Students for Sensible Drug Policy (http://www.ssdp.org), the national campus drug reform organization headquartered in Washington, DC, has been busy this month. The group has seen more colleges pass resolutions calling for repeal of the Higher Education Act's anti-drug provision, SSDP's public enemy number one. SSDP national office members joined students and drug reformers to confront drug czar John Walters and a new anti-drug reform student organization in Washington Tuesday night. And down in Albuquerque, the local chapter had some curious dealings with a nervous DEA agent at a debate it sponsored.
In Washington, Tuesday night was to be the grand unveiling of Students Taking Action Not Drugs (http://www.standnow.com), a project of the Drug-Free America Foundation whose stated goals are to warn students about the dangers of drug use, train them to act as drug policy players, and "to challenge a growing movement to legalize and normalize drug use on college campuses." John Walters was there, as was former Nixon drug advisor Robert DuPont, along with Miss Virginia, Jennifer Pitts, to welcome the new group at its base, The George Washington University campus, where its four founding members are students.
But several GWU students had other ideas, and joined by SSDP National, drug reform groups, and activists with the Libertarian Party, they held a protest outside and distributed numerous copies of a flyer calling for repeal of the HEA anti-drug provision. It was little better for the drug czar inside, where STAND had little to say, Walters had a lot to say, and an overwhelmingly skeptical, if not downright hostile, audience had more hard questions than the drug czar wanted to hear.
Late in the evening, after Walters' long-winded responses to earlier questions prevented her from asking one of her own, Erin Hildebrandt, director of Parents Ending Prohibition (http://www.parentsendingprohibition.org), leapt up brandishing a banner saying "Mothers Say Walters Lies" and verbally lit into Walters until she was hustled away by security guards. "Shame on you," Hildebrandt yelled at the stunned and steaming drug warrior. "Your lies are putting my kids at risk."
"We wanted to show whatever press showed up and whoever actually attended the event that John Walters and STAND are only one side of the story," said SSDP national director Scarlett Swerdlow. "Most students who have grown up with DARE and the war on drugs don't support it and want to see the laws change," she told DRCNet. "I think we succeeded, although the only press so far has been a story in the GWU Hatchet. But the majority of the audience was clearly pro-reform, and on top of that, we got to meet some great new activists at GWU, who will hopefully reinvigorate that chapter. That was a good outcome." (By the morning of this publication, that had changed; see the "Message from the Executive Director," first article this issue.)
"You could tell he was scared of us, and he started turning purple," said DRCNet's Dave Guard, who attended the event. "Seriously. It started with red, then shaded over to purple. He was exposed to spontaneous protests, emotional reactions from parents, a room filled with reformers. We hadn't really tried to organize to be there in force; it was just that our people cared," Guard said. "He got hammered by question after scathing question, and he needs to feel that passion against his policies. The event proved to him that he better not tell people where he's going to be because if he tries to take this to the larger community he will be hammered again and again."
The problem is, he already has announced his schedule, or some of it. A bulletin released on the Internet yesterday by the Drug Policy Alliance redistributed information from ONDCP on Walters' student drug testing speaking tour, including stops in Chicago, Atlanta, Fresno and Denver (http://www.drugpolicy.org/news/walterstour.cfm).
While activists had the drug czar off balance in Washington, the University of New Mexico SSDP chapter had a DEA agent in fits in Albuquerque. It wasn't supposed to be that way. UNM SSDP had weeks earlier reached an agreement with DEA agent Finn Selander to debate former Texas police officer and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (http://www.leap.cc) board member Howard Wooldridge at the UNM Student Union last week, according to SSDP member Kevin Killough, who wrote a column about the fiasco for the Daily Lobo on Monday.
At the last minute Selander tried to back out, "citing some vague, unspecified DEA policy that forbids debates," Killough reported. Because SSDP had invested such time and effort in the event, the group sought to persuade him to stay. The increasingly reluctant agent eventually agreed to participate, but only if the forum were not a debate but consecutive presentations followed by questions, and only if the media were barred from covering the event, Killough told DRCNet.
Then, the night of the event itself, Selander backed out, sending as a replacement an "Agent Paul Stone," who, oddly enough was the spitting image of Selander. "The guy was really nervous," said UNM SSDP head Gabby Guzzardo. "We had worked for two weeks to get media coverage, but he wouldn't even let audience members with camcorders turn them on," she said.
The nervousness of the DEA agent -- whoever he was -- could be related to the fact that in accepting the invitation to debate, Selander had run afoul of DEA rules forbidding such jousts, but then proceeded to participate anyway, at least until the un-photographable "Agent Stone" took the stage.
"It's really quite strange," said Killough. "On their web site, the DEA has specific instructions on how to debate the issues, but then they don't allow their people to actually debate."
Despite the DEA's strange behavior, the event was a hit, said Guzzardo. "It went fabulously; more than 100 people showed up, and everyone loved Howard's speech. Since then, I've been approached by so many people on campus who now want to get involved with SSDP," she said.
Perhaps less exciting and definitely not as odd as the DEA agent in Albuquerque or as entertaining as hassling the drug czar in Washington, but of equal import, the slow, steady work of passing resolutions against the HEA anti-drug provision at schools around the country continues apace. So far this month, student governments at the University of California at Santa Barbara and Montana State University have passed such resolutions.
"That makes at least 107 schools," said Swerdlow. "We don't necessarily know about all of them because sometimes they do it without our involvement; that's what happened at Santa Barbara," she said. "And at Montana State, it was a joint effort between the campus SSDP and NORML chapters."
It is a good time for SSDP, Swerdlow said. "We have a big push on the Higher Education Act, we have a handful of real opportunities to repeal the drug provision, and that has done a lot to excite the national office and the chapters as well. The organization is at a time when we have a larger staff so we can help the chapters more, but at the same time the chapters have been doing really amazing work," she explained. "One of the things SSDP contributes to the movement is that we take young people interested in this issue and educate and train them so they become serious, savvy activists. As the group grows, we'll only see better and busier activists emerging in our movement."