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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Terry Franklin "Extravaganja in two months and a little history‏"

By Terry Franklin

A quick "heads up" reminder that it's exactly 2 months til the Extravaganja marijuana legalization festival on the Town Common in Amherst, MA -- Saturday, April 17th.

I hope the rest of you can bear with me, or just ignore the rest, as it is mostly local to Amherst -- except as history + as an example and inspiration of the triumph of "fighting city hall."

Below is a column I wrote on the retirement of our police chief and on the troubles over the Extravaganja. (None of the local papers would print it.)

The reason I wanted to do a little history, was that so many people had been believing garbled and false propaganda from the police in recent years. At a UMASS Amherst Cannabis Reform Coalition meeting a year or so ago, the almost universal belief was "relations with the police have *always* been good.". They are OK now, but only because we forced them to back down -- with our determination. Even up until the very end of his term, Chief Scherpa was still trying to shake us down for money "to pay for our protection" with police patrols. And he was still hoping we would bring the annual rally to an end, by such statements as "You've had your say!"

Some people at the meeting had heard vague rumors that there had once been "mass arrests." That is a little bit inaccurate too -- there were 18 arrests in the late 90s, but they were a collection of cases where individuals were pinched, usually at the edges of the crowd.

My take on the history:

The retirement, this past year, of Amherst police chief Charley Scherpa, along with that of Barry Del Castilho earlier as Amherst town manager, brings to a close an era. I dealt with the two of them as implacable enemies over the course of twelve years. With the "Extravaganja" coming up in a couple of months, and new authorities in office, now is a good time to reflect on the "confrontation" (Barry's term), and to clarify the history.

Why did we continue fighting them for so long? Why not just make a show of it for a year or two, for honor's sake, then quietly fold tents and call it quits?

More than anything else, we stuck with it in order to offer a lesson to their successors, and to other officials elsewhere, that there are Americans with stamina and dedication, willing to stand up for principles.

Nominally this was about Amherst's annual marijuana legalization rally. A review: I was summoned to a closed door meeting with the two gentlemen in question, where I was talked down to like a child, had my integrity insulted, and was effectively ordered not to embarrass the town by promoting the legalization cause in the media, "or else anything can happen." Afterward, in that atmosphere, the Cannabis Reform Coalition managed to pull off our rallies; but only by enduring everything from red tape requirements that went on seemingly without end, to physical intimidation, as when a team of mounted police marched their horses up and faced the audience, standing there in a scene reminiscent of that in "Doctor Zhivago," where the Cossacks attack the protesters.

We realized that if they would apply that kind of pressure to us, they would bully other dissenters as well. Someone needed to stand up to them.

Since I have often been press spokesman for several of the legalization groups in town, there may be some mistaken notions as to my views. People may think I smoke pot myself, think there is something good about it, support its use, or whatever. In truth, I could care less about marijuana, per se. I do, however, care deeply about scapegoating, picking on the weak, and pushing people around.

Marijuana laws are the most egregious example in our country of government intrusion causing human suffering. It is worth remembering that largely because of marijuana arrests, the number of black citizens in jail, on probation, and on parole, is, at any given time, roughly equal to the number of slaves held at the time of the Civil War.

The town manager and chief were tough adversaries. They did things I didn't agree with -- most notably, hurting third parties. At rallies in the late 90s, police arrested 18 people specifically in order to put pressure on me to not speak with reporters. While it is true those 18 were in possession of marijuana, that would have been ignored had I not persisted in publicizing our issue as a valid political cause. The chief would have let us "get away" with "having a party," if we did it quietly and with shame. The way the chief was prepared to wink and nod so easily, gives one an insight as to how much "the law" really meant to him.

They played hard ball. In my responses, I kind of like to think I was able, a couple of times, to bat one back fast enough to make them duck.

As to why they fought so hard, one can only speculate. There must have been some political hay to be made in attacking us; it had to be more than the mere enjoyment of trying to push people around, though I have never been able to see what they gained.

The side of Liberty did gain however.

I like to recall the story of Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy, right after their first meeting with Sheriff Clark in Selma. King reportedly joked: "When this is all over, we'll probably have to give him some sort of Civil Rights award."

In Amherst's case, among the winners, certainly, at the very least, is Free Speech. But I believe there is more. The trouble these men caused the legalization movement went far in promoting solidarity and vigor. They were instrumental in the passage of the 2000 local referendum vote on legalization -- leading to dozens of other similar votes across the state, and eventually to Question 2 in 2008, and to the proposed full legalization bill, which came up for a hearing before a committee of the Massachusetts legislature last October. [And another hearing in 2 weeks!] That, in turn, has inspired others all across the country -- including Ron Paul, Barney Frank, and Mike Capuano's legalization efforts on the federal level. Thanks Barry and Charley for not leaving people alone.

1 comment:

  1. whats up mike ? amherst rally huh? col.,..ide like to hit up that one..anyone round worscter goin? havent gotten into the festivals, but thoughts of the  but seriously, let5s not look like fuck us, dress aroriately, yeah conformize  new word   lol   and bring a friend who is in need of medical rohib revoke....aka    ush the old lady you know whos got chrtnic ain in the wheel chair and wear fucking suits, maybe itll get taken thoughts at the moment.......


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