10/29/17 Tamara Johnson-Shealey

Part three of our coverage of the Drug Policy Alliance's #Reform17 International Reform Conference, with GA state senate candidate Tamara Johnson-Shealey, Dan Bigg from the Chicago Recovery Alliance, and Cyndee Clay from HIPS DC.
Tamara Johnson-Shealey https://www.tamaraforgeorgia.com/
HIPS DC http://www.hips.org/
Chicago Recovery Alliance http://www.anypositivechange.org/menu.html

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OCTOBER 29, 2017


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.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Well, this is part three of our coverage of Reform 2017, the Drug Policy Alliance's International Drug Policy Reform Conference, which was held recently in Atlanta, Georgia.

TAMARA JOHNSON-SHEALEY: I am Tamara Johnson-Shealey.

DOUG MCVAY: Now, this is your first Drug Policy Alliance Reform Conference, this is your first drug policy conference, as I understand.


DOUG MCVAY: Tell me your impressions of this place.

TAMARA JOHNSON-SHEALEY: Oh, it's been very exciting. I've met a lot of great people. I'm such a novice. I'm running for the Georgia State Senate, and, just -- I feel like I have a lot to learn, I have a lot to learn about the policy behind this particular movement, what needs to happen. I feel like I have a lot to learn. I actually was telling you that, I saw somebody coming down the escalator, and I walked up to him because I saw some words on his shirt, and it talked about harm reduction, and I felt like I needed a vocabulary test. Like, tell me what this really, really means, so, he took the time and I appreciated him taking a moment just to explain to me more about what harm reduction was, and it was -- I'm just glad to be here, and I'm so eager to learn.

DOUG MCVAY: Now, you're running for state senate. What made you decide to come to a drug policy conference, of all things?

TAMARA JOHNSON-SHEALEY: Oh, you know, this is not just political for me, it's very personal. My father, all of my life, as long as I can remember back, he has always had a problem with drug abuse. I had an uncle that had problems with drug abuse, so it's not -- I'm not far removed from it, so it's not like a political agenda. I see that there needs to be some reform. Here in the city of Atlanta, we've just passed legislation that now decriminalizes marijuana to the extent that it's a ticket versus people being locked up.

So, we have a lot of work to do here in Georgia. We had the city of Clarkston to already initiate this, so Atlanta was the second city, and now we need some statewide policies. So I want to hear, I want to learn, and I want to figure out how I can be a resource to help.

DOUG MCVAY: That's terrific, because that's, I mean -- drug policy, criminal justice, public health, are issues that should be at the forefront, I mean, it's daily life stuff, and, that's terrific.

TAMARA JOHNSON-SHEALEY: And with this opioid crisis, particularly in the district where I am, I think there needs to be a message to the constituents there that we need -- there needs to be some sort of reform, and it needs to be something that works for all people.

DOUG MCVAY: Are you in the Atlanta area, or are you -- ?

TAMARA JOHNSON-SHEALEY: I am. My district is actually a few minutes north, I'm in the DeKalb County area, north DeKalb, Dunwoody, Doraville, Brookhaven, Chamblee, over in Gwinnett it's Peachtree Corners, and over in Fulton County, which is the same as Atlanta, they're in the same county, it's the city of Sandy Springs. So it's a relatively large district. And, Georgia has a problem with opioids, just like a lot of other states across this nation, and we need to figure out what we do to get on the forefront of this, because we're losing.

And just to hear Michelle Alexander say that this is worse than the crack epidemic, and that's scary. That's scary. I have teenage sons. I'm scared.

DOUG MCVAY: So what's -- so, tell me some of your impressions of the conference so far, what are some of the things you're taking away?

TAMARA JOHNSON-SHEALEY: Oh, wow, I'm just -- I've taken a lot of notes, oh my gosh I have like four pages of notes. And they're, like, all over the place: prison reform, you know, fighting for the money, and there's growing marijuana, production, distribution, and retail, like, I just feel like there's so much for me to learn, that this is -- and this is the perfect place for me to come and do it, a lot of great panels, lot of great discussions. I'm really just, like, trying to absorb it all. I feel like some of it is kind of over my head, because I don't know enough, but that's why I'm here, is to learn.

DOUG MCVAY: That's the only way to start.


DOUG MCVAY: So now, what kind of issues are foremost in your district? What kind of things are you dealing with in the campaign?

TAMARA JOHNSON-SHEALEY: To be relatively honest, race. Race is at the root of my campaign. I ran in 2014, and I was black. I ran in 2016, and I was black, and now that I'm running again in 2018, the fact that I'm black is an issue. But race, you know what, I think this is a conversation that we have to have, even around drug policy. At the root of the problems we have nationally, race is the problem. I mean, we talk about the problems we have in education, there's a race component. There's a -- you talk about transportation, people don't want, particularly like in this area, you know, they don't want public transportation going north. Why? Because race is at the core of the issue.

When we talk about these drug policies, now I'm seeing, you know, race is at the core, it's at the core, and we have to have hard conversations around race. I know it's uncomfortable, but this is the only way I feel like we heal. I actually owned a nail salon for ten years, I did services for almost twenty, and I had a predominantly white clientele. And we had some very candid conversations, I mean, there were times when we laughed and we cried, and, you know, we agreed, and we disagreed, but ultimately, we -- those people were my clients for years, and we continue to talk.

And I think we have to talk about the things that -- we have to talk about race. And how we get beyond it, because we won't. We will continue to lose as a nation if we don't get to the root of our problems.

DOUG MCVAY: I lived in DC for several years, and one of the reasons why there was never a subway station in Georgetown was because the people in toney, rich, white Georgetown didn't want to make it easy for people from the rest of DC, that is to say, African Americans and other people of color from the rest of DC, to make it over there into Georgetown, and --

TAMARA JOHNSON-SHEALEY: It's at the root of it. It's at the root of, you know, the issues that plague us as a nation. I mean, when you talk about the transportation problems here in Georgia, I mean, we have, like, tremendous congestion on the north side. Tremendous. Because they don't want mass transportation. They don't want to have, you know, light rail, or, they don't want to bring certain people, and certain quote unquote "elements" into their communities.

DOUG MCVAY: So now moving forward, you're, again, you're up for election in 2018. So, yeah, any other thoughts you have -- give me some, if you have any closing thoughts for the listeners, and how can people find out about your campaign and the issues you're working on, and your plans for the state senate.

TAMARA JOHNSON-SHEALEY: Yes. So, yeah, my closing thoughts would be, if you've never come to this Drug Policy Alliance conference, be here. I encourage you to look them up online, it's drugpolicy.org. Look them up online, be a part of what they're doing. You know, this is something that we all need to learn. We all need to learn. Drugs have effected all of us in some capacity, so this is a great conference.

Where can you find me? I am on social media, I'm on Facebook, I'm on Twitter, I'm on Instagram. You can find me at @TamaraShealey on Instagram, and you can find me there on Facebook as well. I have a Facebook page specific to the campaign, it's Facebook.com/TamaraForGeorgia, so TamaraForGeorgia, and that's also my website, it's TamaraForGeorgia.com.

DOUG MCVAY: Tamara Johnson-Shealey.


DOUG MCVAY: Thank you so much. Thank you so much.

TAMARA JOHNSON-SHEALEY: Thank you for having me, I appreciate it, thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: Oh, it's a pleasure.

That was Tamara Johnson-Shealey. She is a candidate for the Georgia state senate, and I spoke with her at the Drug Policy Alliance's #Reform17. You are listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

I'm speaking with Dan Bigg from the Chicago Recovery Alliance. Dan Bigg, you are one of the legends in harm reduction and drug policy reform, it's an honor to be standing here, it truly is. Could you tell me a bit about yourself and the Alliance.

DAN BIGG: Well, for 27 years, a group of us have come together trying to deal with drug use and infectious disease or harm, drug harm as they've come together, in Chicago, and, in other words, there's a fertile middle ground between chaotic, out of control, abject addiction, and abstinence, and that's where we've been playing for the last 27 years, to great impact in Chicago.

And developing things, as taught to us by our -- the people, our board's composed entirely of participants. We've been able to keep a focus on really important, timely issues. Among those that have come up for the last quarter century have been hepatitis -- viral hepatitis preventative injection, that's the gold standard, still pushing that, still talking about it, it's an essential piece of the triad of testing, treatment/cure, and preventing new infections for Hep C, and we still have a ways to go. Also, overdose prevention, giving people the antidote that's also a quarter century old, when we first started using it in '96.

For us, recovery is about assisting any positive change as a person defines it for him or her self, and so, all of a sudden it applies to everyone. There's always improvements we all can make, and it's done in an accepting, dignified, human rights focused way, that respects choices, both as to what and to intensity. And it's a pleasure to work in it. We have seven full-time people, they have been there for as little as fifteen years, and as long as 27 years.

And it's a catchy thing to be doing, it's, you know, to be able to be respectful and helpful in a life-saving kind of way. For example, our OD prevention program, we have over 12,000 reports of peer reversal with naloxone to date, and as you know, it's become a much more regular thing around the world.

So, all we did in '96 was, because of one of our founders, John Szyler, died of overdose, although he had advanced AIDS and other issues. That was the motivation to go from talking about it to action, so one of our first missions, to create -- and actually the architect of that philosophy of any positive change as a person defines it for him or her self was John. We were ready for an all-out war as to define recovery, and John said that. We had steaming coffee pots, and plates of cinnamon rolls, a place called Ann Sathers in Chicago was letting us meet there, and John made that comment, and we still haven't been able to improve upon it, you know, over a quarter century later.

And, as revolutionary as it is simple, and people, when they hear Chicago Recovery Alliance, they wonder, the kind of thing that sounds like, you know, an abstinence based 12-step connected, and in fact we're connected with any positive change that we can. Our goal is to provide positive change as we can afford them, and as they make impact. More effective, more affordable, more likely we'll have it. But there are so many things we could do with greater resources, and greater spread, reaching people early in their injection careers, and, you know, decriminalizing would make huge resources available.

There shouldn't be a single person -- I don't know if you remember, you would be one I'd mention it to, a guy named Peter McWilliams? You remember Peter McWilliams, and his book "Ain't Nobody's Business: The Absurdity of Consensual Crime in a Free Society." That is -- and his personal computing handbook, were two of my bibles growing up, and you know, that goes back 40 years, but his sense of humor, and his focus on individual rights, and really the founding principles of this country, and getting back to them is what dealing with drugs and harm reduction, and everything else, are all about for me.

And I'm glad there is a -- when I start writing, I become so passionate sometimes I become incomprehensible, and one of the things that you've done is make it comprehensible, put it down, and that skill is extremely appreciated by me. So I thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: You're too kind. Now, that -- oh, because you have been a witness to this on the policy and on the harm reduction side, it always felt to me like there was a sort of divide between the service providing, the harm reduction side, and the policy wonk side, the drug policy side, and it feels like over the last, eh, not quite decade, that that divide has really healed. I don't know if it's DPA and Harm Reduction Coalition having their, you know, every other year thing, or if it's just a growing realization, but -- am I crazy, or is that, was that -- do you think it was -- do think that might have been so, and if so, is it changing, or was I just missing something?

DAN BIGG: No, no, I think you're right, your finger was on the pulse. In fact, 17 years ago I interviewed Ethan Nadelmann for the Harm Reduction Coalition, and my job was to determine his perspective on these kinds of issues, and Ethan said very simply that we need harm reduction. And, you know, he was speaking entirely from drug policy, or DP, as he and his daughter like to call it. "Dad, no DP tonight," and he says okeh.

But, in fact, I did it in '97, we had just started a year ago, distributing naloxone to people using, and I did a presentation at the San Francisco Medical Society, and afterwards, I was talking with folks, and this gentleman came up to me and he said, you know, you're hurting the movement. And I said, what do you mean? He said, you -- by helping to reduce the harm, you're lessening the imperative to change drug laws. And I said, well, who should we sacrifice in order to advance your cause? And, isn't that the same approach, of sacrificing lives for a, you know, an idea? Why don't we put lives first for a while and see if that isn't a better way to move.

I call it new mistakes. New millennium, new mistakes.

DOUG MCVAY: That's like -- that's like arguing that no, don't decriminalize or reduce the penalties because we can only get change if we make things really horrible.

DAN BIGG: That's exactly the philosophy, and this person believed it. They are -- they're very active in the movement, and they gave me a DVD of every document that supports that cause, but, it's just a philosophy, and you know, I think when this movement minimizes or doesn't appreciate the utility of every single life, it's lost. Ethan, much to his credit, never lost that.

And he realized it in two ways. One is, just in the, you know, as a pro life basis. The other is, he realized that the movement to prevent drug related harm, if it's done well, and it is some places, and it isn't others. But, if it's done well, it's extremely diverse, and that diversity was essential, because the DP part wasn't so diverse, and that, those diverse voices are needed. I think you see it here, as you say, I think there's been an acceleration of it, but the idea has been there for a long time.

Just like boutique cannabis sales have been an idea of Ethan's for a long time, and you see the commercialization carried away to the Nth degree, and at a great harm, potential harm. Better than what we got, but -- So, any positive change is still our watchword, and it focuses, you know, it applies to everyone. I consider myself by it every day, and that's why I seem so happy. Or spaced out.

DOUG MCVAY: I have to restrain myself, when I'm interviewing someone and they say something that's so right on, I'm often tempted to go "Yeah! Yeah!" Doesn't go for good interviews, and I'm -- but that, what you said, is exactly. Any closing thoughts for the listeners?

DAN BIGG: Keep coming back. It works if you work it.

DOUG MCVAY: Oh, hey, what's the website for your, for the Alliance?

DAN BIGG: AnyPositiveChange.org. You can find us. And we're improving it, so if you are disappointed at what you see there, from an old man that put it together long ago, we're working with Nigel Brunson in the UK to make it a better place, and Greg Scott in Chicago, so, hopefully you'll see even a better website than is currently listed as one of the top five worst websites in the harm reduction community.

DOUG MCVAY: AnyPositiveChange.org.

DAN BIGG: Correct.

DOUG MCVAY: Correct. Dan Bigg, thank you so much.

DAN BIGG: A pleasure.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Dan Bigg with the Chicago Recovery Alliance.

You are listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

And I'm talking to Cyndee Clay, you're the Executive Director of HIPS in Washington, DC. What was your panel about?

CYNDEE CLAY: So, we did a panel this morning with some sex workers and sex worker rights activists from across the -- actually we had people from Canada and the US here, and we wanted to talk about the intersections between the war against drugs and the war against sex workers, and why it's important for people who support better drug policy reform, should also be concerned and support sex worker policy reform as well.

DOUG MCVAY: Right on. Now, the conversation, there's a good bit about the legalization versus decriminalization. I mean, in the drug policy world, we have decriminalizing, which means reducing penalties, all the way maybe down to having no penalties, or then we have legalization, where control is handed over to a bunch of miserable greedy --. Decriminalization versus legalization.

CYNDEE CLAY: Sure. So, there's a lot of similarities between the call for reforms around drug policy and sex work. I think one of the major differences is that, you know, sex workers are people, as opposed to, like an item or a commodity, like drugs. And so, sex workers across the world are calling mostly for decriminalization, so that sex is something that people can engage in, like any other independent contractor or consultant selling their time. And, that's what they're selling, time, and a service, to people.

Because what we've seen under situations where sex work is legalized, generally legalization for sex work comes with a bunch of very, very strict, harsh, or draconian laws, regulations, things like health checks, things like registration, that actually end up harming sex workers, in very similar ways to criminalization. And so decrim is something that sex workers have talked about as a way to really provide the most autonomy and the most safety for sex workers.

DOUG MCVAY: What do you hope people took away from that panel?

CYNDEE CLAY: Well, we're hoping that people who are involved in, engaged in drug policy will also take a look at what's happening on a local and national level around sex work policy. We want them to push back against things like End Demand, which is basically saying that we need to end the demand for sex work, in many ways like we are trying to end, you know, end demand for drugs.

We want people to push back against those. We need them to be active in their neighborhood, even local level, if sex work is happening in their neighborhoods, so that we can not continue to criminalize people for doing sex work, but we can try to look at things in a different light.

You know, I think it was a really exciting and a great panel. We -- it was probably one of the, like, best sessions unpacking both the anti-trafficking legislation and decriminalization and legalization that I've been on in a while, and so I'm really, really proud of the work of all of the activists who spoke today, and really excited that DPA gave us a platform to have this conversation.

DOUG MCVAY: There used to be a big divide between policy people and the service providing people, the harm reduction and the drug policy. Now we have, you know, alternating years for harm reduction and drug policy, and it kind of feels to me at least like that gap is being bridged. Do you see that, or do you think, am I talking out -- am I talking through my hat, or do you think there's something to that?

CYNDEE CLAY: No, I agree, and there's much more of a harm reduction presence over the years, at the drug policy forum, and I think DPA has done much more to reach out, to be working directly, and so that hopefully their policies that they're pushing are, you know, informed by the work that's happening on the ground level. And I agree with you that there seems to be much more communication between the two groups, and that's really important.

DOUG MCVAY: So, yeah, you've got a plane, last bit is simply, HIPS does a lot of tremendous work. How do people find out about you, where, how do people find out about you, how can people support you?

CYNDEE CLAY: Yes, yes, definitely. So, you can find us on HIPS.org, that's our website. We're on facebook, Facebook.com/ILoveHIPS, on Facebook, and we are always looking for donations, for people to come and get involved, to volunteer, we have an Amazon wish list, and we're always accepting help, and also, like check in with us to find out what's happening with our decrim bill, that we just introduced into DC.

DOUG MCVAY: My god, that was the other question. Really quickly, tell me about the decrim bill in DC.

CYNDEE CLAY: Yeah, so last week, we had a press conference at HIPS, at our drop-in center, and we have a city council member, David Grosso, and also Robert White, who have -- who are cosponsoring a bill to do away with criminal penalties for solicitation in DC for adult sex workers, and we're extremely excited about being able to introduce it. We're hoping to have a hearing in the spring about it, and right now we're just really mobilizing to get out and to help the community understand that this is the right way to do this.

DOUG MCVAY: And I suppose people could also find out about the decrim bill at HIPS.org.

CYNDEE CLAY: Yes, definitely. Definitely check us out, join our mailing list. We'll be talking a lot about it over the next couple of months.

DOUG MCVAY: Fantastic. Cyndee Clay, thank you so much, and great luck with everything.

CYNDEE CLAY: Thank you very much.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Cyndee Clay, she is the director of HIPS DC. They're on the web at HIPS.org. I spoke with her at #Reform17, the Drug Policy Alliance's International Drug Policy Reform Conference, which was held recently in Atlanta, Georgia.

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: We have a chance to raise important questions about global capitalism, our culture of ruthless competition and individualism, and its possible role in creating so much of the despair that makes the United States the world leader in drug addiction as well as incarceration.

By interrogating capitalism in the context of drug policy reform, we can also ask important questions, such as, what really does a fair market look like, when some groups have been systematically denied access to markets and capital? How should we structure opportunity in this new trade, or in this new business? And when, if ever, should the free market be trusted? Particularly when dangerous drugs are the commodity?

These essential questions regarding race, capitalism, economic justice, criminal justice, and reparations, are all bound up in drug policy reform debates, making this movement extremely fertile ground for beginning to reimagine what kind of democracy and global community we aim to co-create.

Now, none of this will be easy, as Maria said, and I won't pretend to have the answers to many of the most vexing questions. But what I do know is that simply citing racial disparity statistics, and retweeting racists, won't build a sturdy foundation for a truly transformative movement. Nor will efforts to capitalize on the empathy for white folks in the midst of an unprecedented drug epidemic.

Now, if we choose to think big, really big, and deliberately align our drug policy with the work, the larger work, of building a thriving, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, democracy that truly honors the lives of all of us, a whole new world of possibilities begin to emerge.

Suddenly, we're not just fighting isolated drug policy reform battles anymore, but we're steadily, brick by brick, building the foundation for a new way of life, a new way of life together, for our democracy.

Now, if we go down this revolutionary road, and it is a revolutionary road, we're going to have to build a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-faith, multi-gender, grassroots movement from the bottom up. There's no way around it.

We're going to have to learn to reach across the lines that have divided us, not just for decades, but for centuries. And we're going to have to learn to listen to each other and argue with each other, and work together, to build this sturdy foundation, and we're going to have to learn to listen and accept leadership from the people who have been most harmed, most stigmatized, most discarded, in the wars that we have waged upon them.

But no matter who you are, or where you find yourself in this work today, I hope that you will eventually come to see this beautiful, vibrant, raucous movement as being about much more than drug policy, because it can, if we let it, become a movement that is fundamental to the remaking of our democracy.

I hope and pray that one day, when the history of this movement is written, that it will be said that we, those of us in this room today, vowed to do more than win kinder, fairer, more compassionate drug policies. Instead, we committed ourselves to a revolution, to placing racial justice at the center of our work, to reimagining our democracy and our economy, and birthing with all of the courage and strength we can muster, a new America. Let the movement begin. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was just a snippet from the speech given by Michelle Alexander at the Drug Policy Alliance's #Reform17 Conference in Atlanta. We'll have more from that speech in our next show.

For now, that's it for this week. Thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I’ve been your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are available via podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.

The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power. Follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty more minutes of news and information about the drug war and this century of lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

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