What an honor! I am extremely proud to be named the 2019 recipient of the Free Press “Libby” Award for Community Activism. I’m guessing that such an accolade means that I know a thing or two about the subject matter, activism. So please allow me to expound on what it means and what it takes.
First, Dictionary.com an activist as “an active, vigorous advocate of a cause, especially a political cause.” Yep, that’s me, and my cause for more than twenty years has been marijuana, aka cannabis and hemp.
Born from a passion for social justice, my inspiration to become an activist took fire with our nation’s draconian War on Drugs. The late 1990s saw a raft of wrongs smear its battlefield. In Tulia, Texas, almost half of this tiny town’s black male residents were arrested and incarcerated on trumped up drug charges. Blind to the real threat, schools locked down classrooms so drug dogs could sniff backpacks for marijuana. Drug testing. Mandatory minimum sentencing. Civil asset forfeiture. Stop and frisk. But most egregious was the murder of activists Rollie Rolm and Tom Crosslin by the FBI at the Rainbow Farm in Michigan.
Reforming this billion-dollar boondoggle felt like pushing boulders uphill backwards. Yet over the last two decades, a sea of change has washed over drug policy. Every presidential candidate in 2020 carries a social justice plank in their policy platform. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously against civil asset forfeiture. Medical marijuana is permitted in 33 states; full adult use is allowed in 11 states. The Senate Majority leader led hemp legalization last year.
How did we activists accomplish these feats? To me, former U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich summed it up when he penned the words, “Love and bravery can overcome injustice,” in a memorial to Joe Zoretic, possibly the first medical cannabis activist to be recognized in the Congressional Record.
Let’s parse those words. First, we know the meaning of overcoming injustice. It’s rising above and essentially conquering inequality, unfairness, discrimination, brutality, judgmentalism, prejudice and bias. From over incarceration to cannabis bans, the drug war’s many wrongs clearly constitute injustice.
So, love can overcome injustice? Yes, in two essential ways. First is the love of what you’re doing. When you are passionate about a cause, you awaken every day ready to tackle it and are willingly work long overtime hours nurturing it. Of course, in my case, it helps that my passion is pot!
The second essential way entails the love of others, you for them and them for you. All activists stand on the shoulders of and are empowered by those who came before, those who shared the same love of the cause, but in a different time. The love of family and friends also plays a major role. They buoy you in times of difficulty and provide comfort, solace and encouragement. Love enables you to both stand on and cry on their shoulders.
Accompanying love in overcoming justice is bravery. Being an activist takes guts. It’s not for the weak of heart or faint of spirit. For your passion, you may be harassed, stalked, threatened, berated, betrayed, disparaged or derided. Friends can turn into enemies. Sometimes, the worst fire is friendly. In conjunction with love, bravery musters the courage to continue in difficult times and, when fueled by love, it salves the wounded soul.
Given the power of love and bravery, injustice doesn’t stand a chance. And therein lies the secret to the success of movements driven by passionate activists. Cannabis, LBGTQIA, environment, women, Black Lives Matter, immigrants and a host of others have been empowered by and won major victories because they had love and bravery on their side.
And, one of the great incubators for activism is the Columbus Free Press. Over the last twenty years, I have had the honor and privilege of earning its support, standing on its proverbial shoulders and enjoying the friendship and love of its long-time editors Bob Fitrakis and Suzanne Patzer. They exemplify what it takes to spend a lifetime fighting and overcoming injustice.
In as much as I’m pleased to receive this prestigious award and celebrate other winners, let’s also celebrate the Columbus Free Press. It has stood behind and stood up for a portfolio of worthy causes and in the process spoken truth to power and inspired social change. This long-standing organization exemplifies the axiom about activism, that love and bravery – together – really do overcome injustice.