Last night's ACLU Membership Conference gala titled "Celebrating Liberty" — stepped it up a notch, from just plain inspiring to outright rousing. Although Ozomatli concluded the night by whipping the gathering into a frenzy, for me the greatest thrill was witnessing the innovative philanthropist and political activist George Soros speak about his personal history and convictions.
Soros has given away over $6 billion during the past three decades, and is founder and chairman of the Open Society Institute. Although Soros' philanthropic efforts have focused primarily on promoting democratic governance and human rights in Central and Eastern Europe, he has increasingly supported reform within the United States over the past decade — including the work of the ACLU.
Last night, Soros discussed the American public's shifting outlook on the civil liberties onslaught that followed 9/11, stating that, "The country has come to its senses." He described the aftershocks of 9/11 in psychological terms, saying that the U.S. government's response to the attacks took advantage of our "fear of death". He later elaborated, "The War on Terror exploited a combination of the War on Drugs and the fear of death."
Soros has been one of the key figures in the movement to reform our nation's catastrophic drug policies and to end the failed "War on Drugs." During his talk, Soros stated plainly, "The War on Drugs is one of the most repressive aspects in American life."
Soros also discussed the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. He commented on the irony that while one of the purposes for attacking Iraq was to demonstrate the United States' "unquestioned dominance in the world," it has achieved the exact opposite result. (The parallel to the wars on drugs and terror is striking — while they are supposedly intended to eradicate drugs and terror, they have also served to accomplish the exact opposite.)
Soros concluded by touching on the energy and hunger of today's youth to work for socioeconomic justice and political reform, stating that it is "important to give young people the opportunity to fight for their principles."
Until we reign in our nation's counterproductive wars on abstract concepts such as drugs and terror, our youth will have no shortage of principled causes with which to grapple. The question is — will young people take the opportunity? Only time will tell, but judging from the numerous, fervent contingents of youth participating in this conference, I can't help but be instilled with budding confidence.