See You in Philly: Shadow Convention Set to Convene Sunday 7/28/00

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The first of two Shadow Conventions timed to coincide with the major party conventions will begin this Sunday in Philadelphia as the Republican Party meets to enthrone George W. Bush as its presidential nominee.

The Shadow Conventions are the brainchild of author and columnist Arianna Huffington and a bevy of policy analysts, reformers, public officials, entertainers, and other concerned citizens. Disenchanted with the sagging spectacle of the major party conventions and with the parties' unwillingness or inability to deal with critical issues, Shadow Convention organizers have created an alternative designed to attract the swarming mass media, bring the issues to the public attention, and build alliances for change that cut across multiple issues.

Each Shadow Convention will focus on different aspects of three issues considered critical by organizers: campaign finance reform, the failed war on drugs, and poverty and wealth inequality.

Of special interest to DRCNet readers will be the sessions devoted to drug policy, where a number of well-known (and not so well-known) figures will dissect the damage done by the drug war and look for ways out of its gloomy grasp. Among the featured speakers on drug policy day (Tuesday, August 2nd) will be New Mexico Republican Gov. Gary Johnson, outspoken in support of broad drug policy reform, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Gus Smith, father of drug war POW Kemba Smith, and a host of prominent drug reform movement figures.

In addition, the drug policy day will feature several panels -- mandatory minimums, culture jamming the drug war, and criminalization and stigmatization -- as well as music and humor at an evening Shadow Cabaret.

Complete information on both Shadow Conventions, including detailed schedules for all four days of each event, is available online at http://www.shadowconventions.com.

DRCNet will be there, and we strongly encourage everyone with an interest in drug policy or the other issues on the agenda to attend.

To get a sense of how the event is coming along and what it hopes to accomplish, DRCNet spoke with Deborah Small, Director of Public Policy and Community Outreach for the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation, the conveners and primary organizers of the Shadow Conventions' drug policy component. Here are some highlights of that conversation:

WOL: We are just days away from the Shadow Convention now. What kind of interest has the mass media displayed so far?

Small: So far, we have a commitment from CNN, which will cover us from 10:00 to 2:00 each day, as well as some cable access stations and local broadcast stations. We have not yet gotten a commitment from the national networks. There has been lots of interest from print and radio journalists. The big print outlets have been providing some coverage already, particularly around the wealth gap component and particularly Call to Renewal, and of course, lots of comment and speculation about Sen. John McCain's appearance and what that means for the Republican Party. There have been favorable columns, too, such as Judy Mann's call for a war on the drug war in the Washington Post.

WOL: You've been working on this for some time now. How many people do you expect, and what sorts?

Small: Our venue holds a thousand people, and we're hoping to fill it each day. At last count, we already had 600 people registered online for drug reform day in Philadelphia. I'm not sure about the other days because the conveners of those sessions have separate web sites. We also expect a very good turnout in Los Angeles for the Shadow Convention there.

What's really interesting about the attendees is that is looks like it's going to be a real representative cross-section of the public. Unlike the major party delegates, however, these are people who didn't run to be delegates, but who are committed to working for change on these issues. We will have religious leaders, community organizers, students, families of prisoners, as well as celebrities such as Bill Maher of Politically Incorrect and Warren Beatty, and don't forget elected officials.

WOL: The Shadow Conventions are clearly an effort to build support for grassroots change on these issues. What are the prospects for cross-fertilization among the three broad topics?

Small: It is clear to people that the issues are related to each other. What is central is the role of money in politics. Right now, the role of big money is the principal impediment to serious legislative action for reform on many issues. People understand that in order to make any headway on their issue, they need to work with the others as well.

WOL: The mission statement on drug policy lays out a number of reform planks, but it doesn't mention legalization or the controversies around drug courts and coerced treatment. Who wrote the mission statement and why doesn't it get into those issues?

Small: Ethan Nadelman [head of Lindesmith-DPF] wrote the mission statement, but the programmatic planks were a collaborative effort of various reform organizations. One thing we decided was that our target is those mainstream people who may not be familiar with drug policy reform and its intricacies. We tried to pick issues where we thought the public was with us or close to us. We also stayed with areas where we did not have to use a lot of time explaining our positions, because we don't have a lot of time. We tried to pick issues and themes that in some way correlated with themes the major parties have on their agenda. In Philadelphia, we want to focus on civil liberties and family values, things the GOP focuses on. We want our themes to match up well with issues like that so we can better expose the hypocrisy of the major party positions. If the Republicans want to talk family values, we will confront them with the shattered families of drug war prisoners, for example.

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Issue #147, 7/28/00 Corrections System Continues to Bloat With 458,000 Drug War Prisoners: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Justice Policy Institute Crunch the Numbers in Separate Reports | Supreme Court Rules, Federal Sentencing Structures Tremble | See You in Philly: Shadow Convention Set to Convene Sunday | Forbes Exposes McCaffrey's Crusade Against "Cheech and Chong Medicine" | Drug Policy Letter Issue Focuses on Drug War Prisoners, DRCNet Launches New Prison/Incarceration Info List | Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other: Important Amendments to Anti-Methamphetamine Act | Newsbrief: Recalcitrant Feds to Appeal Oakland Marijuana Club Decision | Liar of the Week | Media Scan: salon.com, Washington Post | AlertS: Colombia, Mandatory Minimums, California, New York, Washington | HEA Campaign | Event Calendar | Editorial: Shocking Incrementalism
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