This is an interesting personal account of a man who was arrested for civil disobedience in Washington D.C.
Excerpts from . . .
A personal message from Ron Crickenberger, Libertarian Party Political Director
My Dear Friends,
I was arrested on June 6 for civil disobedience, while protesting a federal government crackdown on medical marijuana clinics.
LP Campus Coordinator Marc Brandl and 8 other drug reform activists were also arrested. We had chained ourselves across the entrance of the Department of Justice on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC. We read statements to the press, and chanted slogans every time the police came to give us "one more warning."
Before the Federal Protection Service cut the chains and drug us away in tight plastic handcuffs, we posted a "Cease and Desist" order on the door, demanding that the federal government end its misguided, immoral war against sick and critically ill patients who ease their suffering with medical marijuana.
Our protest in DC was one of 55 actions with more than 1000 demonstrators in cities across America on Thursday. I participated as part of my congressional campaign, as did many other Libertarian candidates around the country. Americans for Safe Access (ASA) coordinated the nationwide action. ASA is a grassroots effort designed to force Attorney General Ashcroft and the Bush Administration to back off its anti-medical marijuana crusade and to grant states the right to choose and govern medical marijuana laws.
Since September 11 of last year, the federal government has conducted at least 5 raids against medical cannabis dispensaries in California, throwing patients in the street, confiscating homes, and arresting caregivers. June 6 was picked as the day of action because a federal judge in California is expected to issue a ruling very soon that will effectively give the DEA a green light to escalate their raids -- depriving thousands more patients of their safe, quality-controlled source of medicine.
Committing an act of civil disobedience was not an action I took lightly. I sought advice from LP Chairman Jim Lark, General Counsel Bill Hall, Sheriff Bill Masters, as well as all of the HQ office staff. And of course, my partner in life, Noelle. I recognized that, in addition to the obvious potential negative consequences to me, that there was the potential for negative as well as positive public reaction.
As "point man" for the LP's Drug War Focus Strategy -- our plan to end drug prohibition at the federal level by 2010 -- it is my responsibility to network with the other drug reform groups, and to work with them to help implement our strategy. You can't do much more to demonstrate that you are committed to a cause than to get arrested in a civil disobedience action. So I had incentive to participate beyond just believing that it was the right thing to do.
I came into the Libertarian Party because of taxation. I spent most of my first years in the LP working on issues that were in the economic realm. I did not take up the issue of medical marijuana until it touched me personally.
I had long believed in drug relegaliztion for both philosophical and pragmatic reasons. But I had looked on the concept of medical marijuana much in the same way that its opponents do: "medical marijuana, yeah right, nice try to work toward making it legal for you to get toked up." Despite years of LP activism, and lots of reading on drug legalization in general, I was pretty ignorant of the remarkable medical properties of cannabis.
Then my best friend of 25 years sickened with cancer. She was on intense chemotherapy and couldn't keep any food down. She lost almost 50 pounds, more than a third of her body weight, in just a few months. She was on a "pain pump" which shot her full of heavy narcotics through an IV day and night.
Unfortunately, Gina is not a medical marijuana success story. I knew enough to have heard that marijuana could help with nausea from chemo, but not enough to really push her to try it. Back then I had not heard the personal testimonies that make it so clear just how absolutely remarkably marijuana works for some patients. For those who are suffering severe nausea from chemotherapy, the treatment can be as life threatening as the disease.
And really, the word "nausea" just doesn't cut it. Nausea sounds like, "gee, my tummy's a little upset." With chemo and some AIDS "cocktails" we are talking about gut-wrenching, lying on the floor moaning and crying dry heaves that go on for what seems like forever. Patients in this condition obviously cannot keep down any kind of anti-nausea medication that must be swallowed.
Gina bought the government propaganda that smoking pot would further damage her already ravaged immune system.
If she hadn't bought the government's line on medical marijuana, and if I had been more knowledgeable at the time about how wondrously effective it is for nausea during chemotherapy, it's likely her last days would have been a lot more bearable.
A few years later, I met Peter McWilliams, and saw first hand how quickly marijuana could relieve the nausea from chemo or AIDs medication "cocktails." His assertion that "one puff and the symptoms start going away" was demonstrated to me at the national convention where he spoke. I saw him going in just a few minutes from puking his guts up into the trashcan in the speaker's green room, to being able to compose himself and go onstage to give one of the most memorable speeches ever at an LP convention.
I met Todd McCormick, who had cancer 9 times before the age of 10. Watching the other kids in the cancer ward die off from malnutrition due to chemo and radiation, and seeing her son going down that same road, Todd's brave mother Ann decide to try medical marijuana for her 9 year old. The difference was incredible. Todd was again able to regain both a healthy appetite, and a positive attitude, and survive.
The radiation treatments left Todd with many of his vertebrae permanently fused, and one hip that will forever be the size of a ten year old's – and permanent pain. Many patients with bone and muscular disorders that produce chronic pain find that marijuana relieves that pain even more effectively than the much stronger narcotics that would also make them dysfunctional. Todd effectively treated his pain with cannabis – until he was imprisoned for giving the same life-saving medicine to other patients.
I met Elvy Mussika who suffers from severe glaucoma. She treats it legally with marijuana, which lowers eye pressure. Elvy is one of the last 7 patients still alive in the federal governments "Compassionate Use" program, which actually supplies medical marijuana to these few patients.
The feds have not accepted any new patients into the "compassionate use" program in many years. I guess we can afford armies of armed agents to raid clinic after clinic, but just can't possibly afford "compassion" for more than 7 people.
Since then, I've met dozens of MM patients who have found what is often life-saving relief from this oldest of nature's medications. Medical Marijuana is frequently helpful in treating the symptoms of AIDS, glaucoma, cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and chronic pain. Other patients and doctors have found it be very helpful for everything from arthritis to menstrual cramps.
Having seen what I have seen, and learned what I have learned, how can I not do all I can to end this injustice for others?
Prior to deciding to participate in the civil disobedience, I checked with our General Counsel Bill Hall who said that "RICO" law should not apply to this type of demonstration. We were on public property only, and were not trying to influence any type of private business.
Other arrestees who were in similar employment situations checked with their General Counsels or staff attorneys, and were also given a green light. In one case, one of the arrestees WAS the staff attorney, as well as the head of the organization -- Kevin Zeese of Common Sense for Drug Policy.
I was especially glad that Kevin was planning on participating. It was psychologically easier for me to join in since two of the others to be arrested, Kevin and Bruce Mirkin, were also in their mid-forties and heads of their organizations. I do wish we had had some seniors participating, but our ages ranged from 20 to me as the elder incarcerant at 47.
Another turning point in my decision to participate was a thumbs up from LP News editor Bill Winter. He is usually pretty "conservative" in how he wants to see the LP presented to the public and the press, and he felt the medical marijuana issue had progressed to such a degree of public support that the action would be viewed in a positive light.
The night before the action I had a lot of trouble sleeping. I was quite naturally worried about what might happen the next morning. Would we actually get arrested? Would they stop us before we could even get to the door? Would the police get violent? Would they pry open our eyes and pepper spray us like they did those protesters in Oregon recently? When it's all over – will I look like a hero, or like a fool? Or will anybody even notice?
I read Martin Luther King Jr's "Letter from a Birmingham jail," defending the direct actions of the civil-rights movement. These words struck me most of all:
"I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil-rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."
"Justice too long delayed is justice denied. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss for despair. I hope, sirs, that you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience." Martin Luther King, Jr. 1963
The issue and the faces may have changed, but the desperate need for justice has not.
And I thought a lot about my friends Gina and Peter, and cried a little for their being gone, and finalized my resolve. About 4:00 AM I wrote the following:
"There are some of my friends that my action today of civil disobedience will be too late to help. I take this action so that others may not suffer needlessly in the future. I take this step with all due seriousness, after deep contemplation, and in loving memory of my friends Gina Purcell and Peter McWilliams."
ACTION and ARREST
There were about 25 activists involved – half a dozen Libertarians, the rest Democrats and Greens. We had met for planning sessions at one of the hard leftist's homes, amidst posters with slogans like "Liberate us from Capitalism." I doubt he and I are going to agree on free-market economics any time soon. But he's my ally on drug policy, so I refrained from proselytizing about Hayek and Von Mises, and just talked drug reform.
We met at 9:00 AM for a few practice runs. But as soon as all of us got into the van, something began scraping the ground as we drove. Somebody looked at it and said, "its just the muffler strap, we can still go on." I looked again and saw it was the gas tank strap instead! So we were perhaps about to turn a peaceful sit-in into an unintentional suicide car bomb!
The driver hurried to beg a local repair shop to fix it quick, while we practiced chaining ourselves to a couple of trees that were about the same distance apart as the doors of the Justice Department. She got it fixed, and returned with just a few minutes to spare.
During the practice sessions, I ended up becoming the "point man," the one who would be first out of the van and first to be chained. And as it ended up, I would be the one who would have to walk straight at the guard who was right in front of the door. In addition to the 10 arrestees, we had 4 people serve as "lockers" who would actually fasten the chains and locks onto the large rings on the doors of the Justice Department.
In addition to the chains, we had cushioned pipes that were covered with messages about medical marijuana. We threaded the chains through the pipes, and would hold hands to make it more difficult to separate us. We were not actually fastened to the chains, but would appear to be so. We also all had pictures of medical marijuana patients hanging around our necks with "Patient, Not Criminal" printed on them, along with their name and condition.
During the practice sessions, what appeared to be an undercover officer's car drove by 3 times, so we began to worry our plans had been discovered.
The "lockers" went on ahead to scout the area once more. Press and non-arrestee participants were being held at a nearby subway stop until we were chained in place.
When we left the practice area, the undercover car appeared again, followed us for several turns, and then disappeared.
We circled the Justice Department building once to see if there were more guards than usual, and things seemed normal – except the guard was standing directly in front of the door. In our scouting trips, they were usually walking around or sitting in the shade instead of directly in the doorway. We circled once more to see if he would move a little, but no luck.
Our driver pulled to a stop on Pennsylvania Ave, and threw open the back door of the van. Heart pounding, and more adrenaline than blood flowing through me, I swung out of the van and headed straight for the door – and the guard.
It's a little difficult to be inconspicuous when you are walking really fast, chained to other people, your arm is inside some strange looking pipe, and there's a big sign around your neck -- but I did my best. I tried to keep an eye on the guard without making eye contact. I could tell he had spotted us when I was within about 20 feet of the door – but I kept walking.
When I was about 10 feet away, the guard turned around and ran inside the building!
54 seconds from the time the door opened on the van, we were all chained in. Some guards appeared on the other side of the glass door, and chained it from the inside.
A few minutes later the media and other demonstrators arrived. As they arrived, we began some chants. I've always felt kind of silly chanting at a demonstration, but I joined in.
Rob Kampia of the Marijuana Policy Project, who had brought the media from the subway, began the public statements to the press about who we were and why we were there. Those of us chained to the door began making statements in turn, although we were interrupted a couple of times when the Police Chief came to give us our first and second warnings. Our response to his warning was to chant even louder.
I then read the "Cease and Desist" order that was being posted to the doors of DEA offices across the country that day. I then pasted the order onto the door with my unchained hand – even though just putting a sticker on the door could potentially subject me to a destruction of federal property charge.
The chief gave us his third warning. We chanted back at him. They then began to move all the media and other demonstrators away, and out of sight of us.
They first arrested Dave Guard, the one member of our group who was not chained. Then they cut the chains on Jennifer and Leslie, two young ladies from the University of Maryland's Students For Sensible Drug Policy, and tried to drag them away. But they were lying down and hanging on tight. Eventually their arms were pulled out of the pipes, and they were dragged away to the paddy wagon.
They cut us away one by one and drug us away with varying degrees of resistance. When it came my turn, Officer Williams in front of me was asking me if I was going to cooperate or be carried, at the same time the guy who was handcuffing me was making a point of jerking my shoulder around and squeezing my fingers painfully. I gave out a little "aarrrgh" and Officer Williams said, "hey, lay off the guy." He asked me again if I was going to cooperate. My answer was, "the gentleman behind me has just convinced me not to."
If I ever do this again, I'm determined to be carried off a little more gracefully – if such a thing is possible in that situation. In the heat of the moment, I couldn't decide whether to go feet first or feet back. Plus, the very polite Officer Williams kept urging me to cooperate so that "they would not accidentally hurt me." My normal nice guy instincts to help out when someone nicely asks me for assistance were somehow still kicking in, even while the officer on my other arm continued to "make a point" by twisting my wrist and arm further.
So I ended up doing something like the Russian bent-knee dance as they carried me off, and feeling like I looked pretty silly. Maybe the humorous aspect was why they picked me to show being dragged away on the local evening news.
Once in the police station, we all changed from resistance mode to persuasion, chatting up the officers about drug reform policy as if they were our old buddies. I don't think we made many points with this group though – one of the officers even said he would arrest his own mother on her deathbed if she smoked medical marijuana. When we challenged him, he would not back off from the statement. "The law is the law."
The same officer also flatly stated that police "had intelligence" about our plan, apparently confirming our suspicions that we had been followed earlier.
They handcuffed some of us very tightly. I have some existing nerve problems in my right hand, and the cuffs quickly caused my hand to go to a painful numb. One of the girl's hands was swelling and changing color, and all they would say was "we'll loosen them 'soon.'" "Soon" ended up being about two hours for them to just cut the plastic cuffs off and put them back on a little looser.
It really seemed like they were not used to the procedure for arresting people. They fumbled over the paperwork for what seemed like forever. They did not process any one of us the same way. Some of us they searched over and over. Some of us they never searched. Some of us had our ties and belts and shoestrings taken. Some did not. They had to ask us to spell simple words for them.
When they took our belts, I had a good laugh with Bruce Mirkin of the Marijuana Policy Project about "sittin' here on the group W bench," but most of the rest of our group was too young to get the Arlo Guthrie, "Alice's Restaurant" reference. One of the girls asked if it wouldn't be easier for her to take off her pants to hang herself than to use her shoestrings. She was told, "say anything else like that and I'll take you to the psycho ward."
I guess logic equals insanity to that officer.
After about 3 hours at the Federal Protection Service office, we were driven across town to a DC precinct holding cell. Our cuffs were finally removed after about 3.5 hours.
We were charged with "incommoding," a rather unglamorous sounding crime that essentially means trespassing in order to block an entrance. We were offered the opportunity to "post and forfeit" a bond. This is essentially a "no contest" type of plea that closes out our cases. We accepted, paid $50 each, and will not have to appear in court. You might think they would release us at that point. Nope.
We kept ourselves amused as best we could, talking about war stories from other demonstrations, and discussing what our next steps might be. One of the highlights of the afternoon was when someone found a cockroach in the toilet. Hey, there's not much to keep you amused in a holding cell.
While the democrats and libertarians were debating what to do – should we liberate the cockroach – or have a betting pool on how long he could swim – Adam, the Green Party guy, flushed him.
As the afternoon turned to early evening, a stream of arrestees on various traffic charges were added to our holding cell. While we had to depend on what they told us as to what they were arrested for, it all pretty much sounded like bogus driving-while-black charges were the main reason they were there. I can't imagine that I would have gotten more than a ticket for the same charges that these guys were arrested for.
It's one thing to read about the racism of the justice system. It's another thing to witness it right in front of your eyes.
One of the traffic arrestees gave us a good laugh with his take on our civil disobedience. "Damn, you mean you guys broke INTO jail?"
We started getting frustrated that we were not being processed more quickly. You would think that we would not have been expecting efficiency and logic from our captors. The processing officers spent much of the afternoon watching Scooby-Do and other TV shows instead of bothering to photograph and fingerprint us.
A little after 6:00 PM, they let the first five of us out. The rest were released a couple of hours later.
We did civil disobedience specifically in order to get media attention to the issue of medical marijuana. We wanted the public to know that this is an issue so critical to so many sick people that others are willing to risk jail to bring it to the public's strong attention.
We certainly succeeded enough to declare the action a success. The biggest hits we know of were the two major news wire services, Reuters and United Press International. The LA Times, Washington Times, and Washington Post ran stories, as did many smaller papers. Local TV news affiliates around the country covered the demonstrations. Noelle had the rough experience of watching me being drug away in handcuffs on the nightly news in DC.
We are still assembling a comprehensive list of all the media hits, but it's safe to say we reached millions with our message.
Drug reformers are already discussing larger direct actions in the future. But there are vital steps to be taken right now by the Libertarian Party if we want to keep the medical marijuana issue in the public eye.
The next important step in our Drug War Focus Strategy is to produce a quality, hard-hitting, easily customizable TV commercial about medical marijuana that can be used by any LP candidate.
We want a commercial that will resonate with the 73% of Americans who believe that medical marijuana should be legal, and that physicians and patients should make medical decisions, not law enforcement.
And we want a hard hitting commercial that can make it dangerous for politicians NOT to vote for medical marijuana, and that can help candidates in tight races knock the worst drug warriors out of Congress and state legislatures.
And we want to make it so that not only can it be run nationally, but so that any LP candidate or local party can easily use it just by adding their own tag line.
And we want a commercial that will convince people that a policy of compassion is better than one of incarceration, and that will motivate them to vote for the Party of Principle and our candidates.
We haven't finalized a script yet, but we are leaning toward something like this:
Picture a "little old lady in tennis shoes," except she's also in a wheelchair. Her husband's beside her, her children in back, along with their many trophies from school.
She starts talking about how the voters in her state voted to make her medicine legal, and her doctor recommends it, but the government sent armed agents to close down the dispensary. She explains how painful and life threatening her condition is, and how medical marijuana is the medicine that treats it more effectively than any other.
And she says politicians who have taken away the medicine that gives her relief. She talks about the threat of arrest for using medicine that could help save her life, and how her doctor is threatened with loss of license just for recommending marijuana.
And she asks, "Why would they do that to me, I'm a cancer patient, not a criminal?"
Then a tag line with:
"Our policy toward medical marijuana patients should not be one of handcuffs. This year vote common sense compassion, not incarceration. Vote Libertarian."
And there would be space on the end for either a candidate or local party tag.
Would you like to see a commercial like that?
Do you want to see us produce a commercial:
That will resonate with the 73% of American voters who are on our side on this issue?
That any one of our 2,000 candidates this year could easily use for their campaign?
That could be used by the national LP, and any state or local party, to persuade voters that we are the party of common sense and compassion?
That could move just enough voters to switch from an incumbent drug warrior to the Libertarian candidate that the prohibitionist goes down to defeat?
Medical Marijuana is probably the only issue where 73% of the public is on our side – and 90% of current elected officials are on the other. It passes in every state where it is put to a vote of the people, and we must force the federal government to respect the will of the people on this issue.
This is an issue where the Libertarian Party can play a critical role in ending an insanely cruel policy the produces nothing but suffering.
But to play that critical role, we have to give our candidates and local parties the right tools.
Will you please contribute right now to give our candidates and local parties this "peace weapon" to use against the drug warriors?
Please go here to make your best possible donation.
PS: If you've read this far, thank you for sticking with me. Will you please stick with me a little further? Please read the action items below, contribute to our Medical Marijuana Ad Fund, and join our Drug War Task Force mailing list.
The good news is that even in Congress, there is movement in our direction. Barney Frank's Medical Marijuana bill (HR2592) now has 36 co-sponsors – up 12 just since February. And with medical cannabis passing in every state that has had a public referendum on the issue, sooner or later Congress must bend to the public's will.
Please send your best donation today, so that our pressure can make it sooner, not later.
Please, help us speak up for the many patients who cannot openly speak for themselves for fear of arrest. Thank you.
posted by Hal Dunn 8:57 PM