Got the audience to give him a standing ovation to his speech telling us that the task will take perhaps 300 years as did the campaign to end slavery- successfully conning audience from the fact that alcohol prohibition took only 13 or so years.
Such can be expected from a man taking Tobacco industry funds and slowing the pace of drug policy- particularly by neglecting the Coca issue, and the broader issue of plant drugs and basic freedom of medicine and diet ...
A young man approached me this morning while I was standing around looking for coffee and said, “You know, I’m really feeling good about this. Ethan said yesterday that we were close to victory. The thing is I’ve come to four straight conferences which is 8 years and I’m getting on.” Maybe he was 32, maybe. It’s hard to say that to me these days.
He said, “When are we going to win? He said that last conference too. He said that the last conference before. Everybody says it. But, when are we going to win?!”
I asked him how much time he had. I told him it was more time than I had.
Three other people after that came up and asked me the same question, one of them was 78-years-old and wanted to know if we were going to legalize marijuana before he died. I actually get that question all the time and I think it’s a question that troubles us because we have to take seriously what we say to each other about the inevitability of our winning this fight but we have to learn how to deal with the skepticism of our own experience and our own mortality and our own limited time.
So, let me answer this question in a different way because I think we all make the mistake, we all make the mistake of measuring progress by the brevity of our own lives.
Movements don’t work that way. They work off the energy and the passion and the intelligence and the commitment that you heard from the previous speakers. They work off what you do every day in small ways where you cannot measure the impact of that is. But they cannot work in terms of running a train and getting their on schedule.
Movements don’t work that way. Social justice doesn’t work that way. Consider racial justice. Consider the history of racial justice in this country. You know when it began? You know when the movement for racial justice began? The first day that the first slave was brought here.
It took one hundred and fifty years more before there was an actual abolitionist movement in the middle of the 19th century. And a white Unitarian minister named Theodore Parker, an abolitionist in 1853. gave a sermon you may recognize what he said in which he talked about ending slavery which seemed remote in1853 and he said, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
And then he also said, “My eyes are not good enough to see the end of that arc but I know that it’s there.”
Four years later Dred Scott challenged the constitutionality of slavery. And in the only case in the history of this country, where the United States Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of slavery, it upheld it. And it upheld it brutality.
Chief Justice Roger Taney said that blacks were insubordinate and inferior beings and that blacks had no rights and would never have any rights that the white man was bound to respect. This is the Supreme Court in 1857.
Four years later, well, before 4 years later there was Frederick Douglass, the black abolitionists, and he greeted that decision by saying the Supreme Court is not the last word on this. And as unwelcome and horrible as this decision is we should greet it cheerfully.
Can you imagine?! We should greet it cheerfully because it may well be one step along the way to the abolition to the entire slave system. And four years later the civil war broke out and in 1865 the 13th amendment was passed prohibiting and ending slavery in this country.
And everybody though, or a lot of people thought, that was a great victory. Some people who had made the fight were not around to see it anymore. Others exalted. But within four or five years of that, the black codes were passed, the Supreme Court undercut the 14th amendment, the politics changed, Jim Crow laws got institutionalized and we had another hundred years of racial subjugation.
Was it as bad as slavery? No. But next to slavery it was the worst system of racial subjugation you could imagine and it lasted for another hundred years until our contemporary civil rights movement started in the 1960s.
And that resulted in the deaths of many people. And in a struggle that didn’t seem possible to win. Then in 1964 the Civil Rights Act is passed which prohibits racial discrimination in public accommodations, hotels, restaurants, swimming pools, etc. In 1965 the Voting Rights Act is passed which prohibited discrimination in voting and in 1968 the Fair Housing Act is passed which prohibits racial discrimination in the rental/sale of homes.
By that time I was 30-years-old and ready to celebrate. Son of a bitch we actually knocked out Jim Crow and we substituted for it a legal infrastructure of civil rights enforcement. I thought – that didn’t take so long, we won! It wasn’t enforced. And then it turned out that just as Jim Crow laws had been a successive system of subjugation to slavery, two years after the trio of civil rights acts – Richard Nixon declared a War on Drugs. There weren’t any of us in the Civil Rights movement who thought that was going to be a successor movement to Jim Crow.
We didn’t know. Most civil rights groups and civil rights organizations didn’t even think it was an issue for them. But in 1968 there were only a couple hundred thousand people in prison in this country for all offenses and then one day, not too long ago, there were 2.4 million and you know what the numbers were. You know that that was a successor system of racial subjugation. You know that just as Jim Crow had succeeded slavery, the Drug War succeeded Jim Crow.
You know it. The victims know it. More and more people know it. So where was the victory and where was the movement? Now I’m talking 300 years and we ain’t through yet. Was it better in 1865 than it was in 1855? Yes. Was it still better in 1965 than in 1865? Certainly. Is it better now? In many, many ways.
The world in which my grandchildren are growing up is not the world that existed in 1965 racially. When I tell them that the ballplayers that they watch and root for weren’t allowed to play when I was there age they look at me like I’m crazy.
So, we can never make the mistake of diminishing or downplaying how much progress there has been. So, is it better? Yes, it’s better, Is it much better? Yes, it’s much better. Is it over? No.
So now we’re talking 300 hundred years. ...