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Oct-31-2008 09:49printcomments

Prohibition and the Popobawa

Research shows that a creature of the night in Zanzibar, the Popobawa, tends to only show up at election time. Closer to home, marketing fear is also a popular means of selling candidates and measures to the voters.


Popobawa is a legendary creature in Zanzibar that tends to show up around election time. Courtesy: Alessa Kreger/alessak.com

(SALEM, Ore.) - It’s that time again when the days become shorter, the shadows grow longer, and little ones all around make the final preparations for their annual masquerade. It seems like everywhere we look there are ghosts, goblins, and an endless assortment of other scary symbols for our entertainment. Movies and television shows are filled with spooky story lines that are tailored to feed our appetite for the macabre and urban legends seem just a little more believable on Halloween.

Since this is an election year, there’s also an endless assortment of political propaganda begging our attention, which is its own kind of scary. When urban legend and propaganda combine, the results can be even more disturbing.

Take for example, the legend of the Popobawa. In Zanzibar, this bat-winged, light-emitting creature has been said to cyclically break into homes, terrorizing adult men in their own beds. According to the legend, the creature will return, stay longer, and become more violent, unless the victim tells others about his experience.

However, when the Popobawa was investigated by “Destination Truth,” they reported an intriguing coincidence: the timing of the Popobawa attacks and sightings correlates directly with Zanzibar’s elections. The host, Josh Gates, speculates on the show’s website that, “the opposition party exploits superstitious beliefs to evoke feelings of terror among the people, for political gain. The Popobawa, he concludes, is an electoral tool — not a flesh-and-blood threat to humanity.”

Closer to home, marketing fear, while often more subtle in its execution, is nonetheless a popular means of selling candidates and measures to the voters. It’s popular because it’s easy and effective. After all, making parents fear for the safety of their kids is like shooting fish in a barrel that are already hooked on fishing lines! And there are few examples of political fear-mongering that are more glaring than the so-called “war on drugs.”

Prohibitionists rely on focusing our natural fears and exaggerating them for their own gain through the use of propaganda. While we worry about the health of our children, the prohibition-profiteers tell us that our kids are in danger. We’re told that the only way to protect them is to abdicate our responsibility to respond to this health care problem and hand it over to law enforcement authorities to the tune of nearly $70 billion every year.

They tell us that we should leave one of the most lucrative industries on the planet under the control of cartels, mobs, gangs, and other Bad Guys, who enjoy the freedom of operating in total anarchy, rather than invest in the more challenging job of reining in and regulating this industry. Too often, we worry about all of the crime associated with illegal drugs, without taking into consideration that most of the problems stem from the war we wage, not the substances themselves. Fear reduces our capacity to be rational, which is what those who profit from prohibition are counting on.

And it doesn’t stop at the level of the average citizen. Legislators are afraid that their constituents will consider them “soft on crime” if they take a rational approach. It takes vast amounts of compassion and common sense just to counteract a little bit of fear. But a campaign that is more grounded in fear than fact should automatically make us think twice. Like the Popobawa, the evil beast that the “war on drugs” pretends to battle is actually just a political tool for exploitation. We have to remember -- courage is not a lack of feeling fear; it's choosing not to make our decisions based on or driven by that fear.

As I get ready to cast my own votes, I’d like to invite everyone who reads my words, regardless of beliefs or political party affiliations, to join me in making the following Election Year’s Resolution: I resolve to educate myself about the candidates and measures on the ballot, so that I can become an empowered participant in the electoral process, voting my conscience – not my fears.

For more information, visit: Destination Truth

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Erin Hildebrandt wears many hats. She's wife to Bill Hildebrandt, mom to five beautiful kids, activist, artist, legally registered Oregon medical marijuana patient, public speaker, and an internationally published writer. She co-founded Parents Ending Prohibition, and her writing has been printed in Mothering Magazine, New York's Newsday, and Canada's National Post, among many others. Erin has been interviewed for a front page story in USA Today, and she has been published in the American Bar Association Journal. Speaking as a survivor of child sexual abuse, Erin also appeared on the Geraldo Rivera show. She has also testified before Oregon Senate and House committees, and Maryland Senate and House committees. We are very pleased to feature the work of Erin Hildebrandt on Salem-News.com.




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Shane Ratigan October 31, 2008 11:57 am (Pacific time)

Dynamite analogy Erin. The WOD is a catastrophic failure. Generations to come will study how the citizenry now reacts to the militarization of local law enforcement, no-knocks, and mandatory sentences. I hope that rational heads like Erin's will prevail.

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