During the Sept. 6 protest and concert against the congressional R.A.V.E. Act (Reducing Americas Vulnerability to Ecstasy), house music innovators took the stage to tell attendees about the act’s implications and problems.
Critics say the act will cause clubs to stop playing house music because of its alleged connection with ecstasy use. Critics also claim the act is ambiguous, giving law enforcement officials wide discretion as well as scaring promoters from hosting raves because of heavy fines and the threat of imprisonment if any drug use is found to take place during their event.
Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance William McColl, a lobbyist, he explained some of the issues facing his organization and his involvement with ROAR – a symbol for the National Dance and Music Rights Alliance.
Culture Shock: In talking about who the drug war is being waged against, why do you think the electronic dance community has been made a target?
William McColl: I suspect that within some scenes of the electronic dance music community, there has been elevated usage of drugs. I think we’d be foolish to say that Club Limelight in New York in 1994 didn’t have elevated usage of drugs. They seem to have lost control of the clubs. What we’re saying is that ecstasy isn’t a part of dance. Ecstasy isn’t a part of the music. There’s a whole cultural component here, and dance and music do not equal drugs. People would also be better off getting real information. If they kept themselves safe and knowing basic information, like, if you’re going to party, don’t party by yourself. And if you’re going to party and take ecstasy, you need to know what kind of risks you’re running.
CS: Has the Drug Policy Alliance had any involvement with any other music scenes? Obviously drug use is not unique to rave culture.
WM: Well, the interesting part is that the RAVE act does not just apply to raves. They called it the rave act because that was the scary buzz word of the moment. But this legislation applies to hip-hop, this applies to rock music…it applies to everyone, and we’re trying to reach out to all of those communities.
CS: What would you say are some of the best things about the rave scene?
WM: Well, first off, the energy.
H: That’s non-drug- induced energy, of course.
WM: Yeah, well, of course, but it’s this political energy…I had the idea that dancers, electronic dance fans, promoters and DJs would pass by and be like, well “Whatever, we’ll go and move on to the next thing.” But what has really amazed me is that everyone is really interconnected, everyone talks to each other. You send an e-mail out and 100,000 people know about it within 10 minutes. So there’s energy, people stay focused, there’s more staying power than I ever would’ve imagined and there’s also this sort of willingness to accept people that you’re not going to find in every scene. I think that’s a real strength.
H: Do you think that the media has represented the rave scene accurately?
WM: Oh no, no, no, not at all. If you listen to the media, raves are about standing around and taking drugs in order to regress into childhood. And that’s simply because the media latches on to the most colorful, crazy scene. So they go out and look for kids with pacifiers in their mouth and kids on drugs and casualties – that’s news. But the truth of the matter is that you could go to back-country America, to a rock concert or into no music scene whatsoever, and what’s happening? There’s a bunch of people in bars having the same drug use issues that people in the rave scene are having. Everyone’s used to that though. With the rave scene it’s become a novel concept.
H: Is it fair to say that the problem people have with the (R.A.V.E.) legislation is that while punishing those who knowingly and intentionally harbor drug users, if a venue owner has a medical staff on call for the purpose of aiding an out of control drug user, it implies an acceptance of drug use?
WM: Yes, that’s exactly what the legislation says, and I mean, sure, I think that venue owners have to know that drug use is going on. People who own prisons know that drug use is going on, but someone who is responsible will have medical personnel on site because it’s the right thing to do. And that’s part of our concern with this whole thing, this fake conversation in our country about drugs, where we must have zero tolerance, we won’t acknowledge use, and when we do, we just suppress it. We use suppressive techniques like the criminal justice system to go after people, arrests, and funding from the (Drug Enforcement Agency). All this just actually creates is fear. It creates the kind of situation where, if someone overdoses, their friends don’t want to take them to the hospital, or club owners will not have water in their clubs or air conditioning because they’re concerned that resembles an acknowledgement, but its not safe. Our rule is safety first.
H: How has the DEA used the money appropriated by this bill?
WM: One of the very first uses of the money was at the Eagles club in, of all places, Billings, Montana. They went to the owners and said, “Hey, if you participate in an event regarding Students for a Sensible Drug Policy and even one person shows up and smokes a joint, we’re going to bust you you’re going to have a civil penalty of $250,000.” So the Eagles Club calls the organizer up and says “I’m sorry, you can’t have your event.” So they actually ended up closing down a benefit that was essentially political speech. And that is precisely how we said this law was going to be used.
H: Has the media given groups like ROAR, events like this and the legislation itself enough attention?
WM: I think the media has a tendency to look for numbers and follow official stories. And, unfortunately, when they’re following official stories, they get sort of lost behind statistics and don’t get to what’s actually going on right here. There’s a lot of people here, but not a lot of media, and if they came to an event like this, they would see one, not scary people; two, good music and three, these people are motivated and they know what’s going on…I am afraid though. I’m afraid that one of the ways this suddenly gets a lot attention, and this hasn’t happened yet, is that there will be a mass crackdown. I really believe that the fact that everybody got organized, and are on top of this and know their rights, and know what’s going on, I believe that’s actually preventing them from going really crazy on this. So, we’ll see. Maybe this will be a dead letter law, and, if so, I can only give credit to the ravers themselves, for getting out there and being loud.
To find out more, visit Drug Policy Alliance’s Web site at www.drugpolicy.org.