WaterFire Providence: “A Time To Come Together”

January 4th, 2011 we in Rhode Island had a special WaterFire torch lighting ceremony in Downtown Providence to commemorate the inauguration of Governor-elect Lincoln Chafee, State Attorney General-elect Peter Kilmartin, Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts, and General Treasurer-elect Gina Raimondo.

This was done in leiu of an expensive yet traditional black-tie ball. WaterFire volunteers spent 2 weeks leading up to the ceremony breaking 2-inch thick ice from boats with sledgehammers to keep the basin from freezing over. The ‘motto’ of the Inauguration was “A Time To Come Together.” It made me immediately think of my high school prom and then I wanted to throw up. Anyway, my husband “FaceBooked” me and said ‘Waterfire Jan. 4th needs to be FreeMarcified.” I knew he was right – January 4th is Mrs. Emery’s birthday.

We contacted the editor of our local (and only) Medical Marijuana Magazine, 1000 Watts, and asked them if they could put out a message about our plans. They then surprised us the next day with a poster on both their website 1000watts.net and Facebook page, plus their staffers’ pages, it was so encouraging!

So I have to admit, a lot of my supplies are reused at each gathering. But, they were worth the initial time it took to put into them. Two Words: Foam Board. Double side it with your posters/clear packing tape and they last forever and are super light and rigid. We also had more postcards from the DC Rally, and t-shirts (mostly girl sizes) so the 1000watts Calendar Girls that volunteered now all have their own Free Marc t-shirts!

“Did you say Free Margaritas?”

I left work and flew up to Providence for 5:20pm. When I got there my husband, my friends, and the 1000Watts staff were there with a Free Marc poster and a Google Marc Emery poster hanging off the pedestrian bridge overlooking the WaterFire basin and walkways below. There weren’t a lot of people there early (all partying at the inaugural dinners downtown). My husband jokingly noted afterwards that the Senior Citizens aren’t ignoring us, they are just hard of hearing so you have to speak louder as they walk away!

We stayed on the bridge the first hour and were first approached by three Providence Police officers and later two RI State Troopers. I really need to point out that our RI Law Enforcement during peaceful protests has always been polite, courteous, curious, and respectful.

The Providence police officers asked who Marc was, why he was in the US, and why we were helping him. They always have good questions and listen. They all took our Free Marc PostCards addressed to the US Dept of Justice. One of the State Troopers commented to Keith, “Well, I can’t give you my Boss’ endorsement but I understand where you’re coming from.”

We stayed a bit longer and then walked around the basin down to the other side where the Torch Ceremony would take place. There was a lot of elected and retired officials, their family and friends, news crews, photographers, Law Enforcement, you get the idea.

1000Watts also had their second issue released that night and the founder of the magazine brought countless copies each with a postcard, and the 1000Watts Calendar Girls worked the crowds and gave them out. One of them even gave a copy with the card to the new Mayor of Providence.

Two college students we’d never met, Dylan and Vinny, walked by us down at the basin by all the “big-wigs.” One said “Free Marc?” and I said “That’s right, Free Marc EMERY!.” They went on, but came back shortly after and wanted to know all about Marc Emery and why we were protesting. They ended up helping us! They held a Free Marc sign and ushered folks over to me to answer questions. They stayed until it was over. Its very inspiring and reenergizes me when things like that happen. Really.

I had an audience at one point, all of us leaning over the banister of the walkway, of about 6 or 7 women (the wives and relatives of the officials) listening intently, asking questions, debating. I’m so glad DC was before this because I had practice! I was overwhelmed by the unexpected curiosity and receptiveness to WHY WE WERE THERE. One woman finally said to me “well I think we should legalize ALL drugs” and because I did not expect that from this woman, by my misjudging her, I actually had to ask back “you said you think all drugs should be ILLEGAL?” and she said, “No, they should all be LEGAL.”

300 Torches Burning on the Water

We knew when the procession was about to start because the Troopers started shifting around and news cameras started pushing their way to get a good pan. Chafee led the procession and we all to press back against the banisters to make way for them. Chafee approached and our signs went up, “Free Marc” we shouted. Chafee looked up at the sign and either he already really likes Marc Emery or it must have caught him off guard (or he was glad it wasn’t protesters against HIM for a change) because he smiled and said “Yeay!” Fabulous. They went on to light first the Governor’s torch, then he lit all the other official’s torches, and they all lit a large one together. There was a fire dancer, Spogga Hash, on a boat spinning his fires and sparks.

WaterFire Providence is something I’ve gone to for years, its beautiful, relaxing, the smell of the burning wood stays in your clothes in hair. It’s wonderful no matter if it’s summer or -7 Celsius (19 F) out!

We held our signs, smiled and talked to people and finally ended the night as folks were heading out (to party some more). It cost $1.00 to park for 3 hours. That’s what my bill ran me this time. Everything was recycled or homemade or donated to us. I ended my night speaking to an older man, puffing his [tobacco]pipe, and asking me about Marc. It led to Canadian drug policy, American drug policy, medicinal marijuana, how he hated it when he tried it as a teenager, how Chafee probably used it during college…it was grand. For all I know that guy is a professor at Brown and I just gave him a viewpoint he hadn’t heard before. (In my ideal world this happens. It does!) I just try to look at every little experience as an opportunity to spread peace and compassion.

I’ve finished a package, 24 pages, bound in a presentation binder, to be given to my Senators Perry and Slater, as well as our new Governor Lincoln Chafee. No more emails. No more letters. Time to walk into that big marble and granite building and hand-deliver our request. A one page letter, as outlined on freemarc.ca, requesting a speedy approval of Marc Emery’s Transfer Application back to Canada. Despite the ‘ceremony’ and the big ‘hullabaloo’ as if they were gods, the news and the police….Politicians are OUR employees. They work for us. Walk through that big marble building and put your employees back to work. And make sure you bring stamps!



  1. Dave on

    Sorry Catharine, your the author! It should say, Actually Anonymous, check-out…

  2. Dave on

    Actually Catharine, check-out: Tashkin Cannabis Cancer on google then let the community know if you still feel the same way?

  3. Anonymous on

    It’s a shame that free Marc poster has him smoking; smoking influences cancer.
    Emery shouldn’t be punished for selling cannabis seeds, beyond reasonable doubt, for the sake of truth & ethics. Your work here seems admirable, Catharine Leach.