians, the Press and Public. Rather than the activist how-to manual promised in the subtitle, it is a series of interviews with leading lights in the drug policy reform movement. And rather than explaining how, they are mostly making the case as to why the "drug war" must end.

It's an impressive spectrum of figures that are given voice here: dissident jurists like Judge James Gray; cops who have broken ranks, like Peter Christ of Law Enforcement Agents Against Prohibition (LEAP); prisoner advocates like Nora Callahan; fighters for racial justice like Michelle Alexander; cannabis proponents from within the medical establishment, like Dr. Donald Abrams; medical-marijuana entrepreneurs like Steve DeAngelo; uncloseted activist moms like Diane Fornbacher; pro-reform wonks like Ethan Nadelmann; and undomesticated writers and journalists like Martin Lee and John Stossel. To name but a small handful. They each make a good case that the "war on drugs" is a counter-productive, inhumane farce that must end—like alcohol prohibition and slavery before it.

The problem with books like this is the tendency to treat their subjects as fonts of wisdom rather than to challenge them. Becker rarely throws his interviewees any hardballs. Right-wing "libertarians" like Rand Paul and Grover Norquist aren't asked how they square their commitment to individual rights where drugs are concerned with their intolerant stance on abortion. Mexico's ex-president Vicente Fox is allowed to pontificate on how the "drug war" is a failure without being asked about his aggressive participation in it during his six years in office.

Yes, we need unity in the movement, but this is built through an open airing of differences, so we know exactly where we agree and where we don't—not by sweeping those differences under the metaphorical carpet. And there is the danger of preaching to the choir—of only making the case to the already convinced. An actual how-to guide on activist organizing—the basics of demonstrations, First Amendment civics, lobbying, media campaigns—might be more useful in getting our perspectives out to the folks who need to hear them, and actually translating them into political change.

Maybe someone will write that one next.





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