Well over 100,000 pot smokers jammed over 90 city centres around the world, blocked traffic, surrounded police stations and government buildings, chanted anti-drug war slogans, and puffed the healing herb. It was May 6 ? “Jay Day” ? the day of the global Millennium Marijuana March (MMM), and record numbers were drawn in a show of world-wide unity for an end to prohibition. In some cities the marches were peaceful, but in others cops broke heads and arrested demonstrators by the hundreds.
The turn-out was incredible. Despite rampant police abuse in last year’s New York march, as many as 15,000 people claimed Manhattan’s streets for the weed. In London, England at least 60,000 streamed from their flats to flood the festival, after which 20,000 took to the streets. Over 8,000 camped-out in Nimbin, Australia, for their traditional Mardi Grass. Like last year, the turn out in world-famous cities like Montreal, San Francisco, Melbourne, Auckland, Berlin, Prague, Oslo, Johannesburg, and Tel Aviv was in the thousands. This year, Millennium Marijuana Marches also rocked cities in Jamaica, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Holland, Croatia, and Brazil.
New marches sprang up like weed. This year over 90 cities participated, 30 more than last year. Organizers are already planning marches in new cities next year. Regina organizer Charles Scott, a busted medical marijuana grower, can’t wait. He will hold a march on the Saskatchewan legislature on June 3 of this year. “There are going to be 150 joints given away,” promised Scott, “and we are sowing 2 kilos of live hemp seed around the buildings.” With the march growing in scope and size every year, it won’t be long before the yearly event hot-boxes the planet with drug peace.
The march has become a voice for marijuana users around the world. Placards and chants registered the wide range of ideals, and even humour, characteristic of cannabis culture everywhere. “Weed is good so you should smoke some.” took first prize in the sign contest in Vancouver, winning one lucky toker a glass bong. Others were simple exhortations. The crowds shouted “Free the weed!” in Austin Texas, and “Medical marijuana now!” in New Orleans. Some, like “Hey, hey, DEA, how many homes have you seized today?” ? chanted by Santa Barbara marchers ? were satirical expressions of frustration at years of drug war oppression.
Live plants on the march
Millennium Marijuana Marchers demonstrated with an “in-your-face” attitude. In Vancouver, Canada, crowds carried at least fifty live pot plants high above their heads, hiking down the streets like a walking grow op! In West Los Angeles, march organizer Sister Somayah described how the crowd was led by a live, budding pot plant.
“We proceeded up South on Crenshaw with a police parade escort,” wrote CC correspondent Sister Somayah of the Nigritian Keef Society, “accompanied by Mr Peoples’ Black Holocaust Slave Ship heralded as the first rolling Monument to our Nigritian ancestors, who were captured and held hostage to work in chattel slavery to build the United Snakes of aMeriKKKa. We chanted… JAH HERB… doctor doctor… give it to the People… police police… stop arresting my people…”
Indeed, the prejudices of the drug war were on many people’s minds this Jay Day. Members of the gay community, who have always been strong international supporters of legalization, were instrumental in making this year’s event a success. LeAnne Owen, who describes herself as an “eco-feminist dyke,” organized a successful march in Burmingham, Alabama, on a meagerly budget of $500. Despite the fact that most of her advertising flyers were ripped down within a day of her posting them.
“My girlfriend is the head of the largest pro-choice group in the state,” said Owen. “As you can well imagine that makes my household a bit of a pariah in Alabama. A marijuana activist and a pro-choice activist under one roof.”
In some cities, response to support from the gay community was mixed. Linda Henry of the march-organizing Legalise Cannabis Campaign Scotland reported that in Edinburgh, “a gay rights group in orange t-shirts were sympathetic but some cannabis legalisers did not want to express solidarity with the gays. Others thought they could teach us a thing or two because cannabis would be legalised sooner if users came out of the closet.”
Occasional “arms-length” sentiments definitely swung both ways. In Washington, DC, march organizers at a gay-rights protest drawing 750,000 the weekend before the MMM refused to allow marijuana smokers to officially participate in the event. But most enlightened participants of both events realized that oppression is oppression, no matter what mask it wears.
Whiskey and bondage
By far, the largest minority represented in North American marches was medical marijuana users. From Vancouver to New York, from Washington, DC to Toronto, wheelchairs full of people suffering from multiple sclerosis, back injuries, arthritis and nerve disorders swelled the crowds with cries for compassion in their suffering.
In California, the San Francisco Examiner reported that marchers’ sentiment focused on proposition 215, which supposedly made medical marijuana legal in their state. Since it passed, noted the newspaper, the federal government has continued to arrest those who would medicate themselves with herb. “You know, we shouldn’t have to do this, hold a rally,” a marching arthritis sufferer told the Examiner. “If I can go buy a fifth of whiskey, I should be able to smoke a joint.”
In Washington DC, the same sentiment was expressed with graphic sexual flair. Erin Murray, our Washington DC correspondent, reported that Miriam White, NORML march organizer, appeared in an “attention-grabbing bondage outfit.” White explained: “My bondage gear symbolizes the bondage of all marijuana users. They voted approval of medical marijuana in 1998, but Congressman Bob Barr and other Congressional right-wingers prevented them from counting the votes and have so far prevented DC from officially implementing the voters’ will.”
Parks and city squares filled with smoky invectives against the drug war as cannabis celebrities took to the stage. In New Zealand, Nandor Tanczos, the world’s first Rastafarian MP, spoke in Auckland, while the head of the Aotearoa Legalize Cannabis Party, Michael Appleby, spoke in the capital city of Wellington. In London, England, Howard Marks, international drug smuggler and author of Mr Nice, inspired the masses.
While others cast seeds of wisdom, Vancouver activist Marc Emery gave away the seeds that have earned him a reputation as the Prince of Pot in cities around the world. Although intended as a “plant-in” in Vancouver’s Stanley Park, most of the thousands of high-quality seeds Marc handed out disappeared into pockets for later, more private planting.
In San Francisco, Mikki Norris, coauthor of Shattered Lives, addressed the teeming masses: “We are your daughters and sons, your sisters and parents. We are not criminals,” shouted the implacable Norris. Some police seemed to agree, as in most cities marchers were not harassed. But in other parts of the US, marijuana smokers were being beaten and jailed for marching at that very moment.
In Vancouver, Canada, I asked one cannabis carrying marcher to stand behind the crowd so that I could get a picture of him and his leafy plant back-dropped by police cars. I felt a bit tense as two officers on bikes suddenly approached us, but all they did was ask that we return to the centre of the crowd.
Our Austin, Texas, correspondent, Mary Jane, wrote to tell us, “Our event was beautiful, with no arrests. The police escorted us to the Capitol, shook my hand and thanked me for such a good and peaceful job, and then they left us at the Capitol.”
When marchers flooded capitol hill in Washington DC, police were equally helpful and made no arrests while marijuanaphiles lounged in the US seat of power, puffing stogies that would have made the founding fathers proud! Most cities were like Vancouver, Austin and Washington DC. Police officers watched with varying degrees of boredom and hatred ? but they did not arrest any of the hundreds of fist-waving, slogan-shouting, pot-smoking placard wavers in their midst.
New Orleans correspondent, Ashley the Fearless, reported that one incensed woman stomped up to a officer and demanded arrests. According to Fearless, the whining wretch’s eyes “flashed rabidly” as she cried, “How can you let them do this? They shouldn’t be allowed to do this!” Ironically, the officer asked her to step back onto the curb with the standard “Just doing my job.”
But in cities like Auckland, New Zealand, where cops played parade escort, the tension sometimes became too much. Maybe it was the “giant green alien on stilts accompanied by a walking marijuana leaf and carrying a six foot joint,” reported by NORML NZ’s Chris Fowlie that prompted one unhappy police officer to blow his lid. “At about 4pm we had our first and only arrest,” said Fowlie, “when a Police Sergeant with attitude arrived through a side gate and took away the first person he saw smoking. It was all over in about two minutes.” Fowlie sparked a huge doobie and invited the crowd to follow him to the police station to demonstrate against the arrest. They occupied the station until assured that no charges had been laid against the smoker.
Last year in New York, police distributed fake flyers promising free pot and telling demonstrators to arrive at the wrong location at the wrong time, then harnessed the energy of the disappointed crowd to attack sound equipment that was brought by the event’s real organizers… meanwhile, they made over 100 arrests. New York, chastised by Amnesty International for having some of the most brutal cops in North America, is the most marijuana-intolerant city in the US, thanks to drug-war pusher Mayor Guiliani. This year, New York pigs set out to earn their reputation as the meanest, most dishonest and contemptible pot haters around, claiming over 312 undercover arrests.
“We’re having a lot more impact, and that’s directly because of Mayor Giuliani,” said Dana Beal, founder of Cures Not Wars and organizer of the NY march, in a NY Daily News article. “They shot all these people and said it was alright, because they had drugs in their system.” Beal was referring to dozens of cases in which NY police have been implicated in the wrongful beatings, shootings and deaths of accused marijuana users, dealers and growers since Giuliani took office.
Police violence also erupted in Tampa, Florida, when demonstrators marched to the local courthouse. Bob Quail of the Florida Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (FORML) gave a stirring speech asking for the release of cannabis prisoners. “We want our brothers and sisters out of jail,” he said. Then, suddenly, several undercover officers pretending to be marchers dragged shocked demonstrators from the crowd as lights and sirens blazed from around the street corner.
A reporter from Florida’s St Petersburg Times described how a Tampa pot demonstrator was slammed mercilessly to the ground and nearly strangled by a cop while being repeatedly kneed in the back and cuffed. The incensed crowd screamed “Nazis! Nazis!” and lunged at the police, who quickly scampered for cover inside of the building.
In Oslo, Norway, a seventeen-year-old male was arrested for rolling a joint during the demonstration and thrown in the back of a police car. The car was instantly surrounded by about 30 youths, who hurled chunks of ashphalt and stones at the car, and two other cruisers, evenually demolishing them.
Police fought back, arresting 12 more people. NORML organizers believe the youths were anarchist demostrators, who also traditionally rally on May 6.
Smoke up their minds
Media coverage was slightly better than last year, when the throngs that took to the streets and the numerous arrests disappeared like phantoms in the next day’s newspapers and TV reports. This year, for example, the New York Daily News and Northern Ireland’s Belfast Telegraph, both headquartered in cannabis-intolerant cities, broke their silence to comment on the event, and even briefly paid homage to its global scope.
This kind of internationally coordinated grassroots event is a sure sign of the growing power and ability of our movement. Over 100,000 people demonstrating in over 90 cities is a massive act of civil disobedience, the scale and scope of which will only increase as the drug war drags on. The longer they arrest and harass us, the stronger and more organized we get.
Next year, help make the MMM bigger and better by standing up to government bullies and organizing a demonstration in your city, or by helping the organizers already in your area. Every single person that stands unshaken against drug-war oppression helps to free a generation of future pot prisoners.
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