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Statement by Janine Jordan, Executive Director:
Every time there are deaths at a festival, there is a tornado of negativity, fear, confusion, and misinformation be spread. Why? At the end of the day, what we, our scene, our community, our industry are experiencing is a drug policy issue. A large majority of our culture is in conflict with current drug policy. I think the story of Ecstasy, Molly, MDMA being perpetuated by the press is similar to what happened with "crack". The illegality of a drug being used provides a scapegoat to not address deeper issues in our society.
I will continue my opinion but first I would like to start with some solutions:
Amending the Rave Act -- This will enable us to provide education and harm reduction services without fear of legal repercussion or shame. Sign the petition.
Media -- We can use the help of media: our own, and mainstream channels. Instead of just reporting on deaths, perpetuating prohibition narrative, fear-mongering, and moral despair, they could (and we would encourage them to) educate our community and the public. We need assistance with educating our community about how not to over-heat. Overheating can occur even if people are sober just from too much sun exposure or too much physical activity. Similarly, hyponatremia can also occur in people that are sober and so we can use help from media to educate people about that issue as well. Dehydration, heatstroke, and hyponatremia all share symptoms that could be easily dismissed as "drug overdose". It is important to talk about these separate issues and educate the public about them because this information could save lives.Government Agencies -- Event producers should hire a third party who can work with government agencies involved in the event and provide fact-based information on drugs and how to implement harm reduction solutions. Within the EMA network we have many such partners. You can contact us or reach out to AFEM who will be helping the EDM industry exactly with this task as well safety messaging campaigns.Event Producers -- Read the Drug Policy Alliance's, Managing Drug Use at Your Event Guide and the Social Media Ambassador Guide (which can be applied by your social media department). The more education, the better. AFEM will be debuting a safety campaign soon and we ask that everyone get behind that campaign when it launches. There are also creative ideas that could be implemented into the event such as gamifying health and safety messages through activations. Well desgined, centralized chill space that is its own attraction, using other technology to send health and safety messages out to attendees during the party. There have also been ideas coming from EMA think tank sessions about event producers creating co-ops to invest expensive health and safety strategies such as in top-of the line drug testing equipment that they can lend to the officers to use, or to buy / create collectively a pop up hospital on-site to reduce the need for ambulance transports.
Artists -- You are an amplifier. Read this guide. Join the I AM Music Fan program with DPA and Amend the Rave Act movement. The Fans (and other Stakeholders) -- You can help us by becoming a digital ambassador of safety. First read this guide. Same thing as artists, get involved with the movement to change drug policy by joining the I AM Music Fan program and Amending the Rave Act Movement. Educate yourself and others. Read our Prepare before you festival guide. Get the DanceSafe App on your phone. Please educate yourselves about substances you take (both legal or illegal), heatstroke, and hyponatremia.
Don't blame the victims, don't make assumptions-- I see this happening in comments online. Don't blame the victims. Although the press or government officials might say "overdose" sometimes it ends up being heatstroke. A lot of times information about what happened will not come out until much later. Remember, we can die from overheating even if sober. Some people do "overdo it" or "party too hard" but some people are taking one pill / dose and still end up dying.
After the tragic deaths our global electronic dance music community has faced in recent weeks, I felt that what was truly needed was more of a perspective piece on what is going on in our scene.
First of all, I believe our culture is worth fighting for. Our global community believes in values that this world needs. We need more unity in times of division, we need peace when the world is at war, we need respect when we are assaulted by a lack of, and we need love to transform this world on a deep level. These are values we cultivate. With just the acceptance of all people at our events, I am certain that we are the ones that will change the world for the better.
Our events might seem like wild parties because we are more actively dancing. We are the marathon dancers of the music scene. But talk to a security guard or even the police that work the event and they will most likely tell you that compared to other music genres, such as country music, our patrons are much more tame. They are kinder, less belligerent, more peaceful, less violent. At the end of the day, our events are just concerts. I am a fan of the larger "massive" parties because I believe society should provide safe spaces for us to gather in the fashion we so desire. Many of these events now are 18+ parties. I believe that if we are adult enough to vote and go to war, we are adult enough to listen to the music of our choice and gather with other like-minded individuals.
Our large event producers are doing a lot. Could they do better? Everyone can always improve on what they are doing but I can tell you we, as an industry, are trying. We are talking, we are organizing, we are acting, and we have been for many years now. Improvements take time within any infrastructure. Great strides have been made with the bigger producers because they have the resources to divert to ensuring a high level of safety. Safety is in their interest because it will reduce business risk for them. The larger producers now offer free refillable water stations, areas to cool down, they have medical teams, and often large teams of people that roam the festivals looking for people that may be in need of assistance. Some festivals offer harm reduction education areas as well as harm reduction services such as psychological assistance areas. To avoid drug use, many large event producers allow amnesty boxes, drug sniffing dogs, and work closely with law enforcement. There are text alert systems if people need assistance that are sometimes advertised on banners throughout the events, and warning information about drugs are sometimes posted before entering the festivals as well. The desire is there. Everyone is concerned and we actively talk about how to improve health and safety of our patrons at conferences and in meetings. We care because we are part of this community. Most people running the festivals were there at the beginning of this global movement. They throw events because they know first hand the incredible and unspeakable joy it can bring to an individual and an entire community. The event producers want to share this joy with others. Yes some of them make a lot of money but I can tell you that before they made money, a lot of them didn't and they still threw events because they wanted to share the experience. Some of the event producers are trying to create an environment so amazing that their attendees don't feel they need to use drugs. However, they can't be liable for the choices people still choose to make. If someone wants to do something, they can often find a way to do it.
Missi Wooldridge, EMA member, previously President of DanceSafe, and current owner/founder of Healthy Nightlife, agrees:
“Until we get real about drug use at events, we, unfortunately, are going to keep seeing fatalities. If we can’t keep drugs out of prisons, we absolutely can’t keep them out of festivals and other nightlife settings. Intensive policing," Wooldridge added, "could backfire by encouraging rave patrons to “pre-load” before entering. “Then, during the event, the event producers and medical teams are required to deal with the burden.”
It is irresponsible to not provide (possibly life saving) services knowing that part of our community might need them.
Here is the short of it. In the U.S., we need to Amend the Rave Act. Globally, we need to band together and work with groups that support a change in drug policy.
No matter what we do, even if our entire global community went 10 years straight without a single death, we would still be blamed harshly the day one did occur again if drug policy remained the same. That one death would be highlighted and then our history of any fatalities would be brought up because we are in a drug war and that's the problem with a prohibition narrative. Illegal drugs are considered "scary" and "bad". End of story.
The problem the societal narrative of prohibition forces is many fold. Our own community does not educate themselves as much as they should about what they might be taking because they are not encouraged to since "drugs are bad". The media sensationalizes fatalities in the scene because they can and it sells papers to have a fictitious demon to point a finger at since the drugs in question are "illegal". The government agencies that could help disseminate information (like Public Health) are restricted in doing so because prohibition makes illegal drugs a criminal matter and not one of public health. So we are left starving for information. Organizations like EMA and our partners who have concerned themselves with drug education and safety for years (Drug Policy Alliance, DanceSafe, et al.) have their limits on their funding and thus the reach for disseminating potentially life-saving information to the public. For instance I think everyone is at least familiar with sayings like "don't drink and drive" or "have a designated driver" or "drink responsibly". This is because that drug is regulated and there is at least some public money there to then massively educate the public. Right now, the education from public agencies is limited and when addressed, the educational perspective is typically one of fear. Again, it is directed by a fear-based, prohibition narrative. So the information that these agencies do give out is sometimes not always accurate or it is delivered in such a way that will not be accepted by the intended receiver.
The Rave Act creates potential liability for event producers who might worry that by providing fact-based drug education, drug testing, chill out spaces, and other harm reduction services that they are violating the zero tolerance policies. They worry that these services, that could provide education and possibly save lives, might be an indicator that they know there are illegal drugs at their events. And of course there are. As Missi said, if we cannot keep drugs out of prisons how are we expected to keep them out of festivals? The answer is that we can't. And so the big lie is that everyone that takes part in the event knows that some people are using drugs, be they legal or illegal, and yet prohibition makes us feel like we have to keep our head in the sand about addressing illegal drug usage - even if it could save lives. Regardless of the Rave Act, current drug policy puts law enforcement in a tough position since law enforcement is sworn into duty to enforce current laws. This affects large scale music events as they typically have to work with law enforcement to hold the event.
Drug policy is hard to change, but imagine if every person that attended festivals decided they should help out in changing the current drug policy. Although marijuana recently received a set back from the Federal government, look how far that movement has come. A good first step and goal would be if we were able to Amend the Rave Act so that at very least, our event producers could provide education and other harm reduction services and not feel like they might be held liable for violating zero tolerance policies or State and Federal drug laws.
For anyone that has felt saddened by the deaths in our scene but did not know what to do because they were not close to the people that passed, the most compassionate thing you could do is join in and help us Amend the Rave Act to help truly save the lives of others in the future. In the meanwhile, please educate yourself, educate your friends, and watch out for your fellow party patrons at events.
The conversations and the actions have to start before the festival as drug use begins typically before people are even of age to attend one. It takes a lot of people to throw our parties and it will take a lot of people to save them. The first step is realizing that this is not an EDM festival problem, this is a drug policy problem. Until policy changes we need everyone involved in this scene that would like to see it survive, needs to ramp up educational efforts. This includes artists and fans. Deaths of attendees may not be 100% avoidable, ever. However, with increased educational efforts I believe we can help with hospitilaztion counts and hopefully deaths.
Please join us this September for the kick off to Massive Action season. We will be asking our community to get involved in National Voter Registration Day. It is important that we exercise our right to vote. There are far more people than the two Presidential candidates that are up for election. Now that we know it is a policy that needs to change, to save lives and increase safety in society (and thus festivals), then it is time to get political. Now is the time.
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