|Drug War Chronicle:
What prompted you to form the Women's Organization for National Prohibition
It was the Goose
Creek raid in South Carolina, when those police burst into that school
with guns drawn and terrified those kids. That was when we realized
just how bad things had gotten. It was time for women to stand up;
we just couldn't have this anymore. We needed to make clear to those
police and school administrators that they are not going to do this to
our children without being held accountable. We didn't have to reinvent
the wheel because we had a model in the original WONPR. Those women
succeeded in ending Prohibition, and we applied the same principles they
did. Shortly after that raid, Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow/Push
Coalition put on a protest in Charleston, and we went down to that.
After that, Jean, Florida-based prison activist Kay Lee, and I got together
at the hotel and decided to resurrect this group. It was the atrocity
at Goose Creek that got us going.
Jean Marlowe: I have
two granddaughters, with the oldest just starting first grade. Their
mother grew up with this drug war, knowing the police could come and take
her children away. I don't want my granddaughters to have to endure
that when they grow up. When I saw those police at Goose Creek taking
their loaded weapons with the safeties off and pointing them at those children,
I took it as seriously as if that had been one of my own children.
I was just outraged that they would treat children like that. Our
position is that every child in America is red, white, and blue, and they
all deserve their rights.
Chronicle: Your organization
is named after the original WONPR, which was founded to combat alcohol
Prohibition. Why did you resurrect that name?
we looked at things, we saw that the original WONPR were successful in
ending alcohol Prohibition in their time, but we felt that their work wasn't
done. While they legalized alcohol again, they didn't end prohibition.
We feel that women work together differently and constructively, and we
thought we should come together for the common goal of protecting families
and children in the war on drugs. We seek to address the issues faced
by children whose parents are incarcerated, especially single mothers,
but also kids whose fathers are in prison. So many women are affected,
and so many of them are from single-parent households. With no fathers
around, those women are literally the last line of defense for those children.
In nature, the most dangerous animal is the mother protecting her cubs.
It seemed very natural for us to pick up the banner to protect the children.
Chronicle: Given your
orientation toward women, children, and the family, what issues to you
Marlowe: We really
concentrate on how the drug war negatively impacts women and their families,
on all the ways it does. The National Organization for Women just
passed a resolution
opposing the drug war and asking for policies based on compassion,
health, and human rights. Part of that resolution explains that they
are using pregnant women to write drug laws that have a terrible impact
on women and their children. We are really concerned with women who
face being sent to prison or losing their children forever because of laws
like the Adoption and Safe Families Act, which allows the state to seize
children and take permanent custody with the mothers, grandparents, and
siblings forbidden from having any contact with that child ever again.
This kind of thing is un-American at best and fascist at worst. Any
law that allows the state to take away a woman's child when she may not
even be guilty of a crime is intolerable.
Women are the fastest growing
segment of the prison population, and much of it has little to do with
their actual personal responsibility. A lot of them are charged on
conspiracy charges and told things will go easy if they cooperate, if they
give up names, but they don't know anything. They have no ability
to rat someone out, so they get long mandatory minimum prison sentences,
they lose their children, they lose their health, they lose everything.
These are women in peripheral roles, women who may be dependent on the
men or may be abused by them and afraid to go to their authorities.
Right now, we're explaining
to the state legislature here in North Carolina that they are incarcerating
their tax base. Across the country, there are over two million children
who have a parent or guardian in prison, and most of those kids are in
some form of state-funded social service program -- Medicaid, free lunch,
food stamps, foster care. That's why so many of our state budgets
are in the red. When you have millions of children whose parents
are in prison, it's not too hard to figure out the taxpayers are going
to be left with the tab.
Chronicle: I'm sure
this didn't just happen out of the blue. What sorts of histories
of activism do you have?
started out with the Florida Journey for Justice in 2000. We had
a friend named Eddie Smith with AIDS who has since died, and we took him
down there in our motor home. The next year, I went on the Texas
Journey for Justice. I'm also the Kentucky state director for the
American Alliance for Medical Cannabis
and have been working with long-time marijuana activist and occasional
political candidate Gatewood Galbraith since 1999. We went up to
Rainbow Farm in Michigan after they shot
Rollie Rohm and Tom Crosslin, and we were probably the only activists
on the ground giving out information to counteract the lies they were printing
in the newspapers.
Marlowe: I got started
back in 1995, when Barney Frank introduced the first medical marijuana
research bill. I had been talking with Donald Abrams and knew he
had permission to do a study with AIDS patients, but NIDA wouldn't give
him any and the DEA wouldn't let him import any. So we held the first
demonstration in Polk County, North Carolina, history to raise awareness
of that bill. We started off with the local newspapers and had stories
like "Jean smokes marijuana every day." That prompted a bout with
the local cops, which led to more rallies. In 1997, a judge basically
accepted that I had no choice but to use marijuana, and ordered the sheriff
to return my grow lights and leave me alone.
A group of women called Sisters
for Safer Medicine then paid my way to go to Switzerland to a medical marijuana
farm. There, you could buy it over the counter. They sent me
a package by mail, Customs found it and prosecuted me, and I was put on
probation. I asked permission to attend the 2000 Journey for Justice,
but they wouldn't let me go, and when my probation officer found out I
was sending video clips of the march to Florida legislators, he had me
in court two weeks later. The prosecutor told the judge I was an
in-your-face activist and needed to be locked up. They violated me
because my THC levels were too high, even though I had a federal magistrate's
recommendation to go to California to participate in a study on liver disorders.
They sent me to federal prison, the women's camp at Alderson, West Virginia
-- the one where Martha Stewart did her sentence. Martha made a few
promises there, and now she's ready to get off parole and house arrest.
I was interviewed by a bunch of media when she got sent in -- CNN, Fox,
Newsweek, People -- and some of those folks said I had interesting things
to say about the drug war and they would get back to me to do a story.
With the National Organization for Women just passing their anti-drug war
resolution, it's time for those stories to start happening.
Chronicle: You mentioned
talking to the state legislature. How else do you seek to inform
and influence public policy?
Marlowe: We do educational
forums and workshops. Right now, we're going to different NOW chapters
-- we'll do the North Carolina NOW state conference in September, and we'll
be doing a presentation at Bennett College in Greensboro. We're also
doing a presentation to the state General Assembly women's caucus.
That is happening partly because of our issues and partly because we did
a lobby day with the legislature. Now, the women's caucus wants us
to address them. We've also been working with the National African-American
Drug Policy Coalition (NAADPC) since they started. We're trying to
reach out across lines of race, social standing, party, or gender.
We've even been reaching out to farmers, explaining how prohibition is
costing them their farms when they could be growing hemp. We're educating
the voting base in this county. The drug war affects us all, and
people are starting to realize it's their job to bring about common sense
Chronicle: With the
emergence of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, with NOW passing an
anti-drug resolution, with WONPR, are we seeing the emergence of a woman-
and family-centered segment of the drug policy reform movement, a "womanist"
drug reform movement?
Marlowe: Of course
you are. Women have an overall view of how negatively the drug war
affects everyone, and I think it's fair to say women are more concerned
about its impact on children. We did a workshop at NOW, and women
drug reformers like Deborah Small from Breaking the Chains, Scarlett Swerdlow
from SSDP, Wyndi Anderson from National Advocates for Pregnant Women, Angelyn
Frazier from FAMM, and Anjuli Verma from the ACLU Women's Rights and Women's
Prison Project were all there. Deborah and Scarlett were instrumental
in getting NOW to pass that resolution, but we were all part of that workshop.
WONPR has now received its
very first grant, from the Ms. Foundation for Women, and we are thrilled.
Our first grant is coming from a mainstream women's organization.
Not only are we seeing women's perspective in drug reform, we are seeing
the broader women's movement take an interest in the subject.
Chronicle: Are women
around the country responding to WONPR?
Marlowe: We have chapters
in five states now, and our goal is to have chapters in at least 38 states
Chronicle: That's an
odd number. The only thing that really jumps out about it is that
it is the number of states required to ratify a constitutional amendment.
Marlowe: Funny, isn't
it? Anyway, we are seeking to create good, functional chapters, and
our membership is growing rapidly.
Chronicle: You've also
signed on to the August march
on Washington to protest the mass imprisonment of Americans.
Why is supporting that march important?
Marlowe: Those people
in prison on drug charges deserve to have someone out there marching for
them. Our position is that drug abuse and addiction should be treated
as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue. Both of us will
be there giving speeches. We hope it does some good. We hope
our leaders will start to pay attention to this feminine energy.
When I was in the prison camp at Alderson, I promised those women I would
become a voice for them and their children. This is part of it.