25 August 2008

Joe Biden and the Decline of Rave Parties in America

A few days after Senator Joe Biden was chosen as a vice-presidential candidate, my net crawlers unexpectedly dug some old debates about his role in the anti-rave legislation in the U.S.

As I crosschecked U.S. Congressional records, Joseph Biden indeed authored the RAVE act, a piece of legislation approved in 2003 that has allegedly contributed to the demise of rave parties in the U.S. (or, at least, the first generation of "underground" events).

As a legal acronym, RAVE stands for "Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy". It cracks down on rave promoters if drugs are found in their events, even if they have provided effective security, and even if they have no relation with individuals who consumed or traded drugs in their events. Moreover, based on former "crack house statutes", the law also criminalizes the venue owner (club, bar, warehouse etc.) just for renting their space. Again, landlords don't have to be related to - or not even aware of - those dealing or consuming drugs in their venue, in order to be heavily prosecuted.

Civil liberty groups have found some problems in the content and manner of the bill when it was introduced to Congress. Strangely, it entered legislative discussion as an amendment to a child abduction bill, a quite unrelated issue. As troubling, the bill was evaluated without any public hearing or vote in Congress.

After ten months, 30,000 protest faxes and the withdrawal of two senators' support, the RAVE act was finally passed, but after some revision. The original bill proposed that the sales of water, glowsticks and even telletubbie bags were to serve as criminal evidence. This disposition was soundly removed, as well as the word "rave". Though formally focusing on ecstasy, the act targets promoters and landlords for any type of drug or musical event (hip-hop, rock, etc).

Despite its repressive effects, I don't think that the RAVE act was the main cause for the decline of rave in America, as claimed by some insiders. Although being a tool for controlling any emergent rave scene locally, the law has been very inconsistently applied, according to state, city, authority, and scene status.

The terrorist attacks of September 11 (2001) likely had a much worse impact on the rave scene across the country. Before 9/11, the growth of rave culture in America was fueled by a blatantly pop Romantic ideology. Permeated with sheer optimism and the overtly celebration of innocence, mainstream-to-be "candy ravers" were seen hugging strangers, sucking on pacifiers, and declaring P.L.U.R. at each email (Peace, Love, Understanding, and Respect). But, with 9/11, the nation was immediately regimented for war - a decisive blow on the spirit of rave. Party kids were frightened and demoralized, to say the least.

The RAVE act is a missed opportunity. It could and should have been much better formulated. I support civil rights liberties, but also find it disturbing when masses of teenagers are buzzing high on drugs. Not only drugs become part of their lives, but are often abused at every weekend, just worsening psychological and social problems typical of this age. Yes, this is also true of alcohol, which surprisingly is quite tolerated by U.S. Law. Just attend any bar district of any big city, and you'll see ethylic overdoses at a staggering level.

There is no easy solution for the problem. The typical move has been to criminalize subcultures, with contradictory results, and the RAVE act is a recent example. Yet, from a variety of international cases, a more intelligent approach on drugs - one that recognizes the differences among drugs, uses, user profiles, and official intervention -, tends to produce much superior results.

Who is then to be monitored and educated? Kids, parents, MTV, or government itself?...


  1. I agree that there needs to be some regulations in place but moderation and responsibility needs to be learned at home and is not the government’s job. Although everyone at one point in time needs to go through a cycle of exploration and partial debauchery, hopefully we come out of it as a better person without permanent damage. Way to go TT!

  2. That's a very good point. Note that the government can help people better assess and control risks, by providing better education, such as drug awareness programs. A similar case is AIDS. Thanks for your input! TT

  3. thanks for the information. this site is a great thing. I almost thought you were against raves and drugs, but then you say something very interesting about a new policy on drugs, which is worth considering. keep your good work.

  4. It is not the government's job or place to regulate your drug use. If the people can't regulate their own drug use, the government won't do a better job.

  5. There should be more strict laws against drugs and alcohol. Furthermore, an information drive about the harmful effects of the said substances, are needed most especially in schools, so that young people will be aware. Parents also have a role to do in the the war against drugs. They should guide and educate their child at home, on how to avoid illegal drugs because it can do no good to the body, and are capable of destroying lives.

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  7. Will stricter laws work? Evidence shows that repression does not work. Even right-wing magazine "The Economist" is proposing the legalization of drugs (March 2009 edition). I wouldn't go that far, but the fact is that the war on drugs has failed. A war on addiction may yield better results. That would include drugs, but also food, shopping, work and TV addiction, to name a few.