A Civil Rights Clam BakeJune 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.