(I was given the incredible honor of speaking to Dede Goldsmith, mother of Shelley Goldsmith, who died of heatstroke in Washington DC at a dance event. Mrs. Goldsmith is leading an army of artists, non-profits, volunteers & activists to Amend The Rave Act. Join ravelrie, NY DanceSafe, Stay Safe Seattle & I as we talk about her work!)
1. Can you tell us a little bit about Shelley & how she inspired you to begin this massively important campaign? Shelley was an amazing young person. She was full of life, ready to tackle the world’s injustices head on. From an early age, she viewed herself as a citizen of the world. Although active politically her whole life, (I worked for our local congressman for 28 years so she had little choice!) the events of 9/11 cemented her role as an activist for international peace through justice.
Shelley’s grandfather, my Dad, emigrated from the Netherlands after the World War II. To this day, my family has aunts, uncles, cousins and many friends who live in various countries included around the world. So, after 9/11, when some people in the US asked God bless the America, Shelley instinctively knew that it wasn’t just our country that needed God’s help against the horrors and injustices in the world that led to this terrorist attack: The whole world needed supreme blessings. Her sentiments are best reflected in a poem she wrote as a second grader and less than a month after she turned 8, in response to the terrorist attack of 9/11 (which also happened to be her 1993 birth date):
GOD BLESS THE WORLD
The World is more than America.
There are a lot of religions in the World and God believes in them all.
God does not just love us; he loves India, Asia and the whole World.
God would not have made the World if he did not believe that we could improve it.
Everyone has a goal and mine is to make the World a better place.
Everyone is a brother or sister to each other.
It is selfish to think that God just blesses your country.
God bless the World.
How did Shelley inspire me to undertake the campaign to amend the RAVE Act? I had a revelation soon after Shelley died that she needed for me to make sure that what happened to her, would not happen to her friends. So, this inexplicable twist of fate threw me right smack into the middle of trying to figure out how to do that. After months of introspection, research, and discussion with stakeholders, it became clear to me that the cause of her death had less to do with the drug she took and more to do with 1) being uninformed about the potential risks associated with illicit drug use, and 2) EDM concert venues being ripe for medical emergencies due to an outdated federal law. 2. What is on tap for ATRA in the coming year and has anyone come to your aid in this fight? Plans for the Amend the RAVE Act this coming year include expanding exposure of our initiative through an aggressive social media campaign. We presently have nearly 6,300 signatures on the petition and we hope to grow that to over 10,000. ATRA also plans to undertake a media campaign in the very near future to expand awareness. The “Safe Settings Save Lives” project aims photograph as many artists holding a poster with that message and a link to the ATRA website (amendtheraveact.org). In this simple way, they can demonstrate and share their support and endorsement of the ATRA campaign. Petitioners will be invited to use their personal contacts and resources to solicit musicians, DJs and other artists to help reach as many EDM performers as possible.
Another goal for the future is to utilize the talents and skills of Shelley’s friends and other people supportive of the campaign to rally support among young people on campuses, at concerts, and in communities – simply wherever young people gather who are impacted by this law. The ATRA campaign has received the support of a coalition of groups who are connected with either with the electronic music scene, directly or indirectly, and/or who have an interest in making sure that public policy does threaten public safety. The organizations who make up the coalition are: Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), Students for Sensible Drug Policy, & their live music-affiliate the AMPLIFY Project, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the Electronic Music Alliance (EMA), DanceSafe; and the Festival Lawyer. (TG’s note: This is the Justice League right here)
Also, because I am not a part of the EDM scene, the coalition has been very helpful to me in many other ways. Through my association with the coalition, I have been able to garner a real understanding this mega-billion dollar business that is so very popular among young people (primarily 18 to 25 year olds) around the world. From the artists and their managers, producers, event organizers and promoters, to the young concertgoers themselves, the coalition has been a endless source of resources. Another source of support through her independent yet parallel actions has been that of Tammy L. Anderson, PhD, who is a sociology professor at the University of Delaware. Her expansive research on rave culture over many years has led her to the same conclusion that I reached when I launched the ATRA campaign after Shelley’s death: The RAVE Act is a relic and is having he unintended consequence of endangering our young people. Publication of her research, “Molly Deaths and Why the Drug War Won’t Clean-up Rave Culture,” is scheduled for release this Spring.
In terms of federal legislators who are ready to go on record as being supportive of the Amend the RAVE Act campaign, I am continuing to work with a their offices toward this end. As expected, this will be a long process but I am well equipped and determined to engage the federal government until we get the changes we need to protect our youth.
3. If you could wave a magic wand, what kind of safety measures would you like to see at festivals? In addition to current law enforcement efforts to keep drugs out, festivals with the safest settings would step up harm reduction efforts to protect their patrons and offer the following: 1) abundant and free water; 2) cool down spaces to prevent overheating of concertgoers; 3) on site, peer to peer education by harm reduction groups that inform young people about the real risks of certain drugs, and how to minimize those risks if he or she still chooses to use; 4) crowd control measures to reduce medical emergencies associated with overcrowding; 5) sufficient medical support personnel, commensurate to the size of the crowd, to meet medical emergencies should they arise; and, 6) DJs and other artists who agree to slow down their sets every couple of hours to allow concert dancers time to chill down, rehydrate and check to make sure everyone around them is OK.
Another safety measure that is already standard practice in Europe is some sort of certification of venues that offer safe settings for their patrons. In this way, concertgoers can be assured of certain safeguards being in place when they attend a particular festival.
4. How will the Rave Act & Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act need to be changed such that they become legal measures that help instead of harm our youth? The Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act, makes it a federal criminal offense for the owners of a concert venue, concert organizers and/or promoters who “maintain a drug involved premises.” Unfortunately, safe setting measures like the ones I’ve listed above are presently being interpreted by law enforcement as evidence of ‘’maintaining a drug involved premises.” As a result, electronic dance concerts and festivals have become public safety danger zones.
Because the RAVE Act is outdated and jeopardizing the safety of tens of thousands of young people who enjoy this music, the wording needs to be changed. At the very least, the rules that direct how the law is to be enforced must be modified to clarify how it applies in the context of today’s EDM music scene.
5. Do you think partying now is different than when you were a kid? I think it is. Back in the mid seventies, it was pretty much alcohol, marijuana and prescription amphetamines that young people are confronted with. Today, there are literally hundreds of designer drugs on the market, some that are extremely toxic. And because it’s all underground and unregulated, taking any illegal street drug today is something akin to Russian roulette. There is simply no way of knowing what you’re taking or not taking as the case may be. That is, of course, unless you have some means to test it.
Drug testing is very controversial and, to be quite honest, it’s not a step that I’m ready to endorse. I do, however, see it as a logical progression of other harm reduction efforts. 6. Do you have any advice for parents when it comes to how to talk to their kids about this?The Drug Policy Alliance has produced an excellent booklet entitled, Safety First: A Reality-based Approach to Teens and Drugs by Marsha Rosenbaum, PhD. I strongly recommend this for parents. Here’s an important the caveat, however: It’s not just up to the parents. Clearly, we can only do so much. The people who can have the most impact on young people are other young people. Peer to peer sharing of honest, fact-based information is the only real way to reach the 18 to 25 year old, risk-taking, festival-going age group. As all parents know (and anyone else who has ever been a young person), this age group is notorious for its propensity to take risks. Unfortunately, what these young people lack is the information they need to accurately access risks. Only their informed peers can help avert tragedy thorough education.
7. Are there any festivals, states or even other countries that you think are “getting it right” when it comes to enacting the right harm reduction measures to keep our children safe?
Yes. New Zealand, The Netherlands, Spain and Canada are the first countries that come to mind. Each of these countries has adopted safe setting standards that are mandated to be implemented at music festivals. 8. What kind of music do you listen to? Has it changed in the last year?My taste is music is pretty eclectic. I love all kinds of music – Dylan, Grateful Dead, ELP, Simon & Garfunkel, various classical guitarists, Miles Davis, First Aid Kit, Passenger, Lady Antebellum, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Ben Harper, Warren Zevon, Odell Borg, Patti Smith, Kodaline, Jusuf, Avicii, Coldplay, The Fray, OneRepublic, Edie Brikell, Steve Martin, Hozier, Alison Krauss, Yerba Buena, Mumford, Bela Fleck, Sting, YoYo Ma, Leon Redbone, Jack White, Hosier. Has the kind of music I’ve listened to changed since Shelley’s passing? Not really, though I have been introduced to EDM. I haven’t added any songs to my playlist yet but may yet. After all, there’s got to be something to it for it to mean so much to so many!
9. What can people reading this do to support the Amend The Rave Act movement besides the first obvious steps of signing the petition & donating?
Spread the word. Let your friends and family know about this federal law that is hurting, and, in some cases (like my daughter’s) killing, young people because event organizers fear prosecution under an outdated crack house law. Reach out to people who may not even like EDM music but are otherwise committed to ensuring that our country’s laws are fair and do not jeopardize public safety. Those who sign the petition will be called to action to contact their own legislators once we have a plan to amend the RAVE Act in whatever way is necessary to make sure festivals and concerts are safe places.
10. If you could have a festival attendee tell their friends one thing, what would it be?
I couldn’t do it. I’d have to say two things. First, just don’t take anything and experience the natural high of so many happy people loving life, music, being silly, loving life and one another. Second, if you choose to use synthetic drugs, be certain that you know exactly what you’re taking and the associated risks.