On Friday June 17th, exactly 40 years after President Richard Nixon declared a “War on Drugs,” Internet activists organizing from the social news and activism website, Reddit.com, called the White House en masse to demand an end to the War on Drugs, calling it a “trillion dollar incarceration machine” with a measurable failure to reduce drug use, or harm from drug use.
The original posting on Reddit came earlier this week and quickly rocketed to the website’s front page, receiving nearly 2000 votes from the social media website’s users. Referred to affectionately by its users as “the hive mind,” Reddit allows its community to vote on content in order to determine which news and stories– ranging from the offbeat and not safe for work, to this week’s serious political activism– are most important, featuring these on its front page.
While only the White House knows exactly how many people called in Friday to demand an end to the War on Drugs, there’s one strong clue as to the numeric power of Internet activists working from Reddit to send a message to the White House about the War on Drugs. Just last month, a similar posting on Reddit, which garnered 1300 votes from the community, launched a campaign of letter writing on WhiteHouse.gov‘s contact page that may have shut down the site for “temporary maintenance.”
The user who made that posting is a marijuana legalization activist based in Washington DC, and he published an article last month claiming that during his viral, Reddit-based, letter-writing campaign, the White House’s website was displaying error messages to visitors, saying: “We are performing system maintenance and upgrading our website. Unfortunately, this requires this page to be offline for a short period. Please check back later to submit your message.” It could have been a coincidence, but it’s certainly possible that Reddit‘s thousands of readers unintentionally shut down White House servers as a result of the unexpected rise in traffic.
This Friday, the Internet activists calling in to the White House were counseled by their fellow users to be polite and courteous, and to stick to facts like America’s startling incarceration rate, the enormous cost of the War on Drugs, and the percentage of Americans who favor liberalizing drug policy. Their act of political engagement comes at a time when many of the world’s leaders and former leaders are beginning to voice concern over the failures of the War on Drugs.
Just this Thursday, former President Jimmy Carter published an op ed in The New York Times calling for an end to the global drug war, indicating that persuading an occupant of the White House as to the harms and unintended consequences of the War on Drugs may not be so far-fetched.
Edit (12:32 pm 6/20/11): the last sentence in paragraph four has been modified to remove the term “DDoS.” As many commentators have noted, that term is a poor and misleading choice of words, even when qualified with the word “unintentional.” I agree. As the rest of the article can attest, this was hardly a hit piece on Reddit. My choice of words actually was revealing, though ironically in a way exactly opposite of how they were interpreted. While, as commentators below have correctly argued, many people see DDoS in a negative light as a form of terrorism, that interpretation didn’t even occur to me as I wrote because of my own bias: I don’t see how DDoS is a form of terrorism any more than 1960s sit-ins were a form of terrorism (which they were decidedly not), and I consider that analogy remarkably apt.
Ever the activists, thank you for voicing your opinion in the public sphere and to us here at CAIVN. -Wes Messamore