[sixties-l] 10,000 Gather to Demand Marijuana Legalization in DC

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Fri Jul 06 2001 - 15:51:08 EDT

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    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
    police presence.

    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
    on that."

    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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