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A Civil Rights Clam Bake

June 3rd, 2009 by Steven Gardner

The news about the kid in Gig Harbor who lit up a joint following a plea for pot legalization didn’t strike as too much at first. But then I heard a talk show host talking about it. The host, I believe, said the high school junior’s stunt was stupid, but allowed that some might see it as a brave act of civil disobedience.

Well that got me thinking, having recently rewatched Gandhi and also being near the finish line of Taylor Branch’s book Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963.

Both the film and the book are magnificent, but I have a hard time equating the independence of India and the civil rights movement with the criminalization of marijuana. Nonetheless, given the long history of individual events that had negative or negligible impact on the eventual outcome, one could make the case that in the effort to decriminalize pot, the 17-year-old’s action could one day be a paragraph in the long story of the legalize pot story.

There is some credence to the notion that the drugs we allow to intoxicate us are legal because all the cool people were using them back in the day, while the ones that are illegal were being used by those considered loathsome by the people making the laws. So the kid was at least making a logical argument.

Furthermore, read a few sentences from the News Tribune story I linked to at the top and you could take the same comments and put them in a different context and you’d have what police were saying in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said, “If people want that law changed, they need to go about it the right way.”

I don’t have the book in front of me, but civil rights activists were also seen as “lawbreakers.”

Then comes the comment from the story that makes me come around to thinking that one day this event could be at least a footnote in the history of the marijuana movement.

He did admit, though, that the student’s action will prompt discussion.

“It sure will probably bring a lot of attention to the issue,” Troyer said.

Maybe we’ll see a day when people start having “smoke-ins.” They’d have to find someone’s house to hold it in, because it’s tough to find a place to smoke anything legally anymore. Then they’d probably want to advertise it, to make sure the police show up and arrest people. Then they can have marches.

Even then I think people will say, “Really? You’re marching for that?”

The other place where Tuesday’s demonstration fails goes back to civil rights leaders who were criticized when the kids in Birmingham marched and got themselves jailed in massive numbers. In the larger context of the bigger cause, though, it was a minor point, especially when the Birmingham police responded with fire hoses and dogs. The Children’s Miracle turned out to be a major turning point in the movement.

I wouldn’t predict the same thing for the pro-pot crowd. This protester was 17, nearly an adult. Kids getting wasted and then getting jailed is never going to be a solid sell. If you’re going to try to get the rest of America on your side, I suggest you not involve the kids.

And don’t smoke where anyone not wanting a buzz could get a second-hand high. Keep the smoke inside, as much of a clam bake as you can.

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One Response to “A Civil Rights Clam Bake”

  1. Robin Says:

    It can be tough to define a legitimate demonstrator; as Mr. Gardner points out, history generally decides who’s a hero and who’s a hack long after the fact. However, I can’t think of any demonstrator who marched for antisocial behaviour (such as using intoxicants) and is credited with progress. For example, people protested Prohibition, an ill-advised policy, by drinking in public and getting arrested, but we don’t remember them as heroes, or even as people who had a valid point.

    It’s true that some folks hate demonstrators on principle. All my life I’ve heard conservative types whinge about anti-war demonstrators, women’s rights demonstrators, anti-torture demonstrators, anti-nuke demonstrators… it goes on and on. Occasionally liberals will do the same, carping about pro-war and anti-abortion protesters, though not as often. It seems to me the question is, what are the values underlying a protest? Today we revere the civil rights protesters of the 1960s as people who “got it” before the rest of us, and think very little of the segregationists who marched against them.

    The young woman in question is apparently courageous (unless she was already high) and game to take a stand. That’s laudable. But I don’t believe history will decide that making yourself artificially stupid is an inalienable “right” worthy of that kind of defiance. Who remembers the names of those crusading drunks of the 1920s, or their events, even though society eventually agreed that Prohibition was a bust?

    Thanks for the post!

    Robin

    Rusty Ring: Reflections of an Old-Timey Hermit
    http://rustyring.blogspot.com/

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