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

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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?
Arlington, VA
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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disobedience, civil or otherwise?

About time...

Phil says:

"given the tenor of the times, quite possibly descending into police brutality by beating, macing, or tasering them."

Maybe. Participants in any of the anti-nuclear protests in CA, especially Diablo and Vandenberg AFB in central CA, would attest to the power of such actions even when coordinated w/ authorities. Boundaries are established. Even tho' we did cheat occasionally... after all, fences are for keeping people out not for people to climb over.

Unorganized protest could possibly lead to such, but organized? ... we have the web, where in the "old" days... heh... we had phones and cars and Greyhound to get to meetings around the state, fliers and handbills... still... especially if an occasional "public figure" participates.

And its not surprising:

"some of the leading drug reform organizations... they seem luke-warm at best."

This sort of thing, by its nature needs to build from the bottom up. Rare is the leader who leads and even those rare ones are lead by others never or rarely recognized. Once rolling, they will come. And there are those who WILL help....


It is time to begin the proper planning for such action

I was arrested across the street from the current DEA headquarters in August 1969 -- inside the Pentagon. It was one action that was part of a series called "Speak Truth to Power." Those were much more open times. The Pentagon functioned as a bus station/transit hub for Northern Virginia. Inside was a shopping mall accessible to the general public. Buses pulled into the Pentagon from around the region. And members of the general public could walk in the front doors.

Pacifists from A Quaker Action Group and other organizations went to the steps of the Pentagon to hold signs and read the names of American servicemen and women killed in Vietnam as published in Congressional Record. The protesters were arrested. Before long a court ruled that such behavior was protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. So I was one of the first protesters to go inside and do the same. After I was arrested, I had a trial and I was acquitted like the others for exercising my First Amendment rights.

The point of this history is that the demonstrations were part of a strategy of increasing the pressure on the Pentagon, and that they were committed to the traditions and principles of non-violent direct action. I was not trying to "shut down" the Pentagon. I was bringing to the war makers a quiet and simple protest.

Nonviolent civil disobedience is not a stunt nor a one-shot event. It is an effort to dissociate oneself from immorality carried out in our collective name. It is immoral for DEA to interfere in the medical treatment of those thousands whose maladies can be treated with marijuana. It is immoral for DEA to organize the persecution of drug addicts. It is immoral for DEA to fight vociferously for unjust policies like mandatory minimum sentences for minor offenders.

The goal of the protest is to focus attention on DEA's misdeeds, not our deeds. Our deeds should not involved inconveniencing ordinary citizens struggling to get to work, get their children to the doctor or the daycare, or to work. Our deeds should not threaten property or public order because that is what DEA does.

A simple sit-in in front of DEA (or at the U.S. Department of Justice) is an action that is worth doing. I prefer not hundreds or thousands all at once, but a steady stream of 2 to 6 every day.

This was an element of the successful strategy of the National Women's Party in 1917 to get the right to vote for women.
I urge you all to see the HBO movie, Iron Jawed Angels, which has some howlingly bad flaws, but conveys some emotional power. Or read the history of the persecution of suffragettes during World War I by the Wilson Administration, led by Alice Paul. The women were taken to the Occoquan workhouse a/k/a prison. When they were abused, they tried to hunger strike and were forcibly fed via tubes. When their abuse finally became public, public opinion began to shift in their favor.

I would strongly support such an action -- if it is part of a well-conceived project of non-violent direct action.

Eric Sterling

Well said Eric- I was

Well said Eric-

I was arrested twice in Central CA in 1983 - 84 at Vandenberg AFB. Once at the front gate on county road, the second was a back country sojourn towards the missile silos which launch their wares into the Kwajalein Atoll.

And yes, like Eric's, our movement was organized following non-violent CD methods. It works. It is effective. In fact non-violent CD is probably the only way to make protest a winning situation. It will also draw not just those willing to be arrested but legions of support. It will also alienate those who would seek a more disruptive presence.

Remember, many many patients have a legitimate bone to pick w/ the DEA and I am sure many patients would participate.

(My participation would require non-violence precepts being followed.)

And, as a non-violent action, a fine and effective tradition would be a great foundation to build upon for such a protest. Such action opens the doors to churches (I never knew I knew Quakers until I got arrested with them... ;), youth groups, etc.

I would advocate for regional protests also, for those unable to make the trek east.

The model Eric discussed, throwing a few bodies at the machine day after day, makes for continuity in action and for continuous media coverage. If people with disbilities, in wheelchairs, etc. were to be arrested...

Thanks Phil for bringing this up and thanks Eric, for following up.


DEA protest

Phil, Allan, Eric, count me in. I too get tired of traveling and gathering friends together just to get forced out of places by the feds fear tactics. A few years ago we were threatned in Tampa at a NORML protest (called FORMAL) cleaver Idea to get the protest permit , but was soon found out, and we were run out, Damm ,,,,and the band was just starting to sound great. The first thing they will do is unplug you. This is a great Idea whos time has come, Please more on this, Pat

West Coast

There could be some strong support in West Coast cities for protesting at regional offices as well, especially in light of the growing crackdown on medical marijuana users from San Diego to Seattle.


Preparation is essential of

Preparation is essential of course. Forming local "affinity groups" and regional collectives is a start. Consensus is a must within all levels of group decision making. Learning the logic and history of non-violent civil disobedience (nvcd) is a good thing for participants. Gandhi, King, the Berrigans... we have no shortage of exemplary examples.

I can see SSDP, LEAP, ASA and many other orgs coming along as this grows.

If just a few had one protest that was planned well with media coverage and maybe a household name type "celebrity"... nice to see others agreeing that this is a viable option.


great idea

if you don't mind going to prison for a couple of years.
I have a feeling they would find some way to throw everyone involved in the BOP for a decade or so. Count me out. But I'll wish you well.


Supporting and telling others about the website is a very good start to dirupting the DEA because they are very afraid of this site and its popularity.

Unless you actually destroy

Unless you actually destroy something the chance of long sentences is small. Blockade actions can be done on city/county property and are but misdemeanors.

My federal action resulted in 12 day sentence for a federal misdemeanor. I spent 8 days in Lompoc FCI and 3 days (the judge at my sentencing gave me a day off for an eloquent presentation...) at Terminal Island (in CA).

And yes, anonymous, if going to jail/prison is not your thing, don't. There are many ways to support such actions. In fact were it not for the network of supporters our actions in the past would have been far more difficult and less successful...

I agree that we should all

I agree that we should all support and also promote the site.

The power of one mans idea is impressive. It is about time someone stood up and creatively fought back and gave the feds a taste of their own medicine.

This site is causing quite a stir with the local, state cops and the feds in addition it has world wide support amazingly there are news story's about it as far away as Australia & Canada. I even know a few people listed in the database that set some of my friends up for the dea.

out of your minds

I think you guys are out of your minds. You need to stop letting your addictions rule your lives to the point you would give up your freedom for it.

Using our Minds

There is nothing insane about people standing up to the Drug War which everyday ruins people lives with prison, fines and drawn out court battles. The proposal to shut down the DEA using non-violent direct action should be seriously considered by leading drug reform groups (and their supporters) which have spent a decade trying to work within the corridors of power to make change. With the execption of some local efforts such as reduction of marijauna to the lowest law enforcment priority there is very little to show for their efforts which have cost tens of millions of dollars. People stand up to the drug war every day when they responcibly use ilegal drugs. The tactic to shut down the DEA using our bodies is really an option for people who don't use drugs. Its time to take this issue to the streets in way that literally disrupts the drug war and engages the general public at the same time. It is what is needed to spur the long over due reforms we are fighting for.

Still i think we need national groups to get behind this idea. Their involvment will reenergize their important work and inspire a new generation of grassroots leaders.

A. Eidinger

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