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Mei Schultz Mei Schultz

New York’s “Support. Don’t Punish” Demo Targets the UN


Protestors in NYC join those in 100 other cities around the world on the June 26 global day of action against the war on drugs.

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Day of Action Demonstrators Photo by Catalina Madarasz

” Support. Don’t punish” demonstrators fly the flag. Photos by Catalina Madarasz

Thousands of people in over 100 cities worldwide gathered today to promote the message, “Support. Don’t punish.” Backed by over 150 NGOs, the campaign is pushing to end policies that criminalize people who use drugs and block access to harm reduction interventions and treatment.

In New York City, several dozen demonstrators congregated in front of the United Nations. Most were representatives of four New York-based organizations: the Harm Reduction Coalition, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Open Society Foundations and VOCAL-NY, a statewide grassroots membership organization building power among low-income people affected by HIV/AIDS, the drug war and mass incarceration.

Heather Haase, the International Drug Policy Consortium’s link to the UN and a speaker at the rally, hopes that protests like this will encourage greater US participation in the international drug policy dialogue, and specifically, the participation of US drug policy NGOs in UN decisions: “If they’re not involved, then they can’t put pressure on our government,” she told Substance.com.

Other participants also emphasized the UN’s crucial role in defining drug policy. Dan Altman, a communications fellow with the DPA, told Substance.com that the rally’s main purpose was to force the UN to reevaluate: “They’re positioning themselves as a group that is trying to make things better, but they’re doing more harm than good.”

In addition to addressing international drug policy, protesters also demanded change within New York City. Representatives of Occupy Weed Street, an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, used the rally as an opportunity to dial up Mayor de Blasio—and collectively shout into the phone, “No more stops, fines, arrests for possession, distribution, use, cultivation!”

Occupy Weed Street calls de Blasio Photo by Catalina Madarasz

Dialing up de Blasio.

While similar protests took place around the world last year, this year’s event was more than double the size. In addition to street protests, social media is a major factor—including the #supportdontpunish hashtag on Twitter, a YouTube video campaign and a photo project.

Increased publicity has also been generated by the celebrities who attended many of today’s rallies and sponsored letters of support. In London, over 50 public figures, including Russell Brand and Sting, signed a petition to the Prime Minister calling for less severe drug laws. In Moscow, protestors were joined by two members of Pussy Riot.

The protests deliberately coincide with the UN’s International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, which has generally been used to celebrate the war on drugs. Sadly, some governments, including those of China and Indonesia, have previously marked the day with executions and other human rights abuses.

Of over 100 demonstrations today, New York’s was the only one that took place in the United States, and one of only two in North America—a disappointing figure given the vital drug policy issues at stake in this part of the world. But the city’s involvement this year is a welcome step forward.