Last week, DRCNet reported on a resolution that Amnesty International USA's (http://www.aiusa.org) Cape May County (New Jersey) group planned to introduce at the human rights organization's Northeast US regional meeting in Manhattan last weekend (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/209.html#amnesty). The resolution called on Amnesty to recognize the correlation between US drug policy and human rights abuses at home and abroad, and to investigate, educate, and act on its findings.
The resolution passed overwhelmingly, sponsor Georgina Shanley told DRCNet -- and DRCNet helped, she said. "We printed out 250 copies of the DRCNet story from last week and handed them out at the conference, asking people to support the resolution," she said. "The students were especially interested, and it was the students who pushed the resolution over the top."
"The support for the resolution was surprisingly strong," said Shanley. There were a handful of informal objections from old diehards, she said, and one person who worried that an emphasis on drug policy would take resources from an environmental project. "The bottom line is this has only made us stronger."
But this is only the beginning for Shanley. She and her supporters are now turning their attention to getting the resolution passed at Amnesty's national conference in Seattle next April. If the resolution passes there and subsequently survives the scrutiny of the organization's US board of directors -- which could veto it -- it would then become part of Amnesty USA's core mandate. In that event, the million-member international organization could turn its considerable weight to changing US drug policy.
"We have to ignite the country with the consciousness of what is going on," said Shanley. "People in Amnesty didn't know the details of these drug policy horrors, so what can we expect from the average person in the street? It's all about education and persuasion right now, and having the courage to talk about it in every conversation," she added.
But Shanley and supporters are playing a multi-level game. "We have a two-pronged strategy, like Gandhi and Martin Luther King," she said. "We will work the activist angle right here within Amnesty, but we will also work the legislative angle at the state, and ultimately, at the national level. Within Amnesty, we are aiming to recruit a lot of new young people -- we'll have people in Washington for the SSDP conference this weekend and in Seattle for a criminal justice conference also this weekend -- and if they become members, they can get involved in Amnesty campaigns, they can use Amnesty's clout on their campuses, and, of course, they can vote for this resolution in April."
Even within Amnesty, resolution advocates are aiming at different targets. "While we try to build the base, we will also be trying to get prominent drug reformers such as Eric Sterling and Kevin Zeese to start canvassing the Amnesty board of directors. Bill Schulz, Amnesty USA's executive director is a Unitarian," Shanley added, "so maybe we can get Charles Thomas of the Unitarian drug reformers to talk to him."
Shanley added that she is also attempting to get a panel to discuss drug policy at the annual convention in Seattle. "That would be very good," she said.
"This has really started a big discussion within Amnesty," Shanley said. "This is lighting a big fire under the organization. And it gives drug reformers some cover. Now, when someone calls you a deviant or a doper for advocating drug law reform, you can say no -- this is a real human rights issue, or at least the Northeast US Regional Conference of Amnesty International thinks so. By next spring, I hope we can say all of Amnesty USA thinks so."