Activism Against the US Drug Gulag Grows


"If George W. Bush is good enough for the White House, my brother is good enough for my house," proclaimed Nora Callahan of the November Coalition at the Journey for Justice demonstration at the White House. She was urging the release of her brother who is serving a 27-year drug offense sentence of which he has served 14 years.

Approximately 50 demonstrators highlighted the racism and hypocrisy of the drug war by placing 20 cardboard cutouts in front of the White House. Four of the figurines were of Presidents Bush and Clinton, Vice President Gore and Speaker Gingrich - highlighting their past drug use. Six figurines described the stories of twelve children of politicians who got caught and received gentle treatment by the justice system. And, ten of the figurines were a life-sized bar graph of the prison population - six black, two brown and two white with facts and figures about the drug gulag. The dark colors of the real prison population contrasted with the all-white make-up of the elites who avoid the drug war treatment despite their drug use. Photos of the DC demonstration and others stops along the Journey for Justice are available at

Speakers at the DC demonstration included families of drug war prisoners from Oregon, West Virginia, Washington State, North Carolina and Washington, DC - all urged the President to give clemency to their family members as well as urging new laws to reduce the mass incarceration of non-violent drug offenders. Family members were joined by leaders of national drug policy reform organizations who urged an end to mass incarceration of drug offenders.

The demonstrators chanted: "What do we do when communities fail? Build schools, not jails!" and "1-2-3-4 we don't want your racist war!"

The Journey for Justice is a four-year project the November Coalition designed to build a broader, more vocal and more effective grass roots movement to end the incarceration of non-violent drug offenders.* The Four Year Journey began on October 14 with a series of events in Ann Arbor and Detroit. At each stop along the way they participate in community forums at universities, churches and community centers; hold prison camp meetings outside of prisons with families and organize demonstrations at courthouses, police stations and prisons.

The Journey comes at an increasing time of frustration for family members of people ensnared in the US's Drug Gulag. The Republican President and his Attorney General have given little hope of sentencing reform. At the grass roots level the frustration is beginning to boil.

At the Journey for Justice in New York City - Randy Credico of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice - noted that over 80 percent of the public in New York agrees that the Rockefeller drug laws need to be reformed, every candidate for governor supports reform or repeal of the Rockefeller drug laws and candidate Tom Golisano made the laws a centerpiece of his campaign with a massive advertising blitz - yet there is no legislative movement for ending drug war injustice in NY. Credico announced that they were going to start a new campaign to encourage jury nullification - urging jurors to refuse to convict in drug cases despite evidence of guilt because of the injustice of the Rockefeller drug laws. In my comments I noted that a similar effort was being considered in California in reaction to medical marijuana prosecutions.

Credico's call for jury nullification contrasted at the Fordham Forum with the views of a drug court judge who proclaimed - it is not his job to change the law - just enforce it. The audience winced at this statement and questioners noted that his "just enforcing the law" approach reminded them of those in other eras of oppression who claimed they were "just following orders."

Reform activists are getting more aggressive in response to drug war injustice. At a meeting of over 100 people in Connecticut - primarily African Americans all who had been directly or indirectly scarred by the drug war - a young black girl about 15 years old stood up and said, "My brother is in prison for drugs; I was isolated and ashamed, but neither anymore." Another African American man asked: "What exactly should we do?"

Chuck Armsbury, Nora Callahan's partner on the Journey and in life, explained the importance of the people in the room getting together regularly to plan activities and reach out to other community members. He urged - "make it real, educate, activate and change your community."

The politics of the drug war is dominated not be the views of the people - but rather by those who profit from the war on drugs - private prisons who reap financial gain from warehousing people, profit-centered coercive treatment programs that rely on courts to send them clients, helicopter and arms manufactures selling their wares to the Colombian drug war - the Journey for Justice is an effort to activate enough people to make sure that the concerns of citizens directly effected by the drug war are heard.

In Connecticut the marchers, some seventy strong, were a mix of young, old, students, teachers, preachers, and politicians. In Philadelphia, after a forum at the Temple Law School two groups of students forming reform organizations joined together to form a strong chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. At every stop along the Journey activists are building their schools and becoming more effective activists. By building the Journey for four years - the impact of a new grass roots base will become more and more noticeable.

At the start of the Journey, Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, proclaimed: "If the victims of the drug war stand united they will form a political constituency that could end the drug war." The Journey for Justice is working to ensure that the people stand united - put aside race and class issues that divide them and work together for an end to the injustice of the war on drugs.

Journey for Justice is currently planning a southeastern-Florida-Texas journey for the beginning of next year and will be coming to your part of the country in the future.

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