By Matt Mernagh – Saturday, September 20 2008
Pot Protests. Reefer Rallies. Marijuana Marches. Whether it’s April 20th (known as 4/20), the first Saturday in May (Global Marijuana March), an impromptu response to a compassion club raid, or a legislature protest when critical cannabis laws are debated, making a public pot presence shows The Man that we’re not going to take it and, to quote Bob Dylan, “The times, they are a’ changing!”
Doobie demonstrations should be more than just pot parties or cannabis culture celebrations; they should always deliver a message against prohibition, raise awareness about the evil war on drugs, and endorse positive policy change. Pick your desired marijuana message or toker theme to present to the public. It can be about the DEA and drug war in general, upcoming medical marijuana initiatives, harm reduction awareness, or hemp legislation. Election and ballot initiatives related to marijuana are public, and easy to find and prepare for. Legislation is planned in advance, which gives activists plenty of time to organize. Political debates, votes, and proposals are an opportunity to gather activists and concerned citizens in support of, or opposition to, the cannabis issue at hand. It’s critical that potheads far and wide trek to their legislature lawn to support or oppose any legislation. Better yet, organize a bus and get political! Buses can be arranged at $10 to $25 per person (if you fill the bus) for round-trips of 100 to 400 miles. With information and tickets distributed well in advance, you can get a large cannabis crew to trek the reefer road and demonstrate peacefully for pot
There are many annual cannabis events that serious stoners anticipate more than a kid on Christmas morning. Annual ganja gatherings with amazing reefer reputations, such as the 2-day Seattle Hempfest (which gets up to 180,000 people!) take almost all year to plan. Permits, sound systems, bathroom facilities (i.e. porta-potties) and stages are arranged in advance. Flyers, print media, internet, and word-of-mouth promotion continually build as the event date nears. Booths and mini-markets are pre-booked by glassblowers, food vendors, hemp aficionados, drug policy groups, and artists of every kind. Marijuana public addresses happen throughout the event, as speakers are scheduled to fire up demonstrators with anti-prohibition, pro-legalization hemp and marijuana messages. By traveling to these large events, you get to meet new friends and allies, and network with other activists from across your state and beyond. You’ll also get a chance to put a face to some of the canna-celebrities from magazine articles, movies, news stories and websites. These kind of large-scale events require many people to preplan and carry out each step. Some organizers take a two or three week holiday immediately following their extrava-ganja to recharge. Most, however, get right back to work planning the next year’s event.
The impromptu rally, or blitz, responds to raids and arrests at your local compassion club, hemp store, head shop, smoke-easy, seed shop, or other temple of the movement. It is critical that the protest response happens on the day of, or day after, the raid or arrest. The average citizen needs to be made aware of the raid, and nothing helps more than getting TV cameras and news reporters to the scene of a noisy and passionate (but always peaceful) blitz demonstration. This tactic sometimes requires civil disobedience, and may lead to demonstrators joining the imprisoned person(s) being rallied for, but blitz protesting brings immediate attention to the cause. For example, after the DEA and Vancouver Police raided Marc Emery’s store in downtown Vancouver (July 2005), employees and friends gathered outside on the sidewalk and street, banged empty water cooler jugs as drums, chanted “Go away DEA! Go away USA!” and carried made-on-the-spot cardboard signs with hand-written messages “DEA Raid in Progress” and “USA Out of Canada” so the passing traffic would get an idea of what was going on. The TV and news media was called immediately – this is absolutely essential if you want public support! Same-day responses are critical to get coverage about the crisis. Depending on the amount of media the bust receives, community reaction will make the difference between being called a “drug den” or “trafficking center”, and a “compassion club for medicinal marijuana users” or “spiritual centre to worship God”. When the cannabis community stands up to The Man with an immediate protest, it’s demonstrating the police didn’t remove a problem – they created an even bigger one. If your protest response remains loud and clear for a second day, media will come out and cover the story again. All it takes to get a demonstration going is one person to set a time and place and send a quick email or text message to everyone they know. With cell phones, text messages, online networking websites (like MySpace), email, forums, mailing lists, and instant messaging programs, word of a raid – and the plan of response – can spread
Ganja Gathering Point
If you’re going to plan a large hemp festival or a pot party, the best location is typically the nearest park or open mall. Large grassy fields are best for the biggest groups, whereas smaller rallies can temporarily take over a small downtown block or park. Organized/permitted festivals and parades can even shut down whole city streets. Most small-scale demonstrations can be done without permits, but it’s important to note that in modern-day America, police and other agents of the government may try to intimidate you and your fellow freedom fighters into leaving your protest location. If you’re dealing with a small-time city police officer that just wants to hassle you, insist upon your right to “peaceful assembly without permit”. But if you’re facing a line of black-armored riot troopers with shields and batons ready for beatnik beating, it’s safest to pack up your pot protest to demonstrate another day. You definitely don’t want to become a victim of the all-too-common police brutality plaguing America. If you think you’re going to be faced with law enforcement intimidation at your rally, be prepared: bring a video camera and extra tape, a regular photographic camera, and even a notepad and pen – document every detail of infringement onanyone’s rights!
Going to protest against prohibition? Government buildings are traditional locations for staging demonstrations. The Drug Enforcement Administration has 275 field offices in America and 79 foreign offices in 58 countries (including one in downtown Vancouver BC, of course!) so there’s a good chance one is somewhere near you. (Complete addresses and phone numbers are available at the DEA website online: dea.gov/agency/domestic.htm). A handful of friends – even just your basement joint circle or high school bud buddies – can make a difference, and the evening news, simply by walking back and forth in front of a prohibitionist office holding placards, chanting and handing out information. Larger demonstrations and parades can be organized to pass en route to a meeting point, or they can choose to stand together (“assemble peacefully”) on the front lawn or steps of government buildings.
When picketing, bear in mind that blocking the entrance of a building is illegal, so a picket line that allows people to come and go only mildly interrupted is acceptable. A small group should walk the length of the front of the building, turn around, and snake back to the starting point. Repeat. Make sure to stay on the sidewalks when picketing!
Marijuana March Route
Hanging out all day in an open park, smoking herb with one thousand people, is definitely cannabis-cool but when you take to the streets with big parades and crowds, you get a rush so strong it can turn a heavy indica stone into a buzzy sativa high. It’s the “power of the people” pumping through you! The feeling you get from standing up for your rights and being proud of your pot love alongside hundreds of others just like you is unmatched by even the highest of cannabis highs. Unity. Humanity. Together, it’s a very powerful force – one that can actually change the course of history.
Marching requires two gathering spots: one to start at and one to end at. Walking around the block works for medium and large groups. A larger crowd marching can occupy one single lane of traffic or, if it’s a huge number, the whole street. An organizer armed with a megaphone needs to remain responsible for the pace of the march, keeping within the traffic lane, going in the right direction, and ensuring the parade of potheads doesn’t lose its uniformity. Have signs, banners and flags for the marching participants. Green balloons filled with helium make for a great photo opportunity. Costumed entertainers, like stilt-walkers or pot-faeries, are a welcome addition in the crowd, as are people who bring personal instruments and noisemakers, like drums
Toronto’s Global Marijuana March (GMM) is Canada’s most impressive annual global pot march, spanning dozens of city blocks to convene downtown in a staged area of the park. Though some may confuse Toronto’s GMM with a protest, it’s not; marches or festivals require the right documents to proceed. Over 10,000 people attend the event, so Toronto’s organizers obtain all necessary approvals beforehand, jumping through the hoops required to receive their festival permit – including appearing before a board of 30 city officials, and paying insurance, police, and permit fees. By doing so, they’re allowed vending and staging for musicians. And, as always, the organizers politely let cops know about it beforehand. They’re going to come out with their bikes, horses and cars anyway.
In most countries you have a right to spontaneously take to the streets. Unfortunately, this right has been under attack ever since large groups of hippies started their ganja-fueled love-ins long ago, and it’s become even worse for Amerijuanicans post-9/11. The New York Civil Liberties Union (NCLU) fought the New York City’s mayor’s office over refusal to approve an anti-war march planned for February 2003, to be held in conjunction with marches around the world to oppose the War in Iraq. (The city also refuses an annual marijuana march permit.) NCLU lost in the federal appeal court regarding their peace march, but 200,000 New Yorkers took to the streets with the rest of the world regardless, and the NYPD made mass arrests. Sometimes there are financial losses related to marches or rallies: Gubernatorial candidate Loretta Nall reported that for any gatherings in Alabama, protest police officers have to be in attendance (to oversee “public security,” no doubt) and paid an hourly wage by the protest organizer. This is the case in many US cities. A police presence is almost always guaranteed. Check your local government website to determine what permits are necessary to hold a protest. The American Civil Liberties Union website (www.ACLU.org) has over two thousand entries for the term “protest permits”, so you can look up your state or city and become informed as to what your area requires for protest permits. Many US states and cities have rules of engagement that clearly contradict the US Constitution, so if you are really worried about being harassed for organizing a protest, contact your local chapter for information about your rights. If you’re going to be hosting a medium-sized march or rally without a permit, send a short letter to the police chief a few days in advance with the date, time, and location. This politely informs them that an event will be taking place, and they may need to add extra officers to a shift. Canadian Constitutional law professor Alan Young says to remain adamant but diplomatic about your right to assembly without permits. Insist that the day will be pleasant and peaceful, and always use the phrase “a peaceful assembly to express our views and opinions” when notifying law enforcement.
Get The Word Out
The more networked we are, the more effective at getting the masses to rallies we’ll be. Digital communication allows information to move like a virus. Write an announcement for forums and email lists, and sign up for networking websites. Myspace.com is the number one way to generate buzz throughout the youth marijuana activist community, says the Buffalo and Rochester Cannabis Coalition(s). Marc Emery used MySpace to recruit thousands of young Americans to participate in the November 7, 2006 US election, and help support pro-reform candidates and defeat prohibitionists. Over 160 million people are registered at MySpace, and when you add other people (or groups) as your “friends”, you can send bulletins about events to every “friend” you have; those people then promote your bulletin to all of their “friends” – and on it goes through thousands and thousands of message boards. There are over 5,000 major marijuana activist individuals and groups signed up at MySpace. If you are planning an event, develop an account for it immediately and begin networking with other reform individuals, cannabis activist groups, political parties, the ACLU and thousands of other interested people.
Generate excitement about the event amongst your joint circle so they assist in the legwork. Everyone has a friend who loves to get stoned and draw – they can be recruited to make the flyer for your festival or rally. Have the local bong shop provide funds for photocopying posters, then distribute them everywhere! Known weed dealers should be given stacks of handbills to give to clients; everyone loves to know where the local pot parties are.
Contact local media several days in advance. TV stations and newspapers have “Hot News Story” or News Tips hotlines, so call with your information – speak clearly, and leave a number to be reached at. Look for the popular local radio station personalities – or even college campus radio stations – and contact the hosts. If you can be featured for a short radio spot to discuss the event, prepare talking points in advance and make cue cards; radio interviews are done from home, so if you have your notes right in front of you, there’s no chance to forget anything. Getting a solid news radio blurb will ensure reporters attend the rally. Try to appear on a radio call-in show several days in advance, and in the newspaper on the day of your rally. Appearing the following day in the paper is cool for retrospect, but “day-of” press brings plenty more people to your rally, like an ad in every paper. TV news channels and talk radio quickly gobble up content, and are the perfect platform for free promotion.
On rally day ensure people have placards, flags, signs, and other displays of pro-pot love. Get stoned a few days beforehand and start a sign-making circle. (Watch your spelling – no “leagalize cannibus”!) Spray paint an old bed sheet and add poles to either side for a large parade-leading sign, and cut a few slits for wind to pass through, which makes it easier to hold upright. Signs and banners can be colorful and creative, but make sure to keep them legible – the entire point of the parade or rally is the message, after all. Here are some examples of marijuana slogans: “No More Drug War”, “No Jail For Pot”, “Legalize, Regulate”, “Bongs Not Bombs”, “Drug Peace, Not War”, “End Prohibition”, “Marijuana Is Medicine”, “Hemp Can Save The World”, “Prohibition Sucks”, “Drug Education, Not Incarceration”, “We’re Here, We’re High, Get Used to It”, “Legalize, Don’t Criticize”, “Let Our People Grow”, “Pot Is A Plant, Bush Is A Dope”, and for a noisy street-
side response, “Honk If You Love Marijuana”!
Fun Activities & Speakers
Having a Best Sign and Best Costume prize will have people think creatively and give the media something to photograph. This works best when sponsors – such as bong shops, magazines, hemp stores, and glassblowers – provide promotional products. A raffle, with the proceeds going to a pot prisoner or cannabis cause, is a great idea to raise money and engage attendees. The local head shop is a good place to bag prizes; you’re going to send them business when you announce the kind sponsors of the cool raffle bong! Find a local canna-celebrity, or a witty, outgoing friend who loves the herb, and ask them to host the event. A marijuana MC is necessary! Someone has to “rally the reefer troops”, so to speak. It takes coin to fly known activists into your community, but they are a great element for any event. Travel and accommodation need to be provided, which can become expensive depending on where they’re from and how long they’re going to stay. However, some activists will gladly sleep on a couch of a fellow freedom fighter, and there are many cannabis crusaders within driving distance of your town, especially in America.
Amplification of some kind is a protest must. A megaphone is useful as it is loud and portable, but they tend to make voices sound high-pitched and harsh. An amplified cordless microphone attached to an amplified speaker is preferred, and works much better (they can be rented from any hardware audio/visual center, or bought from music equipment stores). Test your equipment before the actual rally; particularly the cord connections and volume control. Find an optimum volume for the amplifier. Bear in mind that if you plan to protest loudly without a permit, The Man may try to seize your amplification system. This is problematic, especially if you’ve left a credit card surety with the rental company (usually required). If you don’t have a permit and are approached by a police officer to turn down – or turn off – the sound system, be polite and follow the request. Carry on your speaking with lower volume, or without amplification.
The local community vibe towards cannabis plays a role in what you, as the protest organizer, can do. Plan to your comfort level! Pro-cannabis communities can get away with joint rolling contests, biggest bong hit matches, 4:20 half-ounce cannabis celebration cannons, one-pound ganja giveaways… it’s all been done, especially in Canada’s biggest cities! However, many places won’t tolerate a smoke-out, and even fewer tolerate in-your-face activists like Vancouver’s David Malmo-Levine, who distributes bubble hash and joints to eager freedom fighter rallies. If you’re unfortunate enough to live where full -gear riot police will roll in the tanks and bust heads at the slightest whiff of grass, then it’s not necessarily worth the risk. Plan peaceful pro-hemp or medicinal marijuana “demonstrations” and hand out information pamplets in places less tolerant when it comes to discussing issues like drugs.
Passive Resistance & Civil Disobedience
There aren’t sweeping arrests when 200,000 potheads converge and puff in peace at the Seattle Hempfest – that’s the power of numbers! If your group greatly outnumbers The Man, then you have the power to do awesome activities. But, sometimes, ringleaders and participants do get dragged off. No one should let a bud-buddy get arrested alone at a rally. How should
Enter the magic of “Hug Power”, David Malmo-Levine’s old-school method of passive resistance. If a cop whips out the cuffs on a pot protester, give the person a big loving hug and blurt out “Don’t take them to jail!” Hug them, hold them, and don’t let go. Another person latches onto the first hugger, then another hugs that person. The goal is to create a pothead pile big enough to overwhelm the arresting officer. It really makes the police earn their paycheck! Hopefully, the targeted protester is released and the police retreat – but if they begin to arrest all those involved, it might be necessary to overflow the local lockup. At least you’ll be in the joint with ganja friends, and you can plan how to focus media attention on a whole group of peaceful protesters being put in the big house for hugging.
The Red Squad
“I took photos of the cops taking pictures of us. That means they have pictures of us taking pictures of them, taking pictures of us. Cool.” – Photographer Sadie C.
By recording every minute of any public gathering, police can allege they are ensuring “public safety” rather than “intimidating citizens who are exercising their right to freely assemble peacefully”. Indeed, police in the modern era typically photograph and film every kind of peaceful street demonstration and any politically oriented rally. Toronto human rights lawyer Paul Copeland explains “cops videotaping a rally is perfectly legal in Canada and the US.” The only requirement is that the police need to be overt in order for it to be lawful – they must be obvious and visible to protesters when filming liberation leaders or stoner shenanigans. Police footage can legally be used only for evidence at trials involving the protest, or as police training videos on crowd control, but potheads who are worried about police photographers can don a stylish marijuana leaf bandana to partially cover their face, and those fearing arrest for “proof” of possession or trafficking should leave the grass at home and attend anyway. Thankfully, it’s also legal for anyone to photograph the police. Police don’t like to get caught on camera carrying out fascist atrocities while wearing their battle gear, but they can – and do – go ape-shit on occasion. A demonstration can end up rough-and-tumble if the cops are determined to use force. There are plenty of examples: Vancouver police tear-gassed and beat potheads in tourist-packed Gastown at the 1971 Smoke-In Jamboree; Quebec City police used 6,000 canisters of tear gas to quell protesters at the Summit of the Americas and FTAA (Free Trade Agreement of the Americas) meetings in 2001; Vancouver’s anti-globalization riot at the Hyatt Hotel during then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s visit saw news reporters and anti-APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) demonstrators being pepper-sprayed and beaten by Canada’s national police (RCMP); and who can forget 1999’s infamous anti-globalization demonstration in Seattle during the WTO (World Trade Organization) meeting, or the cordon of force and arrests at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City when hundreds of activists and innocent bystanders were illegally locked in a condemned building at Pier 57 for days (barbaric and bizarre, but absolutely true). Police arrest puffers every year at the Global Marijuana March in NYC and other locations worldwide, and US Homeland Security is exercising its beefed-up mandate in the national forests as the impetus to arrest over 500 peaceful attendees at a Rainbow Gathering in Routt County, Colorado in 2006. But perhaps the most outlandish and extreme case of them all happened on August 22nd, 2005, at Spanish Fork Canyon a hundred miles outside of Salt Lake City.
The Utah National Guard and law enforcement officers from numerous agencies swooped in on 1,500 people at a completely legal outdoor rave event (with all permits, insurance, and security in place) using helicopters and SWAT teams armed with assault rifles, tasers, tear gas, and dogs to break up the event. Nobody resisted the police and the terrified crowd was orderly as they tried to leave as ordered, but tear gas was released and people were injured in the stampede. Some were physically abused by troops and snarling dogs. Police attempted confiscating all video equipment but an amateur video capturing the attack surfaced on the internet, leading to public outcry over the excessive force.
This bring up an important point: cameras are essential at a grass rally. It’s very important to have people photographing and filming rallies and protests, then uploading the results to websites like YouTube.com and Google Video – not only does the footage serve as educational material for the thousands of young people watching marijuana-related videos online, but it can also demonstrate examples of how police respond to cannabis crowds in different places. The reefer revolution will not be televised… but it is often available online!
As you comtemplate holding your own pot protest, reefer rally, or marijuana march, and you find yourself worrying about outing yourself or getting arrested, keep in mind what American Civil Liberties Union executive director Anthony D. Romero wrote in his book Freedom Under Fire: “Dissenters who take unpopular positions in their own times are often seen as heroes later on.” Well, this is our own time and you must stand up for what you know to be true. Join the freedom fighters around the world, and rally for