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Billy Gould
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Five years ago, I would have never imagined myself as a preachy, “politically conscious” musician, writing a political article about a piece of legislation. But, then again, things have become pretty surreal these days, and I now believe anything is possible. The great axe of political power is now in the hands of some highly irresponsible people; frightening policies and laws are getting enacted on a daily basis, and the only weapons we have to defend ourselves are our knowledge of the facts, our right to free speech and our right to vote. And I suppose this is what’s motivated to focus on a particularly odious law (among many) that has been passed through congress recently, called the RAVE ACT.

The Rave Act has gone through a few changes (this legislation was lumped into the Amber Alert -child abduction alert system- Act so that no member of Congress would dare vote against it) and was signed into law in April by Bush. This current legislation is an attempt to reduce the illegal use of extacy and other drugs. Rather than going after drug users or drug dealers, the Rave Act targets music promoters, venue managers and landowners. In practice, it gives the government the authority to exact strict criminal penalties (up to 20 years imprisonment and a $500,000 fine) on business owners who fail to keep people from sneaking drugs onto their premises (It also includes a civil liability clause of $250,000).Needless to say, those in violation of this law face some serious consequences.

Unfortunately, the wording of the law is as broad as it is severe. Although proponents of the bill are targeting raves (meaning, in their minds: dj’s, nightclub owners, and rave promoters—hence, the name), the law in reality applies to ANY business owner, including bar owners, motel owners, concert promoters, and cruise ship owners, political organizers…or party hosts, EVEN IF THEY TAKE STEPS TO PREVENT DRUG USE ON THEIR PROPERTY. By the way the law is worded, in theory, if you were to have a few people over for a party and one of them lit up a joint in your bathroom (even without your knowledge), you could potentially be looking at a 20 year jail sentence,.

Naturally, you’ll hear the argument that this is targeted specifically to curb the extacy problem; it’s not intended to be applied across the board. Nevertheless, broad wording means they can interpret the law in any manner that they find convenient. And they will. Judging by Ashcroft’s own behavior regarding the Patriot Act, the odds are he will use the generalities of the law to his advantage, not yours.

For example: did you know that in North Carolina, a man running a methlab has been charged with “manufacturing chemical weapons”? Or that the Justice Department is currently conducting seminars on how to “stretch new wiretapping provisions (provided by the Patriot Act) to extend them beyond terror cases” (David Caruso, AP).

So, is it all about the language, then?

Yes, it is--but much, much more than that as well, because the fundamental concept of the act is just plain wrong. For one thing, the idea of punishing business men and women for the crimes of their customers is totally unprecedented in US history. In fact, I can’t think of a single democratic country where this type of law exists. Then again, there is the question on how effective it would even be toward eradicating drug use. Sure, “getting tough on drugs” is always a hit with the constituents, but what real results could we expect that would justify such a high cost to our civil liberties? Think about it like this: The government can’t even eradicate drug use in its’ own prison system. How effective do you really think this law would be?

In reality, this anti-drug legislation is a thinly disguised attempt to increase government’s control over our private lives. But it doesn’t stop there; there is an economic component to this too. If an audience member gets busted with coke at a Lenny Kravitz concert, will the Clear Channel CEO get arrested? Could you see the president of Disney doing 20 years because a couple of high school kids were found high on acid in “It’s a Small World?”

Of course not. When the Rave Act gets enforced, who do you think will get hit? Without a doubt, the people will see the greatest negative impact will be small, INDEPENDENT businesses. In short, every small promoter, club owner now has a gun to his head, and any event he’s involved in could potentially put him behind bars. And it will happen, which means that there will be far fewer events taking place, which is absolutely disastrous to developing and touring bands, not to mention the fact that it limits OUR choices in where we want to go and what we want to do. Our alternatives to big business sponsored entertainment (in other words, our CULTURE) will become drastically reduced, And it poses a frightening challenge for political rally organizers, or independent organizations. And in the end, it’s the same old story: Government wins, corporate America wins, and the private individual loses.

Don’t let them get away with this!

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