11/20/11 Ira Glasser

Ira Glasser, former head of ACLU speaks at drug reform conference + "Adult Users" song Eternal War

Century of Lies
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Ira Glasser
Drug Policy Alliance
Download: Audio icon COL_112011.mp3



Century of Lies / November 20, 2011


DEAN BECKER: The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.


DEAN BECKER: Hello my friends. Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. I’m Dean Becker. Today we’re going to here from Mr. Ira Glasser. This is our last coverage, if you will, from the recent reform conference in Los Angeles. I urge you to check out the most recent Century of Lies and Cultural Baggage for many more great speakers from this event. Educate yourself but enjoy.


SPEAKER: Our final speaker today is a hero to many, many people in this movement. Ira Glasser led the American Civil Liberties Union for many years in their noble fight to protect and preserve the constitution – the real one. And he has been the president of DPA’s board since our inception.

Last year Ira gave a presentation to the DPA staff about the historical and political perspectives on the drug policy reform movement and other long term movements for reform and we were really blown away. It inspired us. It amazed us. It energized us and it was too good not to share with all of our friends and allies doing this incredibly hard and incredibly satisfying work in the drug policy reform movement. Mr. Ira Glasser.

IRA GLASSER: A young man approached me this morning while I was standing around looking for coffee and said, “You know, I’m really feeling good about this. Ethan said yesterday that we were close to victory. The thing is I’ve come to four straight conferences which is 8 years and I’m getting on.” Maybe he was 32, maybe. It’s hard to say that to me these days.

He said, “When are we going to win? He said that last conference too. He said that the last conference before. Everybody says it. But, when are we going to win?!”

I asked him how much time he had. I told him it was more time than I had.

Three other people after that came up and asked me the same question, one of them was 78-years-old and wanted to know if we were going to legalize marijuana before he died. I actually get that question all the time and I think it’s a question that troubles us because we have to take seriously what we say to each other about the inevitability of our winning this fight but we have to learn how to deal with the skepticism of our own experience and our own mortality and our own limited time.

So, let me answer this question in a different way because I think we all make the mistake, we all make the mistake of measuring progress by the brevity of our own lives.

Movements don’t work that way. They work off the energy and the passion and the intelligence and the commitment that you heard from the previous speakers. They work off what you do every day in small ways where you cannot measure the impact of that is. But they cannot work in terms of running a train and getting their on schedule.

Movements don’t work that way. Social justice doesn’t work that way. Consider racial justice. Consider the history of racial justice in this country. You know when it began? You know when the movement for racial justice began? The first day that the first slave was brought here.

It took one hundred and fifty years more before there was an actual abolitionist movement in the middle of the 19th century. And a white Unitarian minister named Theodore Parker, an abolitionist in 1853. gave a sermon you may recognize what he said in which he talked about ending slavery which seemed remote in1853 and he said, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

And then he also said, “My eyes are not good enough to see the end of that arc but I know that it’s there.”

Four years later Dred Scott challenged the constitutionality of slavery. And in the only case in the history of this country, where the United States Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of slavery, it upheld it. And it upheld it brutality.

Chief Justice Roger Taney said that blacks were insubordinate and inferior beings and that blacks had no rights and would never have any rights that the white man was bound to respect. This is the Supreme Court in 1857.

Four years later, well, before 4 years later there was Frederick Douglass, the black abolitionists, and he greeted that decision by saying the Supreme Court is not the last word on this. And as unwelcome and horrible as this decision is we should greet it cheerfully.

Can you imagine?! We should greet it cheerfully because it may well be one step along the way to the abolition to the entire slave system. And four years later the civil war broke out and in 1865 the 13th amendment was passed prohibiting and ending slavery in this country.

And everybody though, or a lot of people thought, that was a great victory. Some people who had made the fight were not around to see it anymore. Others exalted. But within four or five years of that, the black codes were passed, the Supreme Court undercut the 14th amendment, the politics changed, Jim Crow laws got institutionalized and we had another hundred years of racial subjugation.

Was it as bad as slavery? No. But next to slavery it was the worst system of racial subjugation you could imagine and it lasted for another hundred years until our contemporary civil rights movement started in the 1960s.

And that resulted in the deaths of many people. And in a struggle that didn’t seem possible to win. Then in 1964 the Civil Rights Act is passed which prohibits racial discrimination in public accommodations, hotels, restaurants, swimming pools, etc. In 1965 the Voting Rights Act is passed which prohibited discrimination in voting and in 1968 the Fair Housing Act is passed which prohibits racial discrimination in the rental/sale of homes.

By that time I was 30-years-old and ready to celebrate. Son of a bitch we actually knocked out Jim Crow and we substituted for it a legal infrastructure of civil rights enforcement. I thought – that didn’t take so long, we won! It wasn’t enforced. And then it turned out that just as Jim Crow laws had been a successive system of subjugation to slavery, two years after the trio of civil rights acts – Richard Nixon declared a War on Drugs. There weren’t any of us in the Civil Rights movement who thought that was going to be a successor movement to Jim Crow.

We didn’t know. Most civil rights groups and civil rights organizations didn’t even think it was an issue for them. But in 1968 there were only a couple hundred thousand people in prison in this country for all offenses and then one day, not too long ago, there were 2.4 million and you know what the numbers were. You know that that was a successor system of racial subjugation. You know that just as Jim Crow had succeeded slavery, the Drug War succeeded Jim Crow.

You know it. The victims know it. More and more people know it. So where was the victory and where was the movement? Now I’m talking 300 years and we ain’t through yet. Was it better in 1865 than it was in 1855? Yes. Was it still better in 1965 than in 1865? Certainly. Is it better now? In many, many ways.

The world in which my grandchildren are growing up is not the world that existed in 1965 racially. When I tell them that the ballplayers that they watch and root for weren’t allowed to play when I was there age they look at me like I’m crazy.

So, we can never make the mistake of diminishing or downplaying how much progress there has been. So, is it better? Yes, it’s better, Is it much better? Yes, it’s much better. Is it over? No.

So now we’re talking 300 hundred years. Women…


DEAN BECKER: The speaker is Ira Glasser, former head of the ACLU, a board member of the Drug Policy Alliance, speaking at the recent reform conference in Los Angeles before about 1300 attendees. You are listening to a Century of Lies on the Drug Truth Network on Pacific Radio.


IRA GLASSER: Women weren’t slaves but they were legally property in the 18t h century. They couldn’t vote. They couldn’t enter into contracts. They didn’t have the same educational or economic opportunities, for sure.

In 1873 a woman named Myra Bradwell - you might want to call her the Dred Scott of the women’s movement. A woman named Myra Bradwell in Chicago actually gets into and graduates law school. She edits a respected legal newsletter in Chicago but she wants to practice law so she applies to the bar in Illinois and she is denied. She can go to law school, she can get a law degree, she can edit a newsletter but she can’t practice. And the only reason they denied her admission to the bar is because she was a woman.

So she hires a lawyer, a man, because she couldn’t litigate this herself, and challenges on the basis of the 14th amendment, which after the Civil War was passed, and guarantees equal protection underneath the laws to all U.S. citizens and she challenges this as a sex discrimination and under equal application of the law and it goes up to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court in 1873 (only 16 years after the Dred Scott decision) does to her what it did to Dred Scott. It rules that women are too timid and delicate. These are the actual words of the decision – I’m not making this up. Women are too timid and delicate to practice law and that they were intended to nurture and serve their children and their husbands and they were so intended by the Creator (capitol C). United States Supreme Court, 1873.

In 1916, 43 years later, Margaret Sanger, who started Planned Parenthood, is arrested every day, every other day, every week, on the streets of New York for distributing birth control leaflets. This was a women’s rights issue and, of course, also a free speech issue but the Supreme Court, all those years after the Bill of Rights was passed in 1791, recognized neither women’s equality nor the First Amendment and her arrest had no remedy.

In 1920 the ACLU is established. 129 years after the Bill of Rights is passed and the Supreme Court has never, at that point, never, not once, struck down any governmental law or act on First Amendment grounds. Never.

In 1964, the Civil Rights Act that banned discrimination based on race in public and accommodations and employment and education, also applies to women and sex discrimination. What happened in the 10 or 20 years or 50 years after that? A lot but not enough. Were women equal? They were not. Was the law self-enforcing? It was not. Was it better than it was in 1916? Uh-huh. Was it over? No. Is it over now? No.

It wasn’t until Margaret Sanger gets arrested for distributing birth control leaflets in 1916. It wasn’t until 1965…1965, that the Supreme Court first struck down a criminal law making it a crime for Planned Parenthood to sell contraceptives to married couples. That law was on the books…I know you’re thinking Mississippi, Alabama…Connecticut. Connecticut – one of the blue states. Until 1965…until 1967 it was a crime in this country for blacks and whites to marry.

Most of the rights that we wake up with and enjoy and try to get enforced today didn’t exist until 40 or 50 years ago. In 1973 the Supreme Court says women have a right to reproductive freedom and strikes down the criminal laws making it a crime to have an abortion.

Did that make things better? Damn right. Before that women were dying of hemorrhaging and septic poisoning in large numbers in every city hospital in this country. Did that make it better? Yep. Is it over yet? Just ask Lynn.

So movements are never over. They have no end points. They have victories and they have defeats. And they go on longer than your lifetimes. And you don’t want to ever make the mistake of being frustrated because you haven’t won yet.

You’ll never get to win – you just get to fight.

The mother of all these freedoms, without we couldn’t do anything else, is called Free Speech and Freedom of the Press. How about that movement? That movement started the day the first printing press was invented in the 15th century - 2 minutes later the government passed censorship laws making it that you had to have a license in order to use a printing press. And the license had to be predicated on your getting permission from the government or the church to print what it was that you wanted to print.

That lasted a couple hundred years. Why was that dangerous? Because for the first time it was like the fifteenth century version of the internet. For the first time people could distribute leaflets so somebody other than a handful of monks could read them. And the Protestant Reformation was fueled by that. As were all kind of other political movements.

And the government didn’t want it and the church didn’t want it so their first instinct was to repress it and people who resisted were killed, were tortured, were convicted, were sent for long prison sentences.

By the 18th century, 300 years later…300 hundred years later, freedom of speech and freedom of the press didn’t exist in this country and the First Amendment was designed to remedy that. And it looked like it did. The First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law abridging freedom or the press.”

Clear enough.7 years later the congress, the congress that passed that, passed the Sedition act making it a crime to criticize the President. The First Amendment was hardly cooled off from the oven that it came from. 7 years later – these were the same people – congressmen were arrested and sent to jail.

Ben Franklin’s grandson who edited a newspaper that was critical of the Adam’s administration was sent to jail and died in prison.

As I said in 1920 when the ACLU was created, 120 after the First Amendment became law, the Supreme Court had never decided any First Amendment case. That started to change in the 1930s when labor unions began to be prosecuted for distributing leaflets and holding meetings and organizing and some of the first First Amendment cases…but there was a sedition act of 1917 and Eugene Victor Debs was sent to prison for his opposition to World War I in which he was convicted for saying things that practically everybody in this room has probably said about Iraq or Viet Nam or Afghanistan.

Then there was McCarthyism in the 1950s in which people were fired for not signing loyalty oaths and for having the wrong opinions. And then the First Amendment came alive in the context of the Civil Rights movement and all the times that Martin Luther King Jr. and his colleagues were arrested.

So that’s been a 500-year struggle. What if at any point in that struggle somebody had asked, “When are we going to win?”

When the internet came in the same thing happened as happened with the printing press. Two minutes after the internet was online congress passed a law criminalizing pornography – whatever that meant. Why? Because children might get onto the internet and so everybody was reduced, even if you agreed that children should be protected from pornography, the way that they decided to do it was to protect all of us from pornography.

This time, unlike in the 15t h century, the ACLU was around and we filed a lawsuit and we got it knocked out and congress went back and passed another one and we got that knocked out. So now the internet is fairly free. And you won’t have another 300 years, as you did with the printing press, before the freedoms associated with it can be enacted.

500 years and still running. You don’t get to win. You just get to keep fighting. You hack away at the jungle of oppression and the jungle comes back and takes back the road and you gotta go back and hack again.

You not only have to keep fighting because the forces of oppression are relentlessly clever at finding new forms of oppression but you have to keep fighting the same victories that you won before because they get unwon.


DEAN BECKER: The speaker is Ira Glasser at the reform conference in Los Angeles earlier this month. He’s the former head of the ACLU and a board member of the Drug Policy Alliance. You’re listening to Century of Lies on the Drug Truth Network.


IRA GLASSER: So there’s nothing unique about the drug policy movement. Same thing is true about privacy. You know the colonists hated the general searches from the British soldiers. Most historians believe that the culminating reason for the Revolution was their outrage at those warrantless searches. So almost the first thing they did after the Revolution was they passed the Fourth amendment which said that you couldn’t search unreasonably or without a warrant. So explain to me why all these years later 600,000 black and Latino kids are getting stopped every year in New York and illegally frisked.

It wasn’t because the Supreme Court hasn’t ruled against it. They did that in 1968. It was because the police and the mayor have ignored it and nobody has been organized to stop it. Even the information that it was illegal has only recently begun to circulate among the victims and their defenders and their allies.

So these victories, these social justice movement of which we are one but not unique never stay won, we just get to keep fighting and progressing … and progressing. It’s often said that the fight for social justice is not a sprint – it’s a marathon. It’s more than a marathon. It’s a marathon relay race.

And the length of the relay race, as Reverend Parker said back in 1953 about the “arc of justice”, you can’t see were the track ends. You can just take the baton and run as hard as you can and as fast as you can and as far as you can and as strategically smart as you can for as long as you can and then you give the baton to the next one.

[audience applauds]

And that’s how you build a movement. Now, Vince Lombardi, (if I may degrade the sensibilities of great civil rights heroes) a famous, legendary football coach of the Green Bay Packers, probably one of the most successful coach (somebody’s here from Wisconsin) ….before you get too cocky about that Joe McCarthy was from Wisconsin too…Vince Lombardi when he retired was given this testimonial day and there was all kinds of testimony about what a great football coach he was and about how many more games he won than he lost. And they actually said something about his record – he had so many wins and so many loses. He got up afterwards and said, “Well, you know, actually I never lost a football game. Once in a while time ran out.”

Now the thing about our game is that time doesn’t run out. Time never runs out. We just get to keep fighting, and keep running and there’s no time clock. There’s only our own suffering and our commitment to overcome that suffering and that injustice.

To go back to the fight for racial justice…In Selma in 1965 on the eve of the March on Selma Martin Luther King, Jr. gave one of his memorable speeches. That’s the speech where he used Reverend Parker’s line about the “arc of a moral universe” and he said, “You know I get asked all the time,” just as we are asked today, “I get asked all the time, ‘How long is this going to take?’” This is 1965. “How long will justice crucified? How long?”

And he said, “Not long.” And in his speech he said, “How long will it take? Not long because truth crushed to earth will rise again. How long” he asked “will it take? Not long because no lie can live forever. How long will it take? Not long because the ‘arc of the moral universe’ is long but it bends towards justice.”

I would add that it doesn’t bend by itself. It bends because of you and you and you and everybody in this movement. And so I ask you today and every day – you answer that question for me…”How long?”

[audience: Not long.]

How long?

[audience: Not long.]

How long?

[audience: Not long.]

Because truth crushed to earth will rise again. How long?

[audience: Not long.]

Because no lie can live forever. How long?

[audience: Not long.]

Because the Drug War’s days are numbered.

[audience applauds]


DEAN BECKER: That was Ira Glasser. We’re not winning but we damn sure are making progress. We’re going to close the show out with a musical interlude from the Adult Users called Eternal War.


DEAN BECKER: The Drug War has no basis in reality. Prohibido istac evilesco!



SINGER: Cut me loose
Set me free
Judge what I do
Not what’s inside of me
Why do you pick my pocket?
Just let me light my rocket
Who made you the boss of me?
Get out of my life.. let me be

If they stop Afghanistan from growing opium
And they cut down the Colombian cocaine
When Mexico runs out of marijuana
They think that we’ll quit getting high
But Walgreens is always standing by

Cut me loose
Set me free
Judge what I do
Not what’s inside of me
Why do you pick my pocket?
Just let me light my rocket
Who made you the boss of me?
Get out of my life.. let me be

Are we just peasants in the field
Let’s stand for truth or forever kneel
Every 16 seconds we hear the slamming door
And we owe it all to eternal war
.. The first eternal war


Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org