11/06/11 Gavin Newsome

"REFORM" conference in Los Angeles opening session with Gavin Newsome the Lt. Gov of California, PW Pete and Alice Huffman President of NAACP of California

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Gavin Newsome
Lt. Governor



Cultural Baggage / November 6, 2011


DEAN BECKER: This is a special edition of Cultural Baggage. I’m Dean Becker. This week I’m reporting from Los Angeles where I’m attending the International Drug Policy Reform Conference. And here is the opening session.


Now, without further ado, I would like to introduce someone who really needs very little introduction; one of the most renown speakers for the drug policy reform movement. He’s the Executive Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. He is my boss. He is Ethan Nadelmann. Please welcome him.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Welcome to Los Angeles. So it’s my job right now to introduce the first four speakers. The first one…you know, I gotta tell you. Every elected official we’ve ever worked with, you gotta tussle with. And they disappoint you but you also know there’s gotta be elected leaders you can count on. One of those elected leaders is the man who has twice been the mayor of San Francisco. Who is currently the Lt. Governor of California. Who we are counting on as he emerges to become the next Senator or Governor of this state to be one of the national leaders on drug policy reform – Gavin Newsome.

[audience applause]

GAVIN NEWSOME: Thank you, guys. Thank you, Ethan. He said he’d be short. I didn’t know he’d be that short. That’s like Tony Robbins or something when Ethan comes out. Some spiritual leader or something.

My job is simple and that’s to formally welcome you to this wacky, wonderful place 37 million of us call home – the great state of California. A state that at its best is a state that’s always on the leading and cutting edge – a state of dreamers, of doers, entrepreneurs, of innovators. A state that has certainly been on the frontlines in reconciling the abject failure that has been 40 years - this failed War on Drugs.

This is a state that led the way in 1996, where other states followed suit as we advanced proposition 215 and we saw Oregon and we saw Washington and Alaska and, of course, eventually Colorado, New Jersey recently and others move in a similar direction.

We did the same thing in 2000 with proposition 36 where we began to reconcile the version as an alternative and that has saved the taxpayers over 2 and a half billion dollars. So from a fiscal perspective, not just a moral perspective, we know that’s worked.

This is a state, though, that has suffered. Suffered from the consequences of four decades of failure as this nation has suffered from the consequences of four decades of failure. Let me just put a framework on the challenge as it relates to this nation and this state by just framing this in the context that all of you are familiar with. And that is in 1980 (not that many years ago) we had half a million people in our prisons – today, 2.3 million. It’s inexcusable and it’s unacceptable and it’s simply not sustainable.

Put this as a perspective. In this state alone in 1980 we had 25,000 people in the prison system. In 1980 we invested over 10% of the state’s general fund in higher education – in the UC system, in the California State University system which were the tent pole for the economy for the state and, for that matter, the economy of this nation.

Consider where we are today. The last budget, we just passed up in Sacramento, the prison budget has gone from 3% of general fund in 1980 to a now 11.2%. Our population, in 1980 was 25,000, it peaked last year at 165 and today it’s roughly 147,000 people. It’s a remarkable thing.

The largest prison population of any state in this nation. The highest recidivism rates. 2/3rds of folks who enter the prison system every single year are on probation and parole violations. And how many of those are drug-related? It’s unsustainable.

That 10% of the general fund that went into the tent pole of our economy, UC and CSU, has now dropped to 6.6%. 11.2 to prisons – 6.6 now to CSU and UC systems.

I mean at what point is this not Code Red? At what point do we just not drop everything else and say, “What in the Hell are we doing?!” Seriously.

I know this is not popular for politicians. I was just joking with these guys that I want to show you all the emails from my staff saying, “What the Hell are you doing down there?!” I have a very progressive staff. I mean, I come from San Francisco, right?!

But, you know, advancing the rights for “same sex couples” seems now, in hindsight, so easy compared to getting in the debate around this failed drug policy. It really is. It’s a remarkable thing. It’s an absolutely extraordinary thing.

Just think back a number of years ago when we were celebrating a President who said, “You know what? Racial disparity laws on crack-cocaine…instead of one thousand to one let’s make 100 to one.” And we applauded. Then we moved from 100 to one to 10 and now we finally begin to reconcile that roughly. But the fact that it takes so long to reconcile these things.

To look at the impact on the African-American community in the last 40 years and just sit here with bewilderment. What we have done to a generation of folks. We talk about income inequality. We talk about racial justice and losses of human rights and here we are and one of the prime reasons we’re failing is represented by your advocacy and your passion and your action.

But we’re so risk-adverse in politics. We lack courage. And the courage usually comes after we’re out of office or when we know we’re done with our political careers. And I’ll be honest I suffer sometimes this as well. And I struggle with this every single day.

You know, the being versus the doing in politics. We work so hard to get someone elected. So we got them into office and then we expect dramatic changes and sometimes they just run the 90-yard dash and I reflect on that. in closing as my time is up, on what has happened with this remarkable commitment that I so admired that has unbelievably been dropped on the issue of medicinal marijuana.

I’m sitting here reliving what I was living with as mayor 6 years ago with all of these raids – in Fresno, in southern California, up in my neck of the woods in Sacramento where landlords are being threatened that they’ll lose their buildings if they allow a lease with someone that’s providing medical marijuana. It’s an extraordinary thing.

And you sit here, again, with bewilderment. How can this happen? We did good things on crack-cocaine. We did some decent things so cities don’t have to call for declarations of emergency like we used to in San Francisco every 2 weeks to allow the distribution of needles so we can reduce HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. That’s impressive.

But we’re dealing with these raids – today, in 2011, in this great state. And it’s wrong. And we need to step up and step into this debate. And this state needs to step up into this debate. We need stronger leadership and a louder voice and say we are not supportive of those raids. And we need to do more and we need to do better to create a framework of rationale because that framework of fear is failing all of us.

So I just want to long-windedly thank you for your leadership, for your stewardship, for your constancy, for your faith, for your devotion, for your willingness to stand up and step in where politicians are not. To give us a little more courage every day to say what we’re saying privately and, my gosh, if I could just tape record the private conversations it would break your heart. It wouldn’t just upset you – it would break your heart. Because we know better, we’re just not doing better.

So keep at us. Keep fighting and don’t give up. I’m grateful for your leadership and I thank Ethan for his and I appreciate this conference and look forward to learning about what we need to do together to go farther and become more fully expressive and to become more humane, compassionate and focus on health and not enforcement. Focus on demand not focus on supply. And become, again, the moral leaders that we know we can become. Thank you all very much.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Thank you, Gavin Newsome, thank you so much. The person I’m going to introduce to you right now is somebody who’s been pivotal in organizing this event this evening. He’s the founder and co-director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network. He’s a man who’s been working with people on Los Angeles’ skid row - people who are the most beat up and beaten down by the War on Drugs.

He’s been a friend and ally keeping us honest in terms of our principles and our policies. His name is Pete White. Pete, Come on up.

PETE WHITE: I’m reminded by something that Frederick Douglass said, when I start this morning. Frederick Douglass said he spent 20 years praying for freedom but it wasn’t until he started praying with his legs that freedom came. And so as we occupy this country it is very clear that we are no longer praying but we are praying with our legs and moving toward action. Is that right?!

Let me be the first to welcome you to Los Angeles, my home. I am humbled and honored to have the opportunity to share with you this morning, June Jordan, the powerful founder of Poetry for the People, wrote this:

“If you make and keep my life horrible,
then when I can tell you the truth, it will be a horrible truth.

It will not sound good or look good or, God-willing, feel good to you either.
So I come to you as a truth teller.”

I also stand before you in solidarity with my colleagues that have taken fighting positions on the frontline engaged in this battle against the drug war. LA CAN, Bus Riders Union, Youth Justice Coalition, A New Way of Life, Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles, Critical Resistance, The Drug Policy Alliance and countless others are fighting every day on the frontlines to ensure that we end this drug war.

The drug war has failed our communities and families, stripping our collective ability to meet our full social and economic potential. However, for those in power, it has been a smashing success. Disenfranchisement, incarceration, destruction of family and community, disconnection from the labor market, racial profiling and the list of related oppression goes on and on and we all know it all too well in this room – ain’t that right?!

Today an estimated 7.2 million men and women are under correctional control in the United States. 2.3 million behind bars and 5 million controlled within our communities. But the casualties of this war goes beyond those numbers.

This war grips our communities and cripples them. This war grips our families and disintegrates them. This not-so-covert War on Drugs is really a war against communities of color – especially African-Americans - and is geared towards short-circuiting our ability to build power and to demand change.

This war, in no uncertain terms, was launched as a tool to prevent to the resurgence of a civil rights movement that retooled the way we all imagine America. This war continues to place a full-scale moratorium on my constitutional rights and my human rights. Sometimes I wake up from a nightmare and it feels like I’m moving back to a place when I was 3/5ths human. This war is used as a means of justification banishing entire communities of color to pave the way for football stadiums, luxury housing and playgrounds for the rich.

It is important for me to tell you about the real-time impacts of this war and the community in which you are sitting. As we sit in the relative luxury of the Bonaventure Hotel the Drug War rages on about a half mile away in skid row. Mayor Villaraigosa , a purported progressive mayor, launched an initiative in our community for five years. He brought an additional 100 officers and it has been the most intensive and sustained criminalization of poverty and addiction in the country.

This so-called Sober Cities initiative has criminalized simple, everyday activities of all poor residents but the hardest group hit have been drug users and addicts. And the tools have been more sinister than usual. The impacts are long-standing and here are a few of them.

Thousands of people with unfair drug convictions now face bans in accessing subsidized housing and benefits with lifetime bans on some crucial benefits. People with any drug arrest at all, not even a conviction, get a letter sent by the city attorney demanding that they be evicted. Welcome to “Lost” Angeles.

Stay Away orders are issued driving long-time residents away from the limited health, housing and substance abuse services in that community. And so the cycle of homelessness, poverty and criminalization is allowed to persist. Although not without significant resistance and victories won by hundreds of brave skid row activists and their allies.

But we must be clear. Skid row is just a microcosm of what this war has left in its wake. The criminalization of school children, denying the right to education, the legal discrimination of those with drug convictions, denying the rights to employment, housing and food, legal discrimination and voting rights, denying the right to participate in our supposed democracy – but we going to get that together, right?!

Other human rights violations such as [inaudible] communities, deteriorating infrastructure, death, denial of treatment and care, motherless/fatherless children and more. There’s no way to win this war no matter your perspective. We must fight to simply end it.

I’m about to wrap up ya’ll. But I told you I was going to be a truth teller. Among those who have responsibility to act on this issue, African-American leaders must emerge from behind the colossal walls of shame, fear and guilt that have all but silenced our moral obligation to protect the health of our families and communities. And that must start at the White House.

Some of the audience might say that I’m preaching to the choir however my refrain does not end there. Because as Frederick Douglass stated, “Slaves are generally expected to sing as well as work.” It is at this point that I must pay omage to the words of Malcolm X when he instructs us to “stop singing and start swinging.”

We are, you are the contemporary abolitionist and suffragettes and human rights defenders but we must do more and we must do it right now to ensure that drug addiction and drugs is treated as a health issue not a crime. We must end this drug war now! All power to the people!!


DEAN BECKER: You are listening to Cultural Baggage on the Drug Truth Network on Pacifica Radio. We’re broadcasting from Los Angeles and the International Drug Policy Reform Conference. Has been quite an event and I’m glad to take you there via the radio.


ETHAN NADELMANN: Damn Pete, some people don’t know how to stand up here and take a “thank you” from the audience. Pete White, man, incredible!

You know, we’re always looking for new allies and I always wondered where was the NAACP on this issue. Right? Black people getting the Hell kicked out of them around this country – where was the NAACP? And then they got a new Executive Director, Ben Jealous, and he started talking about this stuff.

But then, at least from my perspective, almost out of nowhere, up emerged this powerful, remarkable, dynamic, beautiful woman – head of the California NAACP - who stood up and said marijuana prohibition has got to end, Prop 19 is the way to go, who fought the battles and she’s here with us today, Alice Huffman.

ALICE HUFFMAN: NAACP is in the house. Two of my board members are here – Willis Edwards and Bob Lidia. NAACP is in the house. As a [inaudible] you’d be pleased to know that we have about 20 [inaudible] NAACP, California, Hawaii, all from across the country at a drug reform policy convention.

So I do bring you greetings from the national board of directors of the NAACP and to tell you that, yes, we passed that resolution to end the War on Drugs. So to my young brother who’s calling on leadership – you got it right here. And we got to get it all across the country. We’re going to join together.

But I have another announcement to make. You know as I bring you welcome from all these people I have to bring you welcome from another group I joined yesterday. I am now a board member of LEAP.

They changed the rules to let me on. Now you know you’re living large when a board will change its rules so you can serve on its board. So I am very appreciative to sit with those law enforcement people and to listen to them and to learn so that we can be more effective.

I know we’re all here for different reasons. Some of you are here, like when I went to NORML conference, I don’t have to tell you why you are here. I know why you’re here. Some of you are here because you just want your individual rights. Some of you are here because you just got people who are benefiting from cannabis because of the medicinal laws that have been passed and you want to further it so that everybody can benefit.

I am here because I am sick and tired of my people being the pawns and being destroyed by a stupid war called the drug war. It is my community and the Latino community that my federal government has declared war on and we need to stand up against it.

Now whether you’ve come because you love marijuana and you want to advocate the use of marijuana or whether you’ve come to further your rights – it doesn’t matter to me - because we’re all here together and together we can end this War on Drugs.

So I love standing with you this morning. And I love kicking this convention off. Never thought I’d be standing here. So I have to tell you a little personal story.

I did not come to this War on Drugs very easily. I was one of those who had her head in the sand. I had a sister who used to go out into the community – there was 18 of us – and then I had a sister who had 14. And of the 12 of us that lived I’m the only one who had no children so I was the one who could critique everybody else’s children.

And I was a “law and order” girl, I didn’t know it at the time, but I was a “law and order” girl because I worked in government. So, I had this sister who had all these children and she would spend her time in Sacramento walking the streets trying to rescue these little kids on drugs. We would fear for her life.

But I couldn’t hear her when she kept telling me there’s a conspiracy. There’s a conspiracy. This is being done by government. They are trapping young kids. Our kids are getting in for low-level crimes….she didn’t call it that. She called it for smoking pot. And then they come out and they get another felony because they’re driving without a driver’s license and she just walked those streets.

She became the hero of Sacramento because she started a school and she tried to bring those kids off the streets into her school. But I couldn’t hear her conspiratory theories because she was a fundamentalist Christian and I was the “educated” one in the family. And I go, my sister’s just got to stop with all these conspiracies. She’s just got to stop telling me that my own government, who has a War on Drugs to protect us, is a government that’s oppressing us.

And so I couldn’t hear her until Ethan and Debra Small and others came to a NAACP conference…I had become the Criminal Justice Chair of the National Board committee and that was board committee that nobody liked and so they didn’t like me and so they gave me that committee.

In doing the work of that committee the first forum that we had Ethan and Debra and all of them came and I’m sitting there, you know, high and mighty, listening. And little by little their message got through to me. “Hey, you need to pay attention, Alice. You think you’re doing something out here?! You’re trying to get kids educated. You’re trying to get kids saving their lives. You’re trying to keep them in school. You can’t keep them in school because the government’s putting them in prison. The government is taking care of its industrial complex. Pay attention, Alice.”

And I started paying attention and I got converted. And so I want to tell you that in my conversion, in my awakening, afterward in all this time with my community I realized where I need to start. I need to start right here to end this stupid War on Drugs.

So I declared war on the War on Drugs. I’m waging a war against a government that doesn’t treat its human beings who are addicted like citizens who need help. I have declared war on a government that has so many resources that it cannot give my little boys and girls in the community a job. They got to sell this cash crop out there so that they can have a little spending change in their pockets. And if there were jobs and things for them that would treat them like human beings they would have to create this violence in my community trying to sell these drugs on the streets so they, too, can have some Nike tennis shoes.

So my mantra says that we have to tell government one more time…just like we told them when there was slavery….just like we told them when they were anti-interracial marriages…just like we told them when there were the black codes…just like we’re telling them about same-sex marriage – we got to let the government know when they’re wrong.

And this government is one more time wrong. It’s wrong. I don’t mind saying so. Because we’ve lived in a place where we know change is possible. But it’s never possible until we ban together.

When government gets his head buried in the sand like mine was buried in the sand you have to take collective action. And it doesn’t matter…a lot of people want to impune the motive of those who are in the movement…I say, if you’re in the movement – it doesn’t matter what your motive is, what matters is that we work together.

And, so, in honor of that sister who had 14 kids, who passed away this morning, I say, “No, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her.” If she hadn’t started educating me, I wouldn’t be here. She wouldn’t want me to come home. She would want me to do what she longed to do. To stand here and tell you that I finally woke up. That she help wake me up. And that we …

[audience applause]

I … uhh…I’m gonna do like Jackie O…I’m going to stay composed up here. I got on my little pillbox hat and so don’t you worry I’m not going to break up here because she lived a good quality life. She was a Christian and she gave me some value that I’m standing up here with you today and I just want you to know that she would be proud if she could be in this room and see all of us working on behalf of justice for my community.

So I ask you as you work for whatever reasons you’re working for, make sure you join in our race to get rid of the racism that’s in these drug policies. Just don’t do it for yourself because you, for whatever reason, think about the injustices going on and elevate your movement to embrace us as we embrace the whole movement so that when we fight to end the War on Drugs that we fight for justice for every American in this country.

And when we do that, ladies and gentlemen, America will be a better place. Thank you very much.


DEAN BECKER: Once again that was Alice Huffman, president of the California NAACP. You’ve been listening to Cultural Baggage on the Drug Truth Network. Special reporting from the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Los Angeles. This is Dean Becker inviting you to tune into this week’s Century of Lies as well which will have much more from this major conference.

And, as always, I remind you that because of prohibition you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please, be careful.


Transcript provided by Jo-D Harrison, DrugSense.org