{Note: Inspiration for DC Flashback struck a week before I was scheduled to meet with Poteconomist #1 Jon Gettman in Our Nation’s Capital this past August 8–9. The occasion was the inaugural World Poteconomics Pow Wow. As the poteconomics summit drew closer, memories of being in the right place at the right time as the curtain fell on the swinging sixties came rushing back.

The following memoir provides a vivid illustration of the vast difference between the state of American activism circa 1969 and American activism 2013-style. I’m of the mind that federal marijuana prohibition remains alive and well today because no one can seem to get their face out of their vaporizer, their ass off the couch, and their butt onto the street to demand Cannabis Liberation.

Making awfully big demands, being heard, and having those demands met was commonplace last millenium. I know. I was in that immense crowd gathered at the base of the Washington Monument.

But this piece isn’t about criticizing a generation, it’s about celebrating one. I sneak in a little editorializing here and there, getting most of it off my chest in the Introduction. The pictures and events pretty much speak for themselves.

Enjoy — this may be the last long article I pen for Cannabis Commerce! —LK}

Part 1: Introduction

peace rally monument

Ho-hum, just another gathering of 500,000 like-minded souls on a crisp fall weekend in our nation’s capital. Look at that sea of humanity gathered at the Washington Monument. See any antiwar or anti-prohibition gatherings like that today? No, you don’t. Yet there was not a single cellphone or the internet to aid organizers in 1969.

When you’re a 17-year-old sophomore at American University and it’s the Fall of 1969, you figure a series of antiwar rallies attracting crowds of 500,000 fellow students, “peaceniks,” and “outside agitators” to DC is all just part of college life — like keggers, midterms, and panty raid. How would you know any better?

Ah, that lost Fall semester as the curtain fell on the swinging sixties …

Although it now seems unimaginable, four decades ago people actually went out of their way to protest injustice even if:

  • The injustice wasn’t happening to them
  • It required traveling to places where it was impossibly humid or freezing cold
  • They had to overcome tremendous hardships including being wheelchair-bound
  • It was necessary to spend some of their life savings in order to “be there or be square”

Hard to believe … but true. People looked to effect changes for the betterment of the entire nation, not just for the state they happened to live in. I know. Crazy, huh?

Miraculously, the successful protest movements of the past that halted the Vietnam war and put an end to segregation operated in an era when there were zero cellphones and the internet was just a gleam in the Defense Department’s eye.

How was that possible to pull off back in the virtual Dark Ages? Well, maybe you saw a mimeographed flier about some peace march push-pinned to a bulletin board in the Student Union or the person next to you in church told you about the regally named preacher Martin Luther King who was leading a march against segregation you could drive to in a day — that is provided you could cough up the princely sum of 29 cents a gallon for gas.

50 years later, plenty of people can’t even spell protest much less organize one.

In the sixties, if you were a student and you were thinking about having your buddy from Maine meet you in DC for a weekend of antiwar festivities, you had to find a pay phone to call him, have a pocketful of change to feed it, or know that that person would be willing to accept a collect call at rates that would make a Rockefeller quake in the knees.

Besides the advent of “unlimited calling plans,” many things have changed in the land of the free and the home of the brave since 1969: alas, the supremacy of Federal Marijuana Prohibition is not one of them. We’re still wearing the iron yoke. The enduring antiweed witchhunt is still going strong … unrelenting … like it has been since 1937. Now that’s some serious momentum.

That continuing situation is a little strange since in 1969 the idea of a gay character on a TV show was unimaginable; now every TV show has to have at least one and preferably four if it hopes to garner any ratings whatsoever. But marijuana prohibition … that’s Old Faithful.

Oh, and god forbid an interracial couple made out on TV back when “I Hear It Through The Grapevine” was #1. Nowadays interracial trysts are mandatory on every cable series. No Lesbians, no interracial you-know-what = no ratings.

Actually, big juicy doobs dangling from the mouths of megastars have made it to mainstream TV time and time again; it’s prohibition itself that perseveres like the pyramids no matter who gets obliterated on the silver screen.

But the state of the union in 2013 is not all doom and gloom.

Lately, chinks have appeared in prohibition’s armor. Within the borders of certain progressive states, activists 2013-style have chipped away at existing pot laws; quasi-legalization is in effect in a few lucky places.

Great, right? Not so fast. It’s the “chipping away” instead of “doing away” that’s the catch. Back in the day, they did away — with segregation, with the Vietnam War, with Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon. That’s the difference.

All those state-by-state rebellions have produced are surface cracks, nothing deep enough to fracture prohibition altogether.

What’s there for the feds to really worry about? Activists always attack on the state level … leaving prohibition unscathed.

The phantasmagoric show could continue its supernaturally long run — the magical herb doesn’t have a single high-ranking friend in the Obama administration. I said “friend,” not an Attorney General who grudgingly accepts recreational marijuana’s legality in 2 states out of 50.

Better yet for the drug czar, the DEA, and US Attorneys looking to make names for themselves, today’s pot activists, so adept at gaining puny one-ounce limits in their own states, act as if ending federal marijuana prohibition is as imponderable as manned space travel to Alpha Centauri.

That would be all right and I’d just let it go if the blueprint for successful protest movements didn’t already exist.

Hello, they had cameras, film, and videotape back in the swinging sixties! More footage of the civil rights and antiwar movements than you’d ever want to see survives in stills, tape, and film.

I am a man

That blueprint has a name: nonviolent civil disobedience. It was invented by Gandhi and worked a treat for driving the British out of India. It was then perfected by Martin Luther King, as he led the charge to end a hundred years of segregation. At the present glacial pace of marijuana legalization, we could realistically be looking at a hundred years of marijuana prohibition come 2037.

You may be asking yourself why it is that successful strategies to effect paradigm change like nonviolent civil disobedience have vanished from the protesters’ playbook?

If you lived through the Fall of ’69 in DC, and you saw how ordinary people like you and me and 499,998 more ordinary people just like us were able to topple long-entrenched institutions, questions like that run through your mind.

I should state that I don’t underestimate the magnitude of staging massive pro-marijuana rallies in today’s political climate.

In 1969, dissidence wasn’t terrorism. Well, today it is.

There was a Constitution back then. Today there isn’t.

Any agency that wanted to arrest you in 1969 had to have “just cause.” Well, now they don’t.

I’m not suggesting that  putting together a Marijuanamarch featuring a million marijuanamarchers coming to the magical weed’s rescue would be a walk in the park.

march on washington

And I don’t mean to imply that the Big Four activist groups, NORML, ASA, MPP, and DPA should be able to instantly summon a million herbal rights supporters to DC by simply clicking their heels together three times — even though MLK summoned 250,000 protestors in only two months to his “I Have A Dream” speech and there was a much smaller pool of “negroes” to draw from.

What’s disturbing is that they’re not even trying.

They continue going about their business as if there’s a Berlin Wall built around every state. I’ve continued to howl about it. Some people care. Most people don’t.

Maybe the aforementioned activist groups also place considerable emphasis on repealing prohibition that rarely gets reported by old guard media because it’s so much easier to cover statewide campaigns. Emphasis on maybe.

What’s for sure is that the Big Four activist groups are infatuated with virtual protests. The virtual crusades these groups love to conduct — essentially, “c’mon people, let’s all sign electronic petitions and email them to our congressmen” — inevitably wind up in virtual trash bins where they belong. They miss the point that crusaders have to fight in The Holy Land to reach The Promised Land.

You’d think the repeated failures of virtual efforts might lead to the conclusion that the strategy of getting bodies on the streets that’s worked perfectly well in the past just might be worth resurrecting today.

Nope.

For now, I’ll just give it a rest. Criticizing the unfortunate tendency of today’s activist groups to bend over and accept one-twentieth of the herbal rights they have coming to them is way too contrarian for most people to wrap their heads around.

Just for grins let’s flash back to more optimistic times, when anything and everything seemed possible — up to and including halting an unpopular war in Southeast Asia, evicting Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon from the White House, and the startling concept of letting black people vote instead of lynching them.

They say there’s nothing wrong with being a copycat if you copy the right cats. And in 1969, all the right cats were meowing in Washington, DC.

I’ll set the time machine for 1968, a year before I staggered into our nation’s capital, the better to examine my surrealistic sophomore semester at American University in context.

Next : a flashback before a flashback, or “How I Got to DC.”