03 October 2007

War Amongst the Angels: How Caroline Coon's attack on Release is ill-judged and ill timed

Caroline Coon launched a wordy and savage attack on Release, through the medium of her website. Entitled "the Plight of Release" she lays in to the organisation that she cofounded, describing it as "irrelevant," and accusing it of simply being an aspect of the "prohibition industry" She argues that the organisation should either close or substantially restructure to become viable and relevant.

Having worked for Release and having had contact with Caroline in the past, I certainly can't claim to be objective. But Coon's diatribe is ill-judged and had the potential to be hugely damaging.

Release was co-founded by Caroline Coon, but she has had little engagment with the organisation over the past couple of decades. It seems strange that she should choose to break her silence now, and in such a public and damaging way. Over the past forty years the organisation has had to evolve and change. It ceased to be a collective, had to fight harder for funding, needed to ensure that it operated within the contraints of charitable law.

Coon rails at the "ludicrously unambitious Directors" but her bile would have been better directed at previous Trustees, who undermined and hounded out former Director Mike Goodman, obstructed and hampered the refocussing of the organisation and, without discussion with existing staff imposed the ill-fated "Forward Thinking on Drugs" project on the organisation. Coon's opinion was that these Trustees operated with "wise discernment in the interests of the organisation." Nothing at this point could have been further from the truth.

Release is increasingly operating in a hostile environment, with Government policy moving further and further away from any revision to the drugs legislation. Funding of helplines has been focussed on Frank, which has become less independent and more a voice of Government strategy.

Revision and lobbying on drugs law has become equally competitive. There has been a recent proliferation of bodies lobbying for change. Whilst one would hope that this proliferation would result in more widespread and unified lobbying on legal change this has not happened. Instead, different fiefdoms, keen to garner profile and support, choose not to cooperate and stress difference from their peers, rather than working together. Release has suffered badly within this increasingly crowded field.

But (and this is the is a big but) Release is undoubtedly one of the "good guys." Profile may have dropped, it may not shout as loudly as it once did. But that is no reason to spuriously accuse it of being part of Prohibition industry. Such an accusation is deeply offensive, especially given the history of Release staffers such as Sebastian Saville and Gary Sutton.

Something has prompted Coon to think that Release should now be taken down. Perhaps it stems from conversations with Release staff. maybe she has been the subject of external pressure. Possibly, she thinks she is doing the best thing. She is not stupid. She may think that her contribution could be a needed kick up the behind. She should also be aware that it could be the knife in the back. If she is indeed trying to kill off the organisation that she co-founded, then she does the field a huge disservice.

1 comment:

Jayelle said...

I met Caroline Coon when I got busted as a member of the Endell Street commune back in 1968. She came down to Bow St police station with John Peel (the alternative DJ) to help get bail for some people.

Like any organisation worth its salt, Caroline and Rupert started off with RELEASE as a grass-roots organisation. As the decades progressed, more technical and scientific advances on cannabis and other drugs began to happen, and this led to RELEASE developing a more professional outlook and modus operandi, involving lawyers and various experts in their respective fields.

I think that this could have been a turning point for Caroline. We all get older, we all miss the "old days" of the activism of our youth, and it can become easy to get vocal about the loss of it, without actually meaning to damage the cause, or the organisation that we used to belong to.

One thing for sure, Caroline was in the frame during a very important time for the cannabis movement and her work, effort and energy are greatly appreciated by all of the cannabis community.

Wherever she is today, I wish her much happiness.