The following is a post by Global Exchange/Caravan intern Chelsea Brown, who is traveling with the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity. Global Exchange Executive Director Carleen Pickard who is currently in DC joining the last days of the Caravan, describes Chelsea as the “calmest force behind the Caravan for Peace scenes.”
The Caravan has arrived in Washington, D.C. after a month on the road. From one coast to the next, we have listened to one another’s stories—learning how violence and fear has touched every part of Mexico—and to the stories of brave souls we met along the way. We have come to speak these truths to the power that resides within the nation’s gleaming capitol buildings.
Most of these truths are self-evident: drug prohibition does not work and it never will. AK-47s are not being used to hunt deer, it is wrong to put non-violent people in cages, and real democracy is not sown with bullets. Yet U.S. policymakers, year after year, decide to ignore these truths and instead perpetuate – and in some cases escalate – policies that are detrimental to both individual and national security. Why?
Much has to do with the overwhelming influence of corporate money in politics. This year, corporate interests have invested billions of dollars in lobbying and pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into election campaigns to gain influence in DC. Though legal, corporate-dominated elections interfere with the basic democratic process of elected officials representing the needs and interests of their constituencies. There are powerful interests that are turning profits at the expense of human lives on both sides of the border, especially where arms control and drug policy is concerned.
In Baltimore, the Caravan heard from a local mother and activist, Kimberly, who lost her son to bullets fired by a 14-year-old. Tragically, this is not a rare occurrence in a neighborhood where, Kimberly averred, it is easier to buy a rifle than a tomato. Similarly, drug cartels in Mexico have easy access to firearms smuggled from the U.S. Loose regulations enable the purchase of large quantities of weapons, without conducting background checks and even without showing identification.
This cavalier irresponsibility prevails in large part due to lobbying by the National Rifle Association, which spent $7.2 million supporting Republican candidates during the 2010 election cycle, and which routinely spends huge sums of money opposing all forms of firearm regulations (Open Secrets).
At a Caravan event in New York City, our hosts at the CUNY Graduate Center screened the award-winning documentary The House I Live In, which explores the human impact of the war on drugs in the U.S. One of the many tragic vignettes featured a young black mother with a wide-eyed baby in her arms. The father of her child was convicted of a drug charge and at best would be facing a 5-year sentence as a product of mandatory minimum sentencing. He would join tens of thousands of others. In 2010 alone, over 1.6 million people were arrested for drug charges, 88% of which were for possession of marijuana (FBI Uniform Crime Report 2010).
Again, we can look to the influence of corporate lobbying to explain why policymakers uphold such an ineffective and wasteful strategy for reducing drug use. The drug war has been a boon for private prisons, which require 90% of their beds to be filled in order to turn a profit. One of these private enterprises, Corrections Corporation of America, spent $14.8 million on lobbying between 2003 and 2010, and has dedicated millions to pass anti-immigrant legislation in states like Arizona.
Yesterday, members of the Caravan spent a day on Capitol Hill speaking with the political representatives of the American people about the personal tragedies that have resulted from these irresponsible, inhumane policies. While we can never undo the tragedies and pain suffered from the drug war, it is never too late to end these harmful policies and let the healing begin. We hope that this people-to-people lobbying effort will remind and inspire legislators to push back against powerful interests that value profit over human life.