Tales of Un-DARE-ing Do



Good afternoon.


Let me begin with a story:  A friend of mine, a mother of two in Los Angeles, confronted an unexpected problem when one of her daughters came home from school – in the first or second grade – and calmly reported to her mother, “Mom, just say no to drugs.”


My friend was caught off-guard for a moment, then replied, “Why honey, which ones?”  After some conversation with the child, my friend learned that a police officer had come to class and explained that drugs were dangerous, would ruin your life, and that only bad people used drugs.


That was enough for my friend to hear, and, after a few weeks planning, she flew both daughters to Amsterdam – where she herself had grown up – found a suitable coffeehouse, set her daughters up with steaming cups of Dutch cocoa, and then pointed out another customer.


“See that woman?  With that briefcase, and wearing the business suit?  She’s smoking marijuana.  It’s completely normal for her, and there’s nothing wrong with it at all.  She’s just enjoying herself.  She’s not a bad person, and she’s not breaking the law.”


Her children, somewhat astonished, listened on as their mother told them that many Dutch people – and people from all over the world – came to these coffeehouses to smoke marijuana and enjoy themselves.  These people, she hastened to point out, were perfectly normal, healthy, happy folks – quite a different picture than the one painted by a stern police officer standing in front of a first-grade class.


Her children learned the lesson, and, when the time came, would make sensible and safe decisions about how, when and why to use all sorts of things that the might otherwise have condemned as wrong, the province only of evil people.


So now we come to this week, with the electoral debacle that arguably reversed the trend toward greater public participation in the creation of drug policy.  It may not be a permanent reversal, but we can’t expect the DEA or the White House to change their tune any time soon.  There’s too much political hay to be made decrying the evil of illegal drugs. 


This, despite the announcement, reported this week in NEW SCIENTIST, that they’ve discovered that MDMA can be used to treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s – which is a whiplash reversal from the announcement just a few months back that MDMA might accelerate the occurrence of Parkinsonism in the population of MDMA users.  This, despite the clear sentiment of a majority of the population that cannabis should be available as a medicine for those who need it.  And this, despite the fact that nearly every one of the right-wing neo-Puritans, up to and including the President of the United States, have surely tried a broad sampling of the devil’s delights.


We all know the extent of the hypocrisy which surrounds the War on Drugs; that it is, at essence, a Class War, or, if you will, a Race War, which criminalizes the undesirable elements of society – precisely the rationale behind the Marijuana Tax Act, which provided the legal ammunition to expel with those pesky Mexican immigrants in Texas and California back in the 1930s.


But for the last twenty years, they’ve been peddling this hypocrisy as truth; that’s the real danger.  Every child who hears, “Just say no,” without any understanding the political context in which these words make their own curious sense, is being brainwashed, pure and simple, and loses the freedom to think and choose for his or her self.


What can we do about this?  First we need to look to the inciting incident which allowed the present state of affairs to develop.  That event lies not back in the 1930s, or 1950s, but at the end of the counter-cultural period of the 1960s.  During the 1960s millions of young Americans experimented with all kinds of consciousness-altering drugs, and it had a profound effect on popular culture, producing a new aesthetic, with music and art transformed by psychedelia and the radicalized politics of rage tempered by a new vision of human possibilities. 


Those folks – some of them hippies, some just plain, middle-class kids – did a horrible thing to all of us: they fled the scene, running off to communes, cults or corporations (not that there’s all that much difference between them), and left my generation, which grew up just behind them, in the 70s and early 80s, with our asses hanging in the proverbial breeze, wondering what the hell was going on.


These “elders” pushed the reset button on any sort of sensible development in drug policy or drug-positive culture, because they refused to take a public stand in defense of the values that they practiced, and neglected to pass down to their juniors any hard-won wisdom about the right and wrong way of using these peculiar substances.  What we got, instead, was a burned-out Timothy Leary, who preached the gospel of space migration, then cyberspace migration, and a plethora of somewhat addled and not-very-clear-thinking New Age prophets.  Fiddlefaddle at best, and positively dangerous at worst. 


It was against this backdrop that the DARE program and “Just Say No” emerged.  The druggie generation either found itself so embarrassed by its acts - or so afraid of the long arm of the law (which, due to some clever advertising, we greatly exaggerate) – that it remained silent as their own children were taught that white was black, slavery, freedom, and ignorance, bliss.


To put it in the current vernacular: you’re all here today, at the SSDP/MPP conference because you’re all of Satan’s party.  You want to see these drug laws repealed – laws which protect the health and lives of our most precious resource, our children.  This can only lead to the ruination of countless lives, and will turn our schools and cities in to war zones reminiscent of William Burroughs’s best evocations of the Interzone. 


Baldly put, that’s the linguistic magic we’re up against.  And if we choose to take it on directly, we’ll lose, because once you even admit to the existence of their mind-set, you’ve bought into the entire thing, and can only find yourself making some weak harm-reduction arguments.  That’s really where we are today. 


I would like to suggest a much more radical proposal.  We’ve all got to come out of the closet.  We have to make a forward step – both individually and collectively – into a world where the statement “drugs are bad” makes about as much sense as “food is bad”.  We all know that some foods are poisons, some are healthy only in small quantities, and some can form the basis of a reasonable diet.  But we have no similar public understanding around drugs.  Yet, within this room there is an enormous resource of both knowledge and courage that can be tapped to foment a subtle revolution in popular thought.


 I know what I’m talking about here: as an openly queer man I know that coming out isn’t a one-time affair.  It happens every time I meet someone, when the conversation gets around to why-I’m-not-married-and-don’t-have-any-kids.  It’s certainly gotten easier to talk about it over the last twenty years – in part because I haven’t been alone.  Millions of other Americans have taken the same step forward, into the light of public scrutiny. 


It’s a dangerous position; you can get beat up, or even arrested for expressing a sexual preference, and the same is true – in spades – when it comes to drugs.  I look at Richard Glenn Biore, who has a delightful two year-old son, and I worry that someone in the FBI or DEA might deem him an “unsuitable” parent because of his outspoken political views.  But the only reason that can happen is because Richard is nearly alone, out there on the front line, fighting the good fight. 


He shouldn’t be alone.  He should be shoulder-to-shoulder with the thirty or forty million Americans who share his views.  And that, I think, is the reason you’re here today: you realize that there is an opportunity to create a new way of thinking, something that doesn’t just turn back the tide, but declares it irrelevant and ridiculous. 


You can speak truth to Power, but it’s often more effective just to laugh it away.  With a large enough laugh, anything is possible.


More than that, more than organizing the young people across the country – which is important work, and thank you for doing it – but beyond this you must dedicate yourselves to an honest sharing of what you know and what you believe.  We’ve had to make all the mistakes that the folks in the 1960s committed, all over again, because they weren’t around to mentor us.  We can not make the same mistake. 


I look to people like the pair of librarian-slash- revolutionaries who created Erowid, the comprehensive Internet resource for information about drugs in all their forms – legal and illegal, safe and dangerous.  Their only objective is to get the information out there, making it accessible to people, who can then make their own informed choices.  If they can do this for all of us, can’t we step forward and do it for our parents, our children, our friends and our communities?  Cognitive liberty begins at home, behind your eyes and between your ears.  The first act of liberation is to step forward, and be counted as one of us.


Yes, there is a danger.  There is a war on, and the law is silent in time of war.  But are we truly content to remain inside another kind of prison cell, created with the “Mind forg’d manacles” of hypocrisy, lies and propaganda?  I’m not.  And I hope you’re not either.


Thank you.


1 Chicchan (9 November 2002)