4/20: To Celebrate & Remember

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April 20th will soon be upon us with little festivals and large gatherings that will hopefully welcome those who celebrate the cannabis plant and the dream of freedom with love and a safe place to partake in sacrament, medicine or revelry. As the countdown to that hallowed time on that hallowed day, there will be cheers erupting, maybe even some happy tears. People will share in communal cannabis in the spirit of this new age in which we find ourselves these days.

For me, I’ll be at the HIGH TIMES Cannabis Cup in Denver, CO representing at the NORML Women’s Alliance booth. Days prior, the city will be alive with arriving pot dignitaries, local activists and industry insiders co-mingling as we often do, cultural icons from Cheech & Chong to Snoop Lion & Wiz Khalifa performing and celebrating with us. I’ll be having a nice brunch at the Wake’n Bacon event on Easter Sunday. It’ll be so nice to see many of the friends I’ve made throughout these years of activism and media, the cultural emergence of the mainstream trying to understand us as they are now becoming more open to trying to at least process our varying demographics and indeed, comprehend we are not one singular entity of hippies and farmers (blessed though they are with having preserved and kept the genetics alive before it was cool or slightly safer to do so).

The two most busy days for me will be at the Cup with NORML Women’s Alliance and Colorado NORML Women’s Alliance. We will see thousands of people and there will be hugging, information exchanged, treats sampled, wares to be raffled. We’ll see faces in delight and abject wonder because many of the attendees will never have experienced an environment so free and proliferate in cannabis culture, and they will scarce believe they are in the United States. That is both beautiful and sad to me.

In all this bustle and yes, hustle for some, it will be crowded and electric. Of course, I will be smiling a lot and the air likely will be thick with cannabis exhalations and exaltation. It will be noisy and fun, definitely. But I will find myself lost in thought, remembering all those I’ve known during my time as an activist who never lived to see this day.

Cheryl Miller

The day Cheryl & I met at the 1999 Million Marijuana March in New York City.
PHOTO: Jim Miller/Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey

For me, 4/20 is indeed something to celebrate but it is also a time to remember. I will remember my first true mentor for female activism, Cheryl Miller from Toms River, NJ. I will not think about her reclined wheelchair nor will I remember that she was paralyzed from MS or that she could barely speak above a whisper. What I will remember is the light that glowed from her entire being, I will see her eyes telling me things that could not be translated with mere words. I will remember her strength and the love her husband Jim had for her. I will remember holding her delicate hands when they ached and trying with ¬†all my will to send her energy from my own hands to help make the spasms stop. I will remember eulogizing her in 2003 with ‘Invictus’ and being followed by a fire and brimstone preacher who told us we might never see her again if we did not accept Christ as our savior. I will remember thinking “Christ is most likely nice and I will see my activism mama again.” I will smile wistfully. I will touch my hand to the cage in which my heart resides. I will.

On 4/20, I will remember Chuck Palmer who eventually succumbed to AIDS and end-stage liver disease. I will remember his jolly and strange jokes and how he never seemed be in a bad mood despite his body being broken and the many operations he endured as his body disintegrated. I will smile because I loved his moppy multi-colored hair that he never touched but threw his head to the side and made a perfect Technicolor Beatles flip. I will hear his voice chanting at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia that “Gay people are people too and AIDS gets its ass kicked sometimes by cannabis!” into my silly little megaphone we scraped together to buy.

I won’t remember all the uncomfortable flights and car rides and train trips but I will remember arriving at cities across this great land and the butterflies I got as I walked closer to the demonstrations and could hear drums beating, chants shouted in unison for freedom, how that made me cry and smile hard simultaneously. I will celebrate the souls I saw reflecting my own deep and soulful dreams of what being a free-thinker meant, how it ignited my soul and changed me through the years.

I will remember why I decided to give my life over to cannabis reform and the people I’ve fought alongside, some of whom served time in jail and lost their families one way or another by child removal or by being shot or the stress of being apart with one partner free and other sentenced to serve decades behind bars. Some of them were pitted against one another in trial, once a father implored a sobbing son to turn over on him because he had a long and happy life and wanted the same for his boy. I will remember the sounds of mothers screaming in agony for their children as they’re torn apart by child protective services and the police sent to accompany them to marginalize and separate them over a plant. I will remember these things, these sounds that reach down into my guts and shred them to bits.

I will remember.