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Is It Time for Direct Action to Shut Down DEA Headquarters?

Submitted by Phillip Smith on
One of the nice things about coming to Washington is more stimulating dinner discussions than I'm accustomed to out in the boondocks. Last night, I had the chance to have dinner with a couple very well-versed in both drug policy reform and mass protests agitating. As conversation turned to what can be done about the drug war, one of them suggested it was time to crank it up a bit, and he had a very concrete suggestion: a direction action protest to surround and shut down DEA headquarters in suburban Arlington, Virginia. It would certainly be an appropriate target. Along with the White House Office of National Drug Control policy—the drug czar's office—the DEA is the ugly face of the federal drug war. And while the drug czar's role is largely one of proselytizing for the continued existence of prohibition, the DEA is the agency that is waging the federal drug war on a day-to-day basis. These are the guys who run who kick in doors for a living, who bully their way into medical marijuana dispensaries and grows, who make the busts that send black and brown kids to prison for years for small-time drug sales, who go after the doctors who are trying to treat pain patients, who corrode our social solidarity with their snitches, either paid or coerced. The DEA is the federal government's drug war goon squad. Isn't it about time to take concrete action against these latter day buccaneers? My activist friend suggested a national mobilization designed to bring thousands of people to DC to literally shut it down by blockading the entrances of DEA headquarters. Now, of course, such an action wouldn't actually disrupt the agency's business for more than a short period of time, but it would disrupt it. I'm for that. Personally, I'm tired of protest actions that don't actually do anything. A weekend march through an empty downtown may feel good and empowering and all that, but what does it really accomplish? You may get 30 seconds on the news—if you're lucky and Tomkat didn't get married or OJ didn't write a book that day. A mass direct action at DEA would actually do something: First, it would actually disrupt the workings of the agency to the extent that employees are prevented from getting to their work spaces. Second, it would generate arrests, scenes of police dragging American citizens off the streets and into paddy wagons in a political protest, and, given the tenor of the times, quite possibly descending into police brutality by beating, macing, or tasering them. Third, one would hope that angry clashes at the DEA would generate some media coverage. Last, and not least, it would put the agency and its employees on notice that there is a sizeable portion of the population that wants to drive them out of business. Sure, we can continue to work the halls of power, and maybe, just maybe, we could win some victories on the margins. If the Democrats in Congress are courageous—and I see little sign of that—we might be able to convince them to legislate a slightly kinder, gentler drug war, maybe reducing the crack/powder cocaine disparity slightly or making some mandatory minimum sentences only advisory. But it seems to me that lobbying politicians will not be sufficient; we need to make this a multi-modal struggle and take this war to the DEA on its home turf. I, for one, would rather take the fight to their house than have them take the fight to my house. And so would my well-placed activist friend. He's mentioned it to some of the leading drug reform organizations, but they seem luke-warm at best. My activist friend, who knows about such things, says $100,000 would make it happen in a big way. Well, if the big boys don’t want to pay for this, 10,000 people committed to ending the drug war could chip in $10 each. Is anyone else up for this? If so, where do we go from here?

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