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There is a song from the late 1960s by the folk duo Friend and Lover that includes the lyric “Reach out in the darkness and you may find a friend.” It’s human nature to think that the darkness is comprised of all things different and uncertain. It’s natural to experience fear and apprehension when approaching the unfamiliar or uncomfortable. However, as activists it’s our responsibility to pierce that darkness and to bridge the canyons between political affiliations, occupations, and beliefs. The changes we seek can only occur if we’re brave enough to cross into the dusk and secure allies, no matter how unlikely they may seem.
Recently, I was involved in a conversation with friends, and we found ourselves discussing the role of law enforcement in the fight for legalization. One of those present was a passionate man I know to be dedicated to our cause and who has worked exceptionally hard to raise awareness for the cannabis movement in our region. But as I testified to the existence of the good officers I know are among us and our need to approach them respectfully in the hope they will chime in on the outcry for reform, I could see the distaste rising in my activist friend. His response was essentially that I was naïve and that, so long as these “good cops” turned a blind eye to the corruption and damaging effects of the drug war, he could not consider them a potential ally. He’d seen too much injustice. He was angry. He was distrustful. Try as I might, nothing I said could change his mind.
I understand his anger and frustration. With more and more eyes on law enforcement, through personal recordings, media coverage, and watchdog groups like Cop Block, we see a great deal of abuse/misuse of power. It truly is offensive, and we can so easily slip into total distrust and absolute fear. Some, like my friend and maybe one of yours, may even find that hatred better describes their feelings toward seeing our civil liberties blatantly trampled underfoot by the people entrusted with protecting them.
Yet many, including myself, appreciate the need for close scrutiny of any position of authority while not discounting those occupations as having reasonable, compassionate, and forward-thinking individuals within their ranks. I would even venture to say that the majority of voices raised in support of pot feel the same and are ready to throw down some dialogue whenever, wherever, with whomever.
It is a good feeling to be one little light amongst a network of diamonds in the dark, to work with a group of activists who are so positive and willing and determined. Many have been pissed off by suffering, by discrimination, by wastefulness, and by deceit. But the human heart can transform that anger to passion, temper it with thoughtfulness, respect, and humility, and in this way some useful gift is bestowed: our voices.
But anger is a tricky thing, and while it’s certainly a miraculous motivator, it can also be a stunting burden. Anger is traumatic, and it can cause some to seek isolation or to fear reaching out. If we’re sincere about change, we can’t afford to isolate ourselves, and we can’t be afraid to tell our stories or opinions to the people in our communities with whom we assume we have the least in common.
We have to link arms with each other and still be reaching out with our free hand into unsure territory. We have to seek allies in even the unlikeliest of places, because they are there waiting. When we discount people because they work in law enforcement or because they’re liberal or conservative, rich or poor, young, old, or whatever they are that is different from us as individuals, we’re hurting the cause we work so hard for, slowing the pace of crucial progress, and letting down the folks whose lives, families, and futures depend on reform.
Abraham Lincoln said, “I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.” If I could ask just one thing of my activist family, it would be this: Locate the darkness, whatever it is to you: law enforcement, religious leaders, your conservative neighbor, or your own kin. Go to it with a warm heart and some cold hard facts in order to start a productive conversation on cannabis reform.
Wherever you fear the most judgment and adversity, that is where you have to go. And you might find, once there, that you have more allies than you’d thought. You might also find the judgment and adversity you’d feared. As an activist it’s likely you’ve been acquainted with a Negative Nancy before. No big whoop; on to the next one. You might find there are but a meager few willing to engage with you, and that’s fine too. The sympathetic minds you’ll meet are only made more precious by their rarity.
Once you decide to venture outside your comfort zone and connect, here are some tips to keep in mind.
- When beginning a dialogue with anyone you assume will be unfriendly or disputatious, keep it tactful. No matter how the individual actually feels about the issue, your talk will come to a swift end if your tone is disrespectful or accusatory.
- Once you’ve broken the ice, stick to the topic at hand. You won’t find people who agree with you on every issue, and you don’t need to.
- Lastly, be sure to let them know that information is available from sources they can trust. A few I like are Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Christians Against Prohibition, Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, and of course the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Prohibition affects us all; it only makes sense that it’s going to take every kind of citizen collectively to enact change.
Challenge yourself as an activist and challenge each other to reach out, because I promise you it will be so groovy when people finally get together.
Photo Credit: Sulking by Edward Degas under public domain via the Metropolitan Museum of Art