Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do

Part V: WHAT TO DO?

THE POLITICS OF CHANGE


To knock a thing down,
especially if it is cocked
at an arrogant angle,
is a deep delight
of the blood.
GEORGE SANTAYANA
THIS IS A CHAPTER ON what to do if you'd like to see the laws against consensual activities changed.
The single most effective form of change is one-on-one interaction with the people you come into contact with day-by-day. The next time someone condemns a consensual activity in your presence, you can ask the simple question, "Well, isn't that their own business?" Asking this, of course, may be like hitting a beehive with a baseball bat, and it may seem—after the commotion (and emotion) has died down—that attitudes have not changed. If, however, a beehive is hit often enough, the bees move somewhere else. Of course, you don't have to hit the same hive every time. If all the people who agree that the laws against consensual crimes should be repealed post haste would go around whacking (or at least firmly tapping) every beehive that presented itself, the bees would buzz less often.
Also, some people actually start to think when they are asked a question such as, "Shouldn't people be allowed to do with their own person and property whatever they choose as long as they do not physically harm the person or property of another?" Granted, these thinking people are few and far between, but they do exist and, perhaps, some of the people you know or meet may have never been asked that question. It is not a very popular one.
A good follow-up question: "Is it worth putting people in jail for doing these things?" Other possibilities: "Isn't it up to God to punish violations of God's laws?" "Who decides what is and is not `right'?" "Don't we have more important things to worry about?" "Have you ever committed a consensual crime?" If "yes": "Do you think you might feel differently about laws against consensual activities if you had gone to jail for your crime?"

The only thing necessary
for the triumph of evil
is for good men to do nothing.
EDMUND BURKE
1770
Although it may not seem so, asking such questions and challenging people's misconceptions is a political act. This personal contact is, in fact, the essence of politics. Change begins with individuals, and individuals communicating with individuals is the way attitudes are most often changed. If any of your thoughts or beliefs changed as you read this book, that's because we've been communicating one-on-one. When I write a book, I write to one person. I think of a book as a long letter I might write a friend.
In television, radio, and lectures, the most effective communicators are those who speak directly to individuals, not to a group. People like Larry King and Oprah Winfrey, and even Ross Perot, are effective communicators because they speak to people, not masses.
Changing one mind by talking to one person is more valuable than lecturing at one million people who walk away indifferent. You can make a change; you can make a difference in the thinking of the people with whom you naturally come into contact.
Another effective influence is through the media. Here, too, we can make personal statements. Writing letters to the editor, calling talk shows, asking questions from a studio audience gets your message out to thousands, even millions of people. A certain percentage of those people are going to personally relate to you, what you have to say, and the way you say it. You will probably never know who these people are, but—even if you seem to lose the argument with the host or guest on the show or even if the editor of the newspaper prints your letter with the comment, "Get a load of what the kooks are writing these days!"—a certain number of people will accept what you have to say, and a change will be put in motion.

Washington is a city
of Southern efficiency
and Northern charm.
JOHN F. KENNEDY
And then there's traditional politics.
Government is organized at three levels: local, state, and national (or federal). Any action you take on any of these levels counts. The simplest action is to write a letter or make a phone call. Here, of course, one must know whom to call or write.
At the national level, the four most important people to contact are (a) your two senators (every state has two), (b) the member of the House of Representatives who represents your congressional district (we each have one of those), and (c) the president of the United States. While technically senators are there to serve all the people of the United States, their special interest group is the citizens (more particularly the voters) of their home state. Similarly, every member of the House of Representatives is there to serve all the people of the United States, but representatives have a special interest in the needs and opinions of the voters in their congressional districts.
When the mail comes in to a congressional office, it is sorted into two piles: "Constituents" and "Everybody Else." The "Constituent" pile gets preferential treatment. This is not unfair—in fact, it's the way the system was designed: each citizen of the United States has the same number of representatives in Congress (two senators and one member of the House) who consider that citizen a constituent.[*FN] Members of the House of Representatives usually divide the "Everybody Else" pile into "My State" and "Those Other States." A member of Congress, then, will pay attention to, in order, (1) the voters within his or her own congressional district, (2) the rest of the citizens of his or her home state (he or she may run for statewide office one day), and (3) everyone else (he or she may run for president one day). The next group of people to write to, then, on the national level, are all the members of the House of Representatives from your state.

[*FN] Of course if you have a vacation home in another state, that automatically doubles your list of potential political correspondents.


You should never wear
your best trousers
when you go out to fight
for freedom and truth.
HENRIK IBSEN
State governments are set up with variations, but generally there is a house of representatives (or an assembly) and a senate. Here, you also have elected representatives who consider you their constituents, and these are the people to write first (in addition, of course, to the governor). Start with the state senator and representative from your own senatorial and house (or assembly) districts.
Local government is a hodge-podge of city and county elected and appointed officials. To make change on a local level, however, it's worth your time to find out who runs the show. You might not be able to fight city hall, but you can sometimes influence it, and a call to city hall will get you the names and addresses of those in power.
When writing a public servant, there's no need to be elaborate or eloquent. Usually, your letter will not be read carefully—it will be scanned and summarized. If you're writing about a particular issue in the public debate, your letter will become part of a statistic. ("Today's mail: 673 letters in favor of [the topic]; 2,476 letters opposed.") The same is true of phone calls, post cards, telegrams, and e-mail. Even though you're just a number, you are an important number.
The religious right is well organized and can produce massive mailings (millions of pieces) on key issues within a few days. You can bet that, for the most part, they are going to favor enacting more laws against consensual activities, strict enforcement of the laws we already have, and, in the name of the Prince of Peace, violently oppose repealing or eliminating any oppressive law. No similar network exists for those who favor eliminating laws against consensual activities, and the legislators know this. Each letter, then, that comes in supporting a position not endorsed by the religious right is given special attention—and extra weight—by most legislators. As the religious right can "out-letter" its opposition by a ratio that is sometimes 10 to 1, one letter in favor of our freedom can count for as many as ten letters written by those who think our laws should be dictated by their moral code.

One man can completely change
the character of a country,
and the industry of its people,
by dropping a single seed
in fertile soil.
JOHN C. GIFFORD
A copy of this book was sent to all members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives, as well as to the legislators and governors of all fifty states, and to the mayors of the top 100 cities (those who held office as of April 1996). If you generally agree with the idea of this book, please write your elected representatives: "Have you read the book, Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do? If not, I certainly recommend it. After you read the book, I would appreciate your thoughts on it."
An amazing number of consensual crimes can be repealed on the local level. In fact, most consensual crimes are enforced on the state and local, not the federal, level. People working at the state and local levels to dismantle the laws against consensual activities—and to keep new ones from being put on the books—could give us a free country in a short time.

The hottest places in hell
are reserved for those
who in a period of moral crisis
maintain their neutrality.
DANTE
At the other end of the spectrum, perhaps the thing to do is to propose a constitutional amendment that restates what is already in the Constitution. The amendment might read:

No citizen of the United States, or the several States, shall be subject to criminal prosecution unless he or she physically harms the person or property of a nonconsenting other.

That would lay it out clearly, I think. The "or the several States" insures that state governments don't pass restrictive codes in the name of "states' rights."
Proposing a constitutional amendment would stir a national debate, as well as directly counter the religious right's desire to introduce a constitutional amendment declaring the United States a "Christian nation."
Obviously, a lot of work needs to be done. The religious right is well financed, well organized, and big. It is involved in politics as an act of religious faith. Those who do not believe that religion and politics should be one and the same don't seem to have the same fervor when it comes to political action. The religious right has also co-opted every phrase and symbol that those who fought religious oppression once rallied around. Freedom, liberty (Jerry Falwell's institute of higher political learning is called Liberty University), the American flag, the Liberty Bell—even the word American.[*FN]

[*FN] That the religious right completely took over the word Christian is a given. At one time, phrases such as Christian charity and Christian tolerance were used to denote kindness and compassion. To perform a "Christian" act meant an act of giving, of acceptance, of toleration. Now, Christian is invariably linked to right-wing conservative political thought—Christian nation, Christian morality, Christian values, Christian family.


What we have now is democracy
without citizens.
No one is on the public's side.
All the buyers
are on the corporation's side.
And the bureaucrats
in the administration
don't think the government
belongs to the people.
RALPH NADER
Because there is such formidable opposition, those of us who believe that the laws against consensual activities should be repealed have our work cut out for us. Saying that people should be permitted to do with their person and property what they choose as long as they don't physically harm the person or property of another is not perceived by the religious right as a political statement, but as an attack on God. Those who are not willing to take the heat of the emotional outburst that will inevitably follow will soon leave the kitchen.
Then there are those who want to keep the laws against consensual activities in place due to greed. Lots of people are making lots of money because certain consensual activities are illegal. Naturally, they do not want to lose any meal tickets.
Those who want personal freedom in this country, then, have such interesting and diverse opponents as organized crime on one hand, and law enforcement on the other. Organized crime would practically go out of business if all consensual activities were legal. The politicians and media that organized crime already owns (or has a few favors coming from) will be opposed to legalizing consensual activities—but will oppose it with the highest moral, legal, social, and even scientific justifications. Law enforcement would (a) lose funding (the tens of billions being thrown at it to fight the war on drugs plus all that assets forfeiture money), and (b) have to catch real criminals (who have guns). The big businesses that currently make a fortune on legal (including prescription) drugs don't want any of the currently illegal drugs cluttering up the marketplace. This is a spectrum that has tobacco and alcohol companies at one end and the AMA and pharmaceutical companies at the other.

"Do you pray for the
Senators, Dr. Hale?"
someone asked the chaplain.

No, I look at the Senators
and pray for the country.
EDWARD EVERETT HALE
Yes, consensual crimes make strange bedfellows: organized crime and law enforcement; cigarette companies and the AMA. Not surprisingly, none of them wants to get out of bed. People can be as passionate about money as they can about God (if not more so).
I cannot point to the Democratic or Republican party and say, "Here, join this party; they support this cause." Neither political party supports this cause; nor do, necessarily, either liberals or conservatives. Take a guess, for example, at the political orientation of the author of the following piece, published in a letters to the editor column of American Heritage magazine, May/June 1993:

Would you want your son or daughter or spouse to spend their [sic] days smoking crack, or injecting heroin, or hallucinating on LSD? . . .

I remain convinced that the drugs we outlaw today must remain illegal, because I have personally witnessed the effects of drugs too often and too painfully. I have seen crack babies, trembling, their minds and bodies damaged by their mothers' drug abuse. . . . I have seen innocent victims maimed and murdered by drug addicts. . . .

Candidly, no society has ever or will ever succeed in abolishing the use of all mind-altering drugs, just as no society in the foreseeable future will succeed in abolishing all cancer. But that doesn't mean we can simply throw up our hands and say we won't even defend ourselves against these plagues. While the cost of prohibiting drugs is high, the cost of legalizing them would be much, much higher.


Anybody that wants
the Presidency so much
that he'll spend two years
organizing and campaigning for it
is not to be trusted
with the office.
DAVID BRODER
Drugs are cancer. Trembling crack babies. Sound like some of George Bush's comments? Pat Robertson's? Pat Buchanan's? Rush Limbaugh's? No, these words come from a person some consider to be the prototypical liberal, Governor Mario Cuomo of New York. There is no guarantee that a liberal's bleeding heart is going to bleed for the cause of repealing the laws against consensual activities. (What about all the prisoners, Mario? What about the prisoners' families?)
Dave Barry made these astute observations:

The Democrats seem to be basically nicer people, but they have demonstrated time and time again that they have the management skills of celery. They're the kind of people who'd stop to help you change a flat, but would somehow manage to set your car on fire. I would be reluctant to entrust them with a Cuisinart, let alone the economy. The Republicans, on the other hand, would know how to fix your tire, but they wouldn't bother to stop because they'd want to be on time for Ugly Pants Night at the country club.

Removing the prohibitions from consensual activities will probably take place due to popular opinion within both political parties. When Prohibition was enacted in 1920, both parties strongly favored it. By 1924, the Republicans still strongly favored it, and the Democrats were vacillating. By 1928, the Democrats opposed it, but the Republicans still favored it. By the election of 1932, both parties opposed Prohibition. That's the politics of change.
In the 1992 election, Ross Perot introduced the urgency of reducing the national debt and, due to the immediate popular support of this idea, it was quickly adopted by both parties. The idea of eliminating the laws against consensual activities will probably gain acceptance along the same lines. (And, I pray, as quickly.)

When you hear a man
speak of his love
for his country,
it is a sign
that he expects
to be paid for it.
H. L. MENCKEN
The political party that supports this concept—in fact, seems to be based on it—is the Libertarian party. Although its political philosophy is interesting and its information educational, I doubt if the majority of the American people are going to switch party affiliations in order to support this one issue. When the idea of eliminating consensual crimes becomes popular enough, one of the major political parties will adopt it, thus removing whatever wind the Libertarian sails might have captured. People, however, may be so fed up with both the Democratic and the Republican parties that they'll switch to Libertarianism just for the hell of it. [*FN]

[*FN] You can contact the Libertarian Party at 1-800-637-1776.

The people most motivated to change the laws against consensual activities, of course, are those who have been arrested for them, and the "criminals'" friends and families. That includes the 750,000 people currently in jail, the 3,000,000 currently on parole or probation, the 4,000,000 arrested each year, as well as their loved ones. These are people who know, from personal experience, the absurdity of laws against consensual activities. They also know the arbitrary and often cruel ways in which these laws are enforced.
One can only quote Woody Guthrie's advice to union organizers: "Take it easy, but take it." So often, people trapped in the legal system alternate between rage and resignation. Neither emotion will help repeal the laws against consensual activities. A middle ground in which the rage is channeled into constructive action not only provides an effective outlet for one's justifiable frustration; it gives one the satisfaction of, day by day, doing his or her part to change an unjust system.

Under democracy one party
always devotes its chief energies
to trying to prove that
the other party is unfit to rule—
and both commonly succeed,
and are right.
H. L. MENCKEN

And let's not forget the value of money. Donate some to organizations that defend personal freedom. If you have no money to send, write a note of encouragement to a group whose work you admire.

Here is a criminally incomplete list of organizations and publications currently fighting for freedom. I will be happy to correct my omissions in future editions and on my web site (http://www.mcwilliams.com/consent).

The Libertarian Party
2600 Virginia Avenue N.W. - Suite 100
Washington, DC 20037
800 / 637-1776
(http://www.lp.org/lp)
[those are lower case L's not numeral 1's]

The political party that believes government should stay out of individual lives. Not as powerful as it might be (yet), the Libertarian Party certainly offers a refreshing alternative to the Democrats and Republicans, who both—for vastly different reasons—think it's just fine to meddle in our lives and tax the bejesus out of us to pay for all that costly interference.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
132 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036
212 / 944-9800
(http://www.aclu.com)

Since 1920 (that ominous year of National Prohibition), the ACLU has been at the forefront of defending rights guaranteed us by the Constitution. The ACLU has been so successful in bringing test cases before the Supreme Court that Pat Buchanan, unable to eliminate the ACLU, now wants to eliminate the Supreme Court.

"The ACLU believes that unless they do harm to others, people should not be punished—even if they do harm to themselves." My, that has a familiar ring to it.

People for the American Way
200 M Street N.W. - Suite 400
Washington, DC 20036
202 / 467-4999
(http://www.pfaw.org)

While occasionally more liberal than libertarian, People for the American Way performs the essential service of directly countering the work of the Christian Coalition, Pat Robertson's well-financed and painfully effective religious right political group. The People for the American Way, founded by Norman Lear, works to keep creationism out of textbooks and repressive religious-based legislation out of law books.

Cato Institute
1000 Massachusetts Avenue N.W.
Washington, DC 20001
202 / 842-0200
(http://www.cato.org)

Cato's web page boldly proclaims: "Promoting public policy based on limited government, free markets, individual liberty, and peace." Cato publishes some great books on ending consensual crimes. Its web page has links to other liberty and freedom web sites, including local organizations (such as Oregon's stellar Cascade Institute) and student groups.

The Drug Policy Institute
4455 Connecticut Avenue N.W. - Suite B-500
Washington, DC 20008
202 / 537-5005

A think-tank warring against the war on drugs. Dignified, distinguished, factual. The board of directors includes the mayor of Baltimore, a U.S. District Judge, a New Haven Chief of Police, professors and lawyers galore. A fascinating quarterly newsletter (magazine) comes with membership.

National Drug Strategy Network
1899 L Street N.W. - Suite 500
Washington, DC 20036
202 / 835-9075

A division of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, the National Drug Strategy Network publishes a monthly News Briefs which reports major milestones in drug prohibition.

National Organization for the
Repeal of Marijuana Laws (NORML)
1001 Connecticut Avenue N.W. - Suite 1010
Washington, DC 20036
202 / 483-5500
(http://www.norml.org)

The laws against marijuana are the most illogical of all drug laws: in 10,000 years of known human use, not one death has been caused by a "marijuana overdose." When you consider that hundreds of thousands of glaucoma suffers, chemotherapy patients, people with AIDS, and others could benefit from the medicinal uses of marijuana, the laws against marijuana are criminal. NORML focuses on overturning these absurd laws. It publishes a quarterly newspaper, Active Resistance.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums Foundation (FAMM)
1001 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. - Suite 200 South
Washington, DC 20004
202 / 457-5790
(http://famm.org)

Due to mandatory minimum sentencing, drug possessors (not even dealers) often spend more time in prison than murders, rapists, and people who produce infomercials (crimes which do not have mandatory minimums).

How mandatory are the mandatory minimums? In 1995, U.S. District Court Judge Lyle E. Storm tried to give two crack cocaine defendants a break and sentence them to "only" 20 years each. The U.S. Court of Appeals ordered Judge Storm to resentence the defendants to the mandatory minimum: 30 years each.

"I know it's no justification or solace to you, but I am saying to you there is no justification to this sentence," Judge Storm told the defendants at the sentencing. "I apologize to you on behalf of the United States government." Families Against Mandatory Minimums fight atrocities within absurdities such as this.

The Fully Informed Jury Association
P. O. Box 59
Helmville, MT 59843
406 / 793-5550

Here's a grass-roots way of ending consensual crime prosecution, one juror at a time. The Fully Informed Jury Association promotes a fact that is as true as it is potentially powerful: once twelve jurors go into the deliberation room, when they decide to acquit for whatever reason, the "criminal" walks free. If the jury believes the defendant did take part in a prohibited consensual activity but the activity shouldn't be a crime, it can acquit. In most states, even if one juror feels this way, the worst that would happen is a hung jury, and the state has to start all over again. (With minor consensual crimes, the state sometimes doesn't bother.) Read all about it in FIJActivist, the newsletter of the Fully Informed Jury Association.

Laissez Faire Books
938 Howard Street - #202
San Francisco, CA 94103
415 / 541-9780
(http://www.lf.org)
[that's a lower case L in "lf," not the numeral 1]

Laissez Faire has the largest catalog of books from all publishers on the subjects of liberty, freedom, and the government leaving us blessedly alone. Laissez Faire Books defines laissez faire as "Leave the people alone, let them be, in their economic activities, in their religious affairs, in thought and culture, in the pursuit of fulfillment in their own lives."

Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism
(Free Inquiry Magazine and Secular Humanist Bulletin)
3965 Amherst
New York, NY 14228
716 / 636-7571
(http://codesh.org)

  • The term secular humanism has been so thoroughly trashed by the religious right (it's essentially the religious right's replacement for the F-WORD—with none of the F-WORD's more pleasant meanings), it might be interesting to see what secular humanists really believe. This list of principles taken from the web page of Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism, publishers of Free Inquiry Magazine and Secular Humanist Bulletin:
  • We are committed to the application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and to the solving of human problems.
  • We deplore efforts to denigrate human intelligence, to seek to explain the world in supernatural terms, and to look outside nature for salvation.
  • We believe that scientific discovery and technology can contribute to the betterment of human life.
  • We believe in an open and pluralistic society and that democracy is the best guarantee of protecting human rights from authoritarian elites and repressive majorities.
  • We are committed to the principle of the separation of church and state.
  • We cultivate the arts of negotiation and compromise as a means of resolving differences and achieving mutual understanding.
  • We are concerned with securing justice and fairness in society and with eliminating discrimination and intolerance.
  • We believe in supporting the disadvantaged and the handicapped so that they will be able to help themselves.
  • We attempt to transcend divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, and strive to work together for the common good of humanity.
  • We want to protect and enhance the earth, to preserve it for future generations, and to avoid inflicting needless suffering on other species.
  • We believe in enjoying life here and now and in developing our creative talents to their fullest.
  • We believe in the cultivation of moral excellence.
  • We respect the right to privacy. Mature adults should be allowed to fulfill their aspirations, to express their sexual preferences, to exercise reproductive freedom, to have access to comprehensive and informed health-care, and to die with dignity.
  • We believe in the common moral decencies: altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness, responsibility. Humanist ethics is amendable to critical, rational guidance. There are normative standards that we discover together. Moral principles are tested by their consequences.
  • We are deeply concerned with the moral education of our children. We want to nourish reason and compassion.
  • We are engaged by the arts no less than by the sciences.
  • We are citizens of the universe and are excited by discoveries still to be made in the cosmos.
  • We are skeptical of untested claims of knowledge, and we are open to novel ideas and seek new departures in our thinking.
  • We affirm humanism as a realistic alternative to the theologies of violence and as a source of rich personal significance and genuine satisfaction in the service to others.
  • We believe in optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair, learning in the place of dogma, truth instead of ignorance, joy rather than guilt or sin, tolerance in the place of fear, love instead of hatred, compassion over selfishness, beauty instead of ugliness, and reason rather than blind faith or irrationality.
  • We believe in the fullest realization of the best and noblest that we are capable of as human beings.

High Times Magazine
235 Park Avenue South - Fifth Floor
New York, NY 10003
212 / 387-0500
(http://hightimes.com)

This magazine is both fun and informative. It's hard to determine which is more interesting, the articles or the advertisements. The High Times web begins with this warning, which certainly applies to the magazine as well:

Warning! This HIGH TIMES web site contains information about hemp, marijuana and psychedelic drugs (such as LSD and ecstasy). Some of the subjects covered include cannabis cultivation, drug laws, pot humor, high art, drug tests, legal highs, industrial uses of hemp such as paper, hemp clothing, hemp foods, hemp oil and other hemp products, the legalization of marijuana, the recreational use of marijuana, the medical uses of marijuana, and the worldwide uses of hemp and marijuana . . .

The information you are about to read is for informational purposes only and is designed for adults only. HIGH TIMES does not promote the use of marijuana or other recreational or illicit drugs, including alcohol or tobacco, by minors. For this reason, we must request that you verify that you are 21 years or older.

Once the minors are removed and it's just the Haight Ashbury survivors left, the High Times web site lightens up: "Finally! Somewhere you can relax, light a phattie, and enjoy the atmosphere." Phattie? By the context I'm pretty sure I know what that means, but I didn't know before. I'm not even sure how to pronounce it. God, I'm getting old. It reminds me of a Firesign Theater routine in which the police go about arresting all the old farts like me who are no longer cool. "Check out his body paint," says one cop. His partner replies, voice mixed with pity and contempt: "Faded San Francisco art nouveau."

These are interesting times. The idea that the government should leave people alone unless they are physically harming the person or property of others is catching on quickly, and from many directions. Simultaneously, the forces that want more government intervention in our lives are gathering political momentum. Yes, these are interesting times. The Chinese have an ancient saying, "May you live in interesting times."

Unfortunately, the Chinese use it as a curse.


Your book is dedicated
by the soundest reason.
You had better get out of France
as quickly as you can.
VOLTAIRE
1758

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