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A Message from Human Rights and the Drug War - HR95

By Mikki Norris

Though we don't get a chance to write letters as often as we would like, we extend a thank you to the November Coalition for giving us this space to greet you and provide an update on the progress of the Human Rights and the Drug War Exhibit project (aka Human Rights 95 or HR 95). We hope this message will reach those POWs who have contributed their photos and stories to the exhibit, and also encourage others to take part in the work of HR 95.

Over the past three years, we have taken the exhibit to community centers, libraries, churches, universities, public buildings, conferences, and festivals throughout the United States, Canada and Western Europe. When the project began in l995, we had no idea that putting "a human face" on the Drug War was going to have such a powerful impact on those who viewed it. We hoped that we would stimulate people's emotions, and we are proud to report that it has worked! Not only are people being truly touched by the real life stories, but they are being educated about what a mess America has created. The exhibit has turned into an effective teaching tool­­so much so, that it has been difficult to keep up with the demand for it to be shown. In order to meet this need, we have created portable, laminate sets that are easy to set up and move around. Different activist groups from Washington DC to North Pole, Alaska, have raised money to buy a display set to show around and educate the public at their events. They vary in size and content, but all include stories and photos, which show that the Drug War's harmful policy of incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders destroys families, wastes lives of real people, is basically unjust, and comes with an enormous price tag.

Some of the groups that now have a version of the display are: The Drug Policy Forums of Texas, New Mexico, and Hawaii, Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse (Oregon), Coalition Advocating Medical Marijuana (Florida), Cannabis Action Network and Positive Solutions Group, Inc., MassCann (Massachusetts), Forfeiture Endangers American Rights (DC), Virginians Against Drug Violence, National NORML (as well as a few local chapters of NORML also have a display), several hemp stores in California and Hawaii, and individual activists in Washington State and Alaska.

Many of these groups are setting up showings at their local libraries. In Virginia, for example, the display is scheduled to be shown throughout the Fairfax County Library system through 1999. We are proud of Lennice Werth, Matthew Hammett, Chad Thevenot, and Paul Lewin who are actively working on "ringing Washington DC" with the faces of the POWs, to let these policymakers know the unintended consequences of the Drug War are causing more harm than good. MassCann had a successful month-long showing of their display at Somerville Library in Massachusetts last February, and it has gone to cafes and other events.

This year, the creators of the exhibit, Virginia Resner, Chris Conrad and myself have taken either the original or a portable version to a variety of places. It has been seen by thousands of people. We are most proud of the six-week showing we had at the San Francisco Main Library which got a "Best of the Bay, Pick of the Week" and a great article in the San Francisco Examiner magazine and newspaper. Other important showings were at: the Amnesty International USA Annual Meeting and the Global Drug Peace Rally in San Francisco, the United Nations' Special Session on Drugs in New York, the Santa Cruz Industrial Hemp Expo, and at San Francisco State University and UC Berkeley, amongst others.

What has kept us most busy this year has been writing, publishing, and distributing the new book based on the display, Shattered Lives: Portraits from America's Drug War. This book shows over 100 photos of POWs (12 pages in color), contains highlighted stories and quotes from POWs, and is a drug war primer covering many aspects of America's war at home. Chapters include information on: history of the Drug War, conspiracy and mandatory minimum sentencing laws, the growth of the prison industry, prison labor, prison populations, the hidden body count of women and children and incarceration's effects on the family, asset forfeiture, a memorial to civilian casualties, religious and cultural suppression, the war on patients and medical marijuana, the economic and social costs of the Drug War Industrial Complex, and a chapter on how to move "From War to Peace."

Shattered Lives is being extremely well-received. We are working to get it into bookstores across America, and to get it into the hands of the media, decision-makers, and the general public. Many reform groups have ordered it to sell as fundraisers for their organizations, like the November Coalition. Individuals are buying it for gifts for their friends and family members as well as for judges, politicians, libraries, and columnists. We are counting on all of our supporters to help us get this book distributed as widely as possible.

In honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), we will be coming out with a 64-page booklet called Human Rights and the US Drug War very soon. It shows the Drug War's violations of the different articles of the UDHR that were created in order to protect the citizens of the world from abuse, along with photos and stories.

So, if we haven't answered letters from you. It is because we have been very busy fighting this Drug War on many fronts. It seems with all the hard work that something has to give. Slow but sure. Remember that you are very much a part of this project, and that our thoughts are always with you.

For more information regarding our projects or the laminates, please contact us at:

Human Rights and the Drug War
PO Box 1716
El Cerrito, CA 94530
or via e-mail at:
Visit our website at:

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