Wandering and Wondering
...by Bernadette Webster
I am traveling, moving through people's lives, through spectacular country, through hearts and minds. I've come back to the earth and folk who spawned me.
There are many variations here of the themes of stories we hear in Humboldt. There are a lot of angry, alienated people wondering when we'll ever get our country back. I find the usual complacency -- "It'll never happen to me" -- countered by the customary helplessness. I think that every town needs a CLMP these days.
In southern Oregon I was told of several Humvees parading down the middle of the main street of Cave Junction a few years back. They were heading into the hills behind town for one guy suspected of growing pot. They didn't find any cultivation, but they did find some "paraphernalia" and, by scraping many people's stashes together, about an ounce of smokable pot.
There's a story from the Columbia River Gorge that a judge and his wife came into a restaurant for dinner. During the afternoon he had sentenced and put away the waitress' boyfriend for growing marijuana. They ordered (alcoholic) drinks before asking for their meal. The wife chimed in with the remark, "Make his an extra strong one. He's had a hard day."
In northern Oregon I visited a friend who is doing time for growing pot. I saw mothers, sisters, lovers, friends and children flying into the arms of men they have been missing. There were families circling around in chairs, sharing their lives, filling in the holes made by long absences. Happy babies bounced on their dads' knees and couples wrapped fondly into each other. I realize that it was a low-security camp and I was seeing the prisoners who did get visitors, but I couldn't help but feel that there sure are a lot of nice folks locked up in that place.
The son of one of the prisoners brought in a court ruling from the 10th District in the Midwest. This considered the validity of testimony given in court by people who are promised leniency for bearing witness against other defendants. A three-judge panel determined that this type of "evidence" is not only tainted, but bought as well. While, like California's 215 Initiative, this affects only one region, a Federal District, its ripple effect could touch many, many people, particularly Drug War victims.
Oregon and Washington Highway Patrol cars have "State Police" printed on their sides. Pretty out front. One man described them as the FBI in attitude. Another, who was stopped for doing 55 mph in a 50 mph zone, was infuriated when the cop told him he was doing 60. His passenger had been a cop and couldn't understand the point of fabricating a crime when there is plenty of unlawful activity to concentrate on.
An old friend's mid-twenties-age son was stopped one night and heard the all-too-familiar refrain, "It smells like smoke in here." He'd worked hard all day at a construction job, spent the evening at his parents and was headed for his grandparents' house where he was staying while they were out of town. He hadn't even had a beer. He tolerated a search without permission because he didn't know how to defend himself from it. The cops have lost the trust of another hard working, taxpaying citizen. I, naively, have been thinking that Humboldt/Mendocino counties are the testing grounds for this kind of stuff. It's particularly hard to go back to my hometown and hear that it's happening even there.
In Washington state I found parents frightened of the DARE program which becomes mandatory in the 5th grade in some schools. I have more than once heard "Brown Shirts" and "Good Germans" mentioned in conjunction with forced police-taught education. One mother told me of her battle fighting for "Mentor as opposed to Monitor." Police at a huge sidewalk craft fair in one of the satellite cities of Seattle took a whole street corner for their DARE pitch. They took pictures of kids sitting in their DARE-marked cars and motorcycles. T-shirt sales were hot. This is all supported and funded by Congress. They make it all seem so normal and healthy. Clinking around in the back of my mind are the thoughts that the Nazis were equally charming and that people are so easily duped when they have no historic background to relate it to.
The small town newspapers up here carry the same occasional, glorified, front-page pot bust accounts that we find in Humboldt/Mendo land. Always, they are unquestioned, fresh off the police blotter, just as we are accustomed to. You know, the well-rounded, unbiased news that we were trained to put out in high school.
In a cafe in a coastal town in Oregon, I overheard snatches of conversations of how long-hairs are not safe from the police after dark here (these words spoken by a short-hair) and the DMV setups that make you breathe into a machine before the engine of your car will fire up.
There was a morning that a Seattle radio station produced a talk show about the tobacco lawsuit which the State of Washington has been involved in. As well as taking call-ins, committed parties from both sides were interviewed. An attorney general said that this is a case pertaining to product liability. While it is a drug, it is completely legal for citizens to use it. She observed that tobacco is one of the most deadly commodities on the market today, yet it remains one of the least regulated. (I remember noticing ten years ago that the United States refused to give foreign aid to Southeast Asian countries unless they allowed the importation of U.S. tobacco. Being so complicit, I've been rather amazed that our government has permitted so much damage to the nicotine industry.)
I used to find it repugnant that tobacco smokers were given the freedom to be addicted to the product of their choice while calling pot smokers "drug addicts." A woman once groused to me that it was wrong that she was having to pay more and more taxes for her cigarettes. I told her to just be glad that she didn't have to deal with helicopters in her face or to confront the possibility of getting hauled off to a lockdown for lighting up. She looked surprised at the notion. Another lady asked me out of the blue whether I thought marijuana should be legalized or not. In the ensuing conversation she went on to tell me that when she had smoked cigarettes, she would dance around on one foot while she lit up before she would sit down to relieve her bladder. I congratulated her for quitting, reminding her that nicotine is supposed to be harder to withdraw from than heroin. She looked a bit shaken that she had just been lumped in with "drug addicts." I then gently asked her whether or not she thought that marijuana should be legalized.
I now find myself in the strange position of defending tobacco smokers. Many of them have staunchly alleged that they should have the right to kill themselves any way they please. While, personally, I find this concept a bit disconcerting, perhaps, judiciously, they should be allowed to if indeed we are to live in a free society.
At the end of my trip, I am told in a Eureka parking lot that a Winnemucca, Nevada newspaper ran a front page story for three days about a guy who got busted for one joint. As long as the money is in the Drug War, this is what we can expect.
So where do we go from here?
We are fast becoming a country of cops or cons. As the prison system grows, so too does the despair. Yet everywhere folks are as I've always found humanity, full of warmth and outpouring even to a stranger. To me the only thing that matters is that we care for each other no matter what outrageous behavior we are confronted with. If we lose our love and compassion, then we have truly lost all. For thousands of years, victim classes have been downtrodden. Yet even while their bodies have been ground down, some among them have shown indomitable spirits. Love one another -- still the Greatest Commandment -- the only way to truly "win" in these gruesome times.