12/05/18 Naomi Burke-Shyne

Naomi Burke-Shyne Pres of Harm Reduction Intl, Maya Groos & Charles Haywood of Women W/ Vision, Melissa Broudo of SOAR Inst, Erica Ernst of Chicago Drug User Union & DTN Editorial

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Wednesday, December 5, 2018
Guest: 
Naomi Burke-Dhyne
Organization: 
Harm Reduction Intl
Share

Comments

CULTURAL BAGGAGE

DECEMBER 5, 2018

TRANSCRIPT

DEAN BECKER: I am the Reverend Dean Becker, keeper of the moral high ground in the drug war for the world, and this is Cultural Baggage.

Hi folks, I am Dean Becker, the Reverend Most High. This is Cultural Baggage, and one more time we're going back to New Orleans to tune in to the Harm Reduction conference.

MELISSA BROUDO: Melissa Broudo.

DEAN BECKER: And, what organization are you with?

MELISSA BROUDO: I'm with the SOAR Institute. We stand for the Sharmus Outlaw Advocacy and Rights Institute. We're in New York City.

DEAN BECKER: Tell us about the organization. What is it y'all do, what do you hope to accomplish?

MELISSA BROUDO: Sure. So we are an advocacy, policy, and capacity building organization. We support the rights of sex workers and survivors of human trafficking, so really try to aim for legislative change, shift the narrative around sex work and human trafficking and public discourse, and also to provide grassroots support to other organizations.

DEAN BECKER: You know, I live in Houston, and we've had a particular focus on the human smuggling.

MELISSA BROUDO: Yes. So, I think what's interesting in, like, in my field, to wit, trafficking into sexual labor, is this distinction that has been drawn between labor trafficking and sex trafficking, where it's actually -- there isn't really a distinction. Right?

Human trafficking has always existed, and just sort of, as you pointed out, right, there's always been forced labor, or transporting people, either against their will or holding them for, you know, huge amounts of debt. That has always existed, in all forms of labor.

And I think there is this increased attention in the last fifteen years on quote unquote "sex trafficking," which is a sort of false in the sense it's not new, and it's not necessarily distinct from other forms of trafficking. There's always been labor exploitation. I think there's just been now these coined terms that have been buzzwords, and sort of utilized in the media.

So I think it draws on this history of force and exploitation, which is part of the human historical experience, unfortunately.

DEAN BECKER: Well, tell us about the specifics of where you guys are involved.

MELISSA BROUDO: Sure. So, you know, we're located in New York City, and so -- and our expertise has definitely been around New York and specifically New York City, however, we also have a national policy reach, and hopefully even international as well, though to a lesser extent.

And so, you know, I think with prostitution laws, because it is so state by state, and it is state based, you know, we're really looking to change laws in New York, and also New York City. Right? Working with city council, and in New York state working with the legislature, to shift policy, but then in terms of our narrative shifting, that is national and international. Right?

Like, how do you get articles placed, or write articles, or get quoted where it is trying to shift the narrative? How do you support media outlets like The Deuce, for example, on HBO, right, that is doing really good work, and changing the dialogue around sex work and shifting that narrative from, you know, victim, the good and the bad, it's really never that simple. Right? It's a much more complex web. And so yeah, I would say our reach is national in scope.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh. Is there a closing thought, something to kick people in the butt to get them aware and maybe motivated towards helping, and or your website?

MELISSA BROUDO: Yes. So, I think that the key takeaway for a lot of our work is to not conflate prostitution and human trafficking. Right? And so, as I said earlier, there is force, fraud, and coercion, which is the definition of trafficking, in every industry.

But we're not running around saying we should not have restaurants or we should not have factories, or nail salons. But we do say that with sex work. And so I think I want people to rethink that paradigm, and think, okeh, people choose to do sex work, or they do sex work for a wide variety of reasons. Not everyone who's doing sex work is forced. Right?

There is, yes, there are people who are forced, of course, but our solutions need to be different than just let's shut it all down, because that's not realistic, that's not pragmatic.

And so we need to be able to support people who are doing sex work, support their labor rights, not arrest people, while also being able to target people that are doing human trafficking. We need to be able to separate those two things out. So that would be my main takeaway.

And our website is www.SOARInstitute.org.

ERICA ERNST: Hi, my name is Erica Ernst, and I'm from Chicago.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh, and I noticed some of the shirts over there have to do with the Chicago Drug Users Union as well. Are you part of that, as well?

ERICA ERNST: Yes. I'm one of the founders.

DEAN BECKER: Now, I don't know if Houston has one. They certainly haven't alerted me to their existence if they're there. But, tell us what you do. What benefit does the Drug Users Union provide?

ERICA ERNST: Well, the Drug Users Union is new, and we're just getting our footing, but basically gives drug users a voice, and gives us a grouping to do political action. And right now, our major motivation is to push for a safe consumption site in the Chicago area.

DEAN BECKER: You know, being from Texas, I do hear stories coming out of Chicago, how the cartels are very much involved up there, pushing their stuff as -- on the retail basis rather than wholesale, like they used to in years past.

But, Chicago is not alone. There -- there are people pushing drugs, illegal drugs, all over this country, trying to make a profit. Am I right?

ERICA ERNST: You are correct, and I believe in legalization, so that all drugs are safe and people can make informed choices.

DEAN BECKER: Right. Seventy-two thousand dead last year because people didn't know what in the heck they were buying. Right?

ERICA ERNST: That is correct. And they're stigmatize, using alone, and they haven't been able to secure the life saving drug naloxone.

DEAN BECKER: Now, we have a situation where, for lack of a better term, they're abandoned by society. Many times, shooting up in alleyways rather than in a sanitary facility, and that's been a focus for many cities around the country, to try to arrange for safe consumption facilities. How's Chicago doing in that regard?

ERICA ERNST: We are working on it, although we are a Democratic city we are a bit conservative, and we have had talks with some major government entities, and we are hopeful. We are concerned with our current federal government repeatedly threatening many cities who are pushing for safe consumption sites, zooming in and arresting people.

DEAN BECKER: What am I leaving out? What would you like to bring forward about the work y'all are doing?

ERICA ERNST: The importance of the voices of any marginalized groups, so to include them, and to not depend on the voices of so-called experts, who are not part of a community. So specifically in this case, the drug users have a voice, they've spoken, they know what they need to be safe, survive, and potentially recover to whatever ends that means for them. So, any positive change for them.

DEAN BECKER: Do you have some closing thoughts you'd like to share with the audience, perhaps point them to a website?

ERICA ERNST: Certainly. I would encourage folks to look up our facebook page, the Chicago Drug Users Union, and our associated agency that we're proud to be friends with, Chicago Recovery Alliance, at AnyPositiveChange.org.

DEAN BECKER: All right, things are wrapping up here at the Harm Reduction conference. Folks are boxing up things, putting them away. I stopped by, these folks with Women With A Vision booth are packing up their stuff but they're still here and willing to do an interview with me. There's a woman and a gentleman here, I'll let them introduce themselves.

MAYA GROOS: My name's Maya Groos.

CHARLES HAYWOOD: My name is Charles Haywood.

DEAN BECKER: Now, you guys, you know, either one of you can speak up here, but tell us about women with a vision. What's this about?

CHARLES HAYWOOD: Women With A Vision is an organization that was created 29 years ago. Initially it was started to provide services for minority women in the greater New Orleans area, focusing on sex education, HIV prevention, needle exchange back then but not as much as it is now.

As time progressed, the organization has grown from focusing on just sexual education and HIV prevention education and more into harm reduction, policy change, social and justice, for women of color, but now we work as allies for the trans community, the LGBT community, sex workers.

So, our main focus right now is just being on the front line, and being the voice for the oppressed. So we definitely want to make change, and with the harm reduction program as well as community outreach, sexual reproductive health, decriminalization of sex workers.

We're pretty much trying to cover everything that anybody oppressed might be experiencing.

DEAN BECKER: Maya, you know, with this modern economy, and ever increasing numbers of homelessness and, I don't know, disadvantaged folks, it's becoming quite a bigger problem for you guys to deal with, more diverse, if that's the word.

MAYA GROOS: Since the beginning of our country's time, we've been built on a system of oppression of people, and so I think although certain communities are experiencing, you know, harsh circumstances now more than before, I don't think as a whole that's true.

I think we've always had oppressed people. We've always had people that are not taken care of by our country, and I think, you know, with more visibility, maybe it seems worse but I think it's always been a struggle in this country.

CHARLES HAYWOOD: People have always been oppressed, and it's definitely always been a struggle. I think at one point, it seemed like things were getting better, and of course with the way that the government is now, and the direction that we've taken, it's scary, because you don't know what's going to happen and a lot of services that are needed are being cut.

And right now, it's pretty much like trying to prepare for whatever's going to come, because you don't know. I think with this particular organization, going back as far as '89, they've gone through several decades and governments of change.

So, starting back in '89, of course, things were not great. And then, you know, there's always been progression. And then things got back to, it's like we're moving backwards slightly, but I think as an organization we're able to tackle those things, and because we've been front line and been so adamant and so hardcore, so passionate about what we do, even with the changes that may be coming, I think that it's just going to push the fight to be stronger.

So it's definitely, I have mixed feelings about if it's getting worse. We are, but at the end, at the same time, I think we definitely have the right people pushing for greater. So it's going to be an uphill battle, and we definitely won't be giving up on it, so it's just going to be a struggle but it's going to be a struggle worth fighting.

DEAN BECKER: Is there closing thoughts, a website you might want to share?

MAYA GROOS: WWAV-NO.org. So that's where you can find all of our information about our programming, what kind of services we're doing, and anything that might be coming up in the future.

DEAN BECKER: All right, we're going to take a little break here for Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! but first I want to hear from Doug McVay, and what he's got on this week's Century of Lies, which follows this program on many of our affiliated stations. What's up, Doug?

DOUG MCVAY: Thanks, Dean. This week on Century of Lies, we talk with a couple of the organizers of the International Cannabis Policy Conference, that goes on December Seventh through Ninth in Vienna, Austria. Here's Michael Krawitz.

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: In Vienna, at the Austria Centre, it's this massive, beautiful, brand new complex that's almost -- it's almost connected to the UN Centre, it's just separated by a wall, basically, between the United Nations Vienna International Centre and the Austria Events Centre, where we're going to be. Really beautiful place.

What we're going to actually do, we're bringing our main activists inside the UN on Friday, and we're going to have our own little private lunch meeting there, inside the UN, and talk about strategy, talk about some of these issues surrounding cannabis and sustainability, and working with the CND and all.

And then, that night, we're going to have a reception, where we're hoping to engage as many of the diplomats as we can from the Commission process, for the next day, which would be the Eighth and Ninth of December, where we're going to have our conference.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Michael Krawitz. He's one of the organizers of the International Cannabis Policy Conference that takes place in Vienna, Austria, December Seventh through Ninth. All that and more on the next Century of Lies.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Confusion, skin rash, agitation, nervousness, constipation, diarrhea, dizziness, headache, nausea, hallucinations. Time's up! The answer, Mylanta AR, or Pepcid AC, two more FDA-approved products.

With the following interview, we close out this year's coverage of the Harm Reduction conference in New Orleans.

Good morning, Dean. My name is Naomi Burke-Shyne, Executive Director of Harm Reduction International.

DEAN BECKER: Now, we're here at your booth. You guys are promoting what I think will be a major event next year, an international harm reduction conference. Please, give us some thoughts on what that will be about.

NAOMI BURKE-SHYNE: At Harm Reduction we work to reduce the social, legal, and health harms of drug use and drug policy, and we're very deliberate about both drug use and drug policy, because drug policy is harmful.

For the last twenty-five years, we've convened harm reduction activists and advocates from around the world to understand the cutting edge public health interventions, how we can kind of address the social stigma and bias around drug use, and how we can show more respect for the people who use drugs who are part of our society and important leaders in the harm reduction movement.

So what's so exciting about convening in Portugal next year is the fact that 18 years ago, Portugal decriminalized personal possession of drugs. And so they found, and eighteen years later, you know, it's an exciting opportunity because there's a lot of evidence already.

They found that, you know, drug use didn't spike. There was no -- the sky didn't fall in, there was no alarming statistics about people who didn't previously use drugs becoming -- having -- becoming, developing any problematic drug use. HIV rates were managed and dropped, and their drug problem with drug overdose, like we see in some other parts of Europe and North America.

So the lessons from Portugal are quite exciting, you know. They moved from a system of criminal justice and criminalization to a system that, you know, took a public health approach, had more respect for people who use drugs, and tried to address as a community, more as a social problem as well as a health problem.

They moved away from the criminal justice frame. And so we're really excited to go to Portugal 18 years later. To bring, you know, at our last conference in Montreal, we had people from 80 countries around the world, so we're excited to share these lessons from Portugal, but also ask what could Portugal be doing better, what's next?

You know, is it enough? Are we talking about quality access to services? What do people who use drugs say about the harm reduction approaches, about, you know, about their lives every day? And so we'd be really excited to have people from all around the world join us on that journey.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and again, as someone who this spring got a chance to speak with Doctor Goulão, who heads up, in essence their drug czar, there in Portugal, and to meet with some folks in the hospitals and some of the police and others that, in essence take part in this but don't have the draconian attitude, which is so prevalent here in these United States.

They had a lot of compassion and understanding of those who do use drugs, which seems like the preferred method, from my perspective, but your thought there, insofar as the difference between say Portugal and the United States, and the end result.

NAOMI BURKE-SHYNE: Yeah. I've been inspired by the courage and activism and bravery and the energy of the Americans I've met this week, but I am still shocked how difficult it is for many front line service providers to provide clean commodities to their clients, how difficult it is to run support groups and services.

You know, it's a very punitive frame, and it's highly stigmatized in this country. The country's also experiencing horrific numbers of death related to drug use. Opioid related drug deaths, but also poly drug use, and I think, you know, in the context of this huge number of deaths, it's affecting communities all over the country, you know. We need to look at a different way to address things.

It's horrific to think that we can sit back and continue on with this punitive frame, when we see no evidence that it's working or that it's improving the lives of people who use drugs and their families and of the communities around them.

DEAN BECKER: Right, and I think that's the point, a quote that gets used a lot, I don't know true it is, but, Einstein supposedly said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result, and we have certainly been testing that theory over the century, have we not?

NAOMI BURKE-SHYNE: We have. You know, the punitive drug control framework has been pervasive internationally since 1961, and America was a leader in pushing that convention at international level.

You know, and the international conventions do set a punitive frame for us to work with, however I don't think there's any evidence that this punitive frame has stopped drug use, or limited drug movement or drug trade. In fact, all we have is, you know, communities that are sicker, people that are miserable, and horrific rates of death around the world, whether it's through the drug policy or the difficulties of using drugs in a criminalized environment.

DEAN BECKER: Now, and, I use this phrase over and over again, it doesn't seem to resonate, doesn't seem to get quoted anywhere, but it is, you know, this drug war, specifically for the United States, empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches barbarous cartels, gives reasons for violent gangs to prowl our neighborhoods with high powered weapons, enticing our children to lives of crime and addiction.

And just last year we had 72,000 people die here in these United States, and yet they just want to continue doing more of the same, as if, again, going back to that quote, it will make a difference.

NAOMI BURKE-SHYNE: Yeah. No, no, no no, it's a really difficult environment, and we really need to move away from all our preconceptions and all the, basically, the propaganda we've absorbed over the decades that tells us that the only way to approach drug use is a punitive controlling frame.

Putting people in prisons is not helping our communities, it's not helping people who use drugs, it's not helping the families around America. And with this rate of overdose-related death, it's horrific to think that we should continue along this track.

DEAN BECKER: I, you know, you had mentioned that it was, I guess, '61, when the world kind of followed the lead of the United States and began this punitive, you know, jihad, if you will, and I guess it was Harry J. Anslinger, a gentleman who used to be an alcohol prohibitionist, but when that was legalized again, he decided he needed a job and he set about convincing the United States, then the United Nations, that this drug war was a necessary part of life here on the planet.

And I guess what I'm leading to here is that we, by that I mean intelligent, informed people, need to educate these politicians and other people, officials, to that thought.

NAOMI BURKE-SHYNE: Drug policy, unfortunately, is inherently political. It's often a convenient political platform which people stand on. Internationally we see horrific cases, like President Duterte in the Philippines, who's used drug policy as a means for impunity, basically. You know, he -- people have been, more than 12,000 people, numbers are, sometimes up to 20,000 are quoted, being slaughtered on the streets, and that's got nothing to do with their drug use.

You know, it's about impunity, it's about control, and it's about fear. You know, it's about him having absolute power. You know, that's the extreme end, but in almost every country around the world, this political frame for drugs is convenient, you know. It's useful for our communities to be scared of something and to warned, for politicians to be able to grandstand on this point.

But you know what, it's not making safer places to live. It's not making healthier families. It's not upholding the rights of citizens around the world. And so, we need to move away from this punitive frame, and the politics of it.

DEAN BECKER: President Trump opened a session at the United Nations, and once again declared a war on drugs. I was baffled by the whole presentation. Your thought there, please.

NAOMI BURKE-SHYNE: Well, it was something that bewildered much of the international community, you know, the United Nations at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs has a consensus based approach, which means that in order to agree anything related to drug policy and drug control, things are negotiated, you know, in the respectful and diplomatic frame of the United Nations.

And for president Trump to say sign this statement, which goes outside all of the previously agreed approaches to drugs, and I'm not saying I agree with all of them, but it's just completely outside the frame of how international agreements and international relations are managed.

President Trump said just sign up to this statement that somebody's drafted for me in my office, and you can have a photo opportunity with me. And I understand more than 130 countries signed up for it.

So for us, it's really interesting, because, while the United Nations system is not perfect, it does give us a framework through which states negotiate with each other, through which we reach agreement, and to have this process that sits well outside the priorities that have been agreed at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in 2016 was quite shocking to the rest of the world.

And so we will watch that with interest as it rolls out.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Once again, let's come back to the forthcoming conference, next year, in Porto, Portugal. Give us the details, when, where, and how folks could get involved.

NAOMI BURKE-SHYNE: So, we would be so excited to bring the lessons from American activism in these difficult times to Portugal, but also so excited for people all around the world to learn from the Portuguese decriminalization model.

Our conference starts on the Twenty-Ninth of April and runs for three or four days, maybe three and a half, I believe. It will be in Porto. Our website is HRI.global.

We'd love people to look at it, you know, the program will be up by January so people could understand if there's a stream, what our thematic priorities are, you know, the access to additional site visits, how you can meet Portuguese people, the Union of Drug Users are a major partner for us there as well as APTESH. And the lessons to be learned from Portugal. Fly ahead.

DEAN BECKER: The following is a Drug Truth Network editorial.

There is nobody left alive who initially fashioned this thing called drug war. Those now in positions of authority who believe in, who maintain, fund, design these modern tactics, all now know full well the truth of this abomination called drug prohibition.

They think we are all idiots, incapable of seeing the enormous dam unfolding right before our eyes. They are in banking, import export, urine testing, and treatment, churches and charities, police stations and court houses, legislatures and the United Nations.

As long as they all agree to keep the unvarnished truth from the front page as much as possible, to postulate and promulgate against any awareness or progress, they continue to be deemed as moral, sanctified servants of mankind, when in fact they are knowledgeable, grievous liars, evil charlatans, and purveyors of infinite madness.

The slow boil of the fairytale called drug war has made us immune to this madness, exemplified daily in the actions of the drug cartels and by what is now called criminal justice here in these United States.

Considering the horrible, obvious, glaring results of believing in drug prohibition, what is the benefit? What the hell do we derive from this policy that even begins to offset the horrors we inflict on ourselves, on the whole world, by continuing to believe this eternal war on our own proclivities to be necessary, to be just, to be moral.

What is the friggin' benefit, that's the question no drug czar or top government official wants to answer on these radio programs. Yes, they are cowards, but even more, they are complicit, culpable, up to their necks in blame for this insanity they prescribe for eternity.

They are evil mothers all. Over the decades, nay, the century, that the drug war has been hatched, escalated, extended, and never ended, the misery has escalated as well. Cartel butchery, gang shootouts, overdose deaths, millions of preventable diseases, tens of millions thrown behind bars for minuscule amounts of drugs.

High schools and junior highs becoming drug dens. Maximum security prison guards, border guards, as well as cops, judges, prosecutors, and politicians, all corrupted by the half trillion dollars that criminals make each year because of our eternal fear of certain flowers and their derivatives.

The truth is out, known, real as hell. The problem is getting enough people to have the courage to say out loud what they know to be true. At the heart of the problem is the fear that by speaking out, those in the know may lose standing, income, respect, or otherwise confound their future at home, work, church, or in the neighborhood.

All I can offer is that by standing up against drug prohibition, I've been embraced by the James A. Baker III Institute at Rice University, have preached the gospel from the pulpit of numerous churches, and built friendships with senators, representatives, governors, district attorneys, police chiefs, sheriffs, border guards, wardens, and countless others who agree that the drug war must end, ASAP.

This spring, I was invited to Portugal to speak to the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction, to confer with Portugal's drug czar, Doctor Goulão, and to then travel to Switzerland to meet with and learn from their designer of a nineteen year old heroin injection program that has never had even one overdose.

Be not afraid. Please do your part. We need all the brave souls we can find to undo the black magic of prohibition.

As we close out the program, I remind you once again that because of prohibition you do not know what's in that bag. Please be careful.

Drug Truth Network transcripts are stored at the James A. Baker III Institute. More than seven thousand radio programs are at DrugTruth.net. And we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.