DC Rally: 10,000 Gather to Demand Marijuana Legalization in
the Nation's Capital, Police Crackdown Thwarted
Washington's 32nd Annual Rally, Parade, Concert & Picnic to End
Marijuana Prohibition (sometimes known as the smoke-in) started
slow and small, but grew throughout an afternoon of music,
speeches, and massive marijuana law-breaking before late
afternoon thunderstorms put a damper on the festivities. At one
point, event participants took matters into their own hands,
countering police efforts to pull individual smokers out of the
The unseasonably pleasant day began at Lafayette Square, just
across Pennsylvania Ave. from the White House, as long-time event
organizer John Pylka emceed a line-up of speakers, strummers and
rabble-rousers. Rally perennial Dana Beal of Cures Not Wars
(http://www.cures-not-wars.org), dressed in his trademark boots
and jeans, gave his now familiar speech on ibogaine, melatonin,
and the history of the DC HempFest, causing more than a few
furrowed brows among attendees born long after the Vietnam War
Virginia Libertarian Party candidate for Lieutenant Governor Gary
Reams rallied the crowd from its sunny torpor, telling the
assembled multitudes: "Prohibition zealots are waging war are
tens of millions of Americans, and now they're doing fly-by
shootings in South America." Pointing toward the White House
across the street, he added, "God put this herb on the earth, who
are you to condemn it?"
Describing the lieutenant governor's office as largely
ceremonial, Reams urge Virginians to support his campaign, which
he calls the Reams Reeferendum. "This could be the major
marijuana vote in this off-year," he said, "and could affect the
tone of next year's elections."
Speakers alternated between the soporific and the fire-brand,
with the finest example of the latter being Athens (Georgia)
Banner-Herald columnist Ed Tant, the newspaper's self-described
"token and tokin' radical." Tant's high energy, fire and
brimstone fulminations placed the marijuana reform movement
squarely in the tradition of American freedom. "We need more bud
and less Bush," Tant roared. "We must end this false, phony,
foolish and fascistic war on weed," he told the cheering crowd.
"We were right on Vietnam, we were right on civil rights, and we
are right on marijuana."
Saying he was proud to have "crossed state lines with the intent
to incite the imagination," the populist orator told the crowd,
"We are here in the true revolutionary spirit of 1776. Let
freedom ring. Raise consciousness, raise hemp, and don't forget
to kick the ass of the ruling class."
Promptly at 3:00pm, a crowd of approximately 2,500 people marched
from Lafayette Square to a site on the Mall in the shadow of the
Lincoln Memorial, moving past the Old Executive Office Building
and down Constitution Avenue. Chanting "we smoke pot and we like
it a lot," among other things, and holding banners and signs
emblazoned with calls for an end to pot prohibition, the marchers
drew varied reactions from the crowds of tourists descending on
the Mall for the annual fireworks display. Overt hostile
reactions were exceedingly rare, with the most common response
being bemusement or giggling at the silly hippies. Some
passersby were clearly of a like mind with the crowd, though.
One tattooed young woman, suddenly figuring out what the march
was about, leapt into the air with arm upraised. "Fuck yeah!"
she exclaimed. Numerous drivers passing by on Constitution
Avenue tooted horns in support. Three Latino teenagers coming
across the march joined up on the spot. "What's wrong with
weed?" one asked. "Nuthin,'" replied his buddy, "let's march."
Marchers poured into a concert grounds on the Mall where several
thousand more people had already gathered for the event's concert
component. Throughout the afternoon, reggae, rock and funk beats
fueled the festive mood, as bands such as the All Mighty
Senators, the Hypnotix, Ordinary Way and Soldiers of Jah Army
urged the crowd to emulate late reggae superstar Peter Tosh and
"legalize it." Including another event concert venue a few
blocks away on the Ellipse, the total crowd probably reached
10,000 -- somewhat smaller than in previous years.
Rally organizer John Pylka attributed the lower turnout to
several factors. "We had huge problems with communications,"
Pylka admitted, "primarily because we lacked resources. But I
have to do some introspection myself," he said. "I have to
improve my communications and networking skills to make this more
effective." But, said Pylka, attendance at the Mall was down
overall. "It wasn't just us," he told DRCNet. "I talked to
merchants on the Mall, and they all said traffic was down."
Threatening weather, which lived up to its bluster by 5:00pm,
when torrential rainfalls commenced, also played a role, he said.
The only exception to the peaceful and festive atmosphere came
when US Park Police, in full SWAT team regalia, attempted to
sweep through the crowd in pairs and arrest unwary tokers. The
teams of blue meanies managed to seize and detain one Asian-
American youth unmolested (they released him within 10 minutes),
but by the time they pulled a second youth from the crowd, a loud
and angry group harassed them all the way out of the concert
When the bust team returned for a third time, crowd members,
including attorney Kevin Zeese of Common Sense for Drug Policy,
Students for Sensible Drug Policy Washington interns Dan Goldman
and Matt Mazzuckelli, other unidentified ralliers, and yours
truly (in a bout of participatory journalism), were ready.
Forming a moving cordon around the police officers, they yelled
advance warnings to oblivious smokers, loudly berated the cops,
and effectively nullified their pot-bust enterprise. As Dana
Beal prepared to take the microphone, someone in the crowd
yelled, "Hey Dana, we've got cops!" prompting the veteran
agitator to add his loudly amplified voice against the unwanted
Confronted by a chorus of booing and hooting, pestered
unrelentingly by Zeese and others ("We're trapped with Perry
Mason," one cop moaned to his partner), ducking the small number
of empty plastic water bottles tossed their way, and eventually
realizing that they would not be allowed to hassle more people
without a fight, the cops retreated. There were no more police
problems for the remainder of the day.
"That really pissed me off," Zeese told DRCNet. "While there is
certainly a role for police at any public gathering, the use of a
SWAT team is a manifestation of a police state. It is also an
attempt to intimidate a political gathering," he said. "In fact,
the use of the SWAT team almost resulted in an unintended
consequence -- turning a peaceful crowd into an unruly mob. But
when we stood up to those SWAT team folks, they left, which shows
that we will not be intimidated."
Pylka, for his part, was relieved that the police presence did
not result in the violence that came at the end of last year's
rally, when Cannabis Culture photographer Peter Brady was beaten
and arrested by police as he attempted to intervene in one of the
harassing busts. But the veteran organizer -- this was his 19th
event -- is already looking ahead to next year.
"I'm out the door on my way to get the permit for next year," he
told DRCNet. "Between now and then, I intend to work on getting
more support from the drug reform organizations in town. There's
some bad blood there, some of it is my fault, and I need to work
Activist opinion on the utility of marijuana rallies like the 4th
of July HempFest is doubtless as divided as before. Visit
http://www.drcnet.org/wol/185.html#marijuanarallies for recent
DRCNet discussion of this issue.
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