Arianna Huffington (http://www.votearianna.com), the independent progressive candidate for the California governorship in next month's recall election and darling of drug reformers for her series of columns and public pronouncements challenging the war on drugs, hit the University of California at Berkeley Thursday. Part of Huffington's "Independent Streak" campaign to enlist support at college campuses across the state, Thursday's event was organized and staffed by volunteers from the membership of the Berkeley chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (http://www.ssdp.org).
"SSDP contributed the bulk of the on-campus volunteers," said the group's Scarlett Swerdlow, "but it was in many ways a collection of students who wanted to be involved. Still, Arianna was very enthusiastic upon hearing about the SSDP involvement -- she knew about the organization -- and very interested in working with SSDP and other reform groups to get the message out," Swerdlow told DRCNet.
In an afternoon rally at Sproul Plaza as well as an evening question and answer session, Huffington honed her message on medical marijuana and vowed to stand up to the Bush administration, not only on drug policy but also on a myriad of other issues. The crowd was in the hundreds or low thousands, according to SSDP's Swerdlow, a key organizer for the event. "The rally was really kinetic, really enthusiastic," she said. "I spoke for SSDP, someone else spoke about defeating Proposition 54, which would bar the state from collecting data on the race of Californians, and we also had a student speak from the peace and justice perspective, which was really sensitive, especially on the anniversary of September 11."
Huffington supports medical marijuana, but that is hardly a controversial stance in a state where voters legalized it in 1996. But she has set herself apart from the pack with attacks on the powerful prison guards' union for its repressive influence in state politics and her contention that the war on drugs in racist in its implementation if not its intent. She is running only 3% in the latest polls, but her supporters are highly motivated, and she is likely to gain the voters who supported Green Party candidate Peter Camejo, with whom she has a pact to share votes.
For Swerdlow, the effort was worth it. "This was a great event, with a lot of students there," she said. "There were a lot of sophisticated questions about drug reform, but also a sense of her strong charisma. Arianna is a great speaker, and while many who attended won't vote for her, she is still bringing issues to the floor," she said.