04 October 2011

Mothers Protest Prohibition…Again

Millions of women opposed alcohol prohibition because it was destroying lives and endangering their children. Now, they uniting to end the war on drugs

On Sunday, PBS and Ken Burns will start a three-day series on an issue that it is very close to my heart. The series is named Prohibition and it is about our country’s experiment with alcohol prohibition.

I find it amazing what a small group of mothers can do when they decide to raise their voices to protect their children and families!  Although women were pivotal in bringing about national prohibition in 1920 – in the interest of protecting their families from the effects of alcohol abuse – it was also women who were instrumental in repealing prohibition because this “noble experiment” had failed. Millions of women came to oppose Prohibition because it was corrupting morals, eroding liberties, creating violence, destroying lives, and endangering their children. 

A few years ago, I was looking at a poster from the 1920’s. The woman was holding her hand out and holding her child in a protective grasp, and the caption read: Prohibition Failed! Please do something about it.

I have been advocating for changes in drug policy for over a decade. I have two sons who have addictive illness, one of whom spent ten years cycling through the criminal justice system for nonviolent drug possession offenses. This was a tremendous waste of human potential, and a heartbreakingly painful saga for our family. Not only did we have to deal with the pain of this insidious disease, but we also had to cope with stigma borne out of  fear and ignorance, and the damaging effects of incarceration. My son’s journey propelled me to advocate for therapeutic rather than punitive drug policies.

When I pondered the message of the poster, I realized that mothers’ voices, when gathered together, free from shame and closeted fear, could change what we all know in our hearts must be changed. These punitive prohibitionist policies are affecting the lives and the futures of our children, so we must speak out!

Thus, the Moms United to End the War on Drugs national campaign began, with the mission of stopping the violence, mass incarceration, and overdose deaths that are a result of our current punitive and discriminatory drug policies. 

As the nation watches Ken Burns’ Prohibition and sees how the 18th amendment turned law-abiding citizens into criminals, caused liquor consumption and binge drinking to increase, and gang violence to explode, I hope that we can draw some parallels to what we are experiencing today. It is alarming that such a failed policy would still be with us in the form of drug prohibition. It’s incredible that we have allowed so many lives to be lost and so many liberties to be taken away in this counterproductive effort to keep people from using drugs. Of course these policies backfire today just as they did in the 1920’s. Every society throughout history has used drugs – we will never be able to rid ourselves of drugs, so we better figure out how to reduce the harms associated with them. 

Mothers, again, are leading the charge, for the sake of our children, and future generations to come, just as women did many decades ago to end alcohol prohibition. We are fed up and raising our voices in favor of control, regulation and legalization of marijuana. We’ve seen too many families that have been ravaged by both addiction and the criminal justice system. Instead of addressing our loved ones’ drug problems, the country spends billions to incarcerate them for nothing more than drug possession. We must stop the criminalization of people who use drugs or who are addicted to drugs.

As people tune into this series over the next few days, we hope they will discuss the impacts of drug prohibition with family, friends and neighbors.  We need folks to join us (www.momsunited.net) and to commit to end our current prohibitionist policies that do more harm than good. 

Gretchen Burns Bergman is Co-Founder & Executive Director of A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing) and lead organizer of the Moms United to End the War on Drugs national campaign.

30 September, 2011  
Gretchen Burns Bergman

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