DanceSafe, the Climate Crisis, and How it All Ties Together in the Social Justice Movement: A Response

DanceSafe, the Climate Crisis, and How it All Ties Together in the Social Justice Movement: A Response

By: Madalyn McElwain, Chief Legal & Financial Officer of DanceSafe

We recognize that at first glance, sending communications to our supporters about climate change on Earth Day may not seem aligned with DanceSafe’s mission to promote health and safety in the nightlife communities. By any literal reading of the words, this is absolutely true. However, we want to take this opportunity to dig a little deeper, and to hopefully discover together how important it is to recognize the intersectionality between drug policy, harm reduction, social & economic justice, and ultimately, the climate crisis.

DanceSafe exists solely because of drug prohibition, driven by US drug policies rooted in racism and exploitation which fuel an ever-growing illegal drug market that, without regulation and oversight, continues to supply adulterated and misrepresented products to unknowing consumers. This is why our drug checking services are vital in today’s drug policy environment–there will always be a demand for drugs, and until all drugs are legalized and regulated, the illicit market will continue to flourish.

Prohibition is also the reason why there is currently no honest, fact-based drug education incorporated into the curriculum taught to America’s youth today. Take my generation’s DARE Program, for example. This program, rooted in abstinence-only approaches to drug education, was highly unsuccessful in getting youth to “Say No to Drugs.” DanceSafe uses a peer-based, popular education approach when educating youth about drugs and other taboo topics–we create a safe, peer-led space for people to learn and be educated about topics such as drug use, sexual health, and consent based on facts, peer support, scientific literature, and unbiased information.

Great, you get that, but what does the War on Drugs have to do with the current climate crisis our world is facing? Well, it’s nuanced, and requires an examination of the full scope of the impact drug prohibition has and how it intersects with other social justice movements–like those aiming to end mass incarceration and racism, and promoting restorative justice, indigenous, LGBTQIA+ and women’s rights, and ecological preservation–movements which are ultimately seeking to reach the same goal: dismantle the exploitative colonial capitalistic structures to ensure a safe, equitable, and sustainable future for all living beings rooted in compassion and respect for individual sovereignty. This is where I’d direct you to Erica Darragh’s Earth Day blog, and to her blog published on partner organization SSDP’s website.

It’s also timely and worth examining how the current pandemic crisis is having a bigger impact on communities of color, which are the same communities that are disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs. Data now identifies environmental racism as a “pre-existing condition” that contributes to the dramatically higher death rates due to COVID-19 in communities of color. You can learn more in this Politico article.

What we’re trying to get at is this: DanceSafe doesn’t exist in its own bubble, simply providing nightlife harm reduction and drug education services to music festival and EDM communities. We operate as part of a larger and global ecosystem of collectives, nonprofit organizations, and community and volunteer-based groups that all exist in whole or in part because of failed drug policies. It would be irresponsible for us as a harm reduction organization to ignore the intersectionality of our mission with those of other social justice movements, and to fail to recognize how the Drug War impacts marginalized communities and the environment. And we want our supporters and followers to understand that, as well. Because without a holistic approach and intentional partnerships between social justice movements and organizations, we cannot and will not be successful in dismantling the structures that perpetuate violence and exploitation, and restorative justice doesn’t stand a chance.

So, while on the surface DanceSafe may appear to occupy its own space as a nightlife harm reduction organization, in reality, we’re part of a much broader movement and we therefore think its vital that, as an organization of privilege and power, we use our position to help educate and push our partner movements forward as we all work towards a more just future for all. This includes the youth-led environmental movement, which is directly impacted by the prohibitionist drug policies that perpetuate the need for our services.

We hope we can count on your continued support as we work towards a collective paradigm shift that includes all social justice players, including DanceSafe.

Madalyn is an activist, environmentalist, and attorney. You can read her bio here. Erica Darragh is President of Georgia DanceSafe, Board Chair at Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and distributed organizer with Sunrise Movement.

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