|Killer Mike likes my shirt! Read to the end for details.|
In the midst of a culture riddled with violence, natural disasters, economic uncertainty and threats to our civil rights, small steps continue to move us forward. Tonight, I'm celebrating the good news: Atlanta, Georgia, just passed a city ordinance to decriminalize cannabis! It is official: Possessing up to one ounce of marijuana in the city of Atlanta no longer guarantees a criminal record. Rather, it can be resolved with a simple citation and $75 USD fine.
While law enforcement officers will have leeway in choosing whether to honor the new ordinance or the harsher penalties called for by Georgia state law, today's vote shows major progress. It at least allows people a chance of escaping the dead-end downward spiral which an arrest record can cause. It also sends the message that, while cannabis use isn't for everyone, it isn't a crime either.
Legalization is the next step. I have total admiration for all my friends within Peachtree NORML who have worked relentlessly to insure that people keep talking--among themselves, with their local government officials, at their places of work, at their places of worship, in the media, and via their personal art and activism--about the benefits of cannabis and the need to reform the laws surrounding its use. Georgia Care Project also deserves tremendous credit for bringing change to Atlanta.
The same is true for the government officials who support our work as activists. This past Saturday I witnessed Senator Vincent Fort give voice to his promise to legalize cannabis in Atlanta should he win his current campaign to become mayor. Fort, backed by none other than Senator Bernie Sanders and Atlanta's own hip-hop activist Killer Mike, explained that legalization is a significant human rights issue. I learned Saturday that Atlanta tops national charts for limited class mobility. I also learned a leading reason for this is the crippling series of events which often follow an arrest for possession of marijuana.
Unfortunately, one thing I've encountered in my activism is a stunning lack of enthusiasm for legalization as a social justice issue. If policies do not impact people directly, in ways they immediately feel, many become dismissive. For them, the systemic racism inherent to the drug war does not matter if they are not a person of color themselves. Likewise, the threat of arrest for marijuana doesn't hit home if they either abstain or have lived successfully under the radar for many years.
The same principles apply to other issues facing Atlanta right now as well--specifically the loss of homes to imminent domain, the fight for a living wage and public education reform at both the K-12 and university level. The urgent need for solutions is lost on those who have never lived in a threatened zone, never struggled to meet their basic needs, never sought learning alternatives for their children, or never graduated with advanced degrees and no employment in sight.
In my opinion, the passage of today's decriminalization ordinance can galvanize people to wake from unintentional complacency. This is thanks to its potential to eliminate some deeply held stigmas. For example, unconscious racism, passed down through generations, will abate when fewer people of color are arrested over time. Likewise, I feel derogatory attitudes toward drug use will abate when adults openly demonstrate responsible use of marijuana.
Most importantly, people who have intentionally placed themselves within boxes because they wish to be "law-abiding" will feel more empowered to take ownership of their health and to fulfill their desires for the peace of mind and physical pleasure which cannabis use can bring. Signaling that use isn't inherently criminal affords people greater safety stepping outside their self-imposed comfort zones and literally experiencing new ways of perceiving reality.
My Grandmother's Boots
Thanks to my maternal grandmother, Laura "Nini" Yarbrough, I've had a unique opportunity for experiencing life in another person's shoes. This is because Nini died August 24 and left me the legacy of her wardrobe. My favorite item is a pair of high-heeled burgundy boots.
Nini always showed tremendous intelligence and a level of social awareness which transcended the norms of her time, especially in rural Alabama where she came of age. She always "got" my poetry and was proud I attended the Women's March on Washington. Nonetheless, she made peace with a homemaker's life and dedicated much of her personal energy to challenging healthcare providers whom she ultimately discovered had done her as much harm as good.
One of the last times I saw Nini, I thanked her for the story she passed on to me, and I pledged to continue carrying her energy out into the world. I take great pleasure in knowing that I am bringing her spirit into spaces where I feel she would never have stepped, yet nonetheless inspired me to go.
So far, my favorite of these places has been a photo opp with Killer Mike after the rally I attended Saturday. While Bernie Sanders and Vincent Fort made a respectful but swift exit, Killer Mike remained longer to take pictures with fans and to chat with the media. I find it fitting that, of the three, he is the artist, the one who shares his cause not so much by speaking about it as by allowing us to feel it--through his music mostly, as well as through the experience of knowing him, albeit fleetingly. Very patiently, he took time to calmly connect with each person gathered around him. He looked at, not past, each of us and found something positive and unique to say. Based on our energy, he gave hugs and high fives, extended invitations to come see him in his barber shop and to keep in touch. When people asked him to back their causes, he kindly asked to see some information first, establishing a boundary with grace.
When it came to me, he said he liked my shirt. I was in "NORML Mom mode," showing up in support of the decriminalization measure which passed today.
From a Moment to a Movement
|After the rally|
Speaking to the public, Killer Mike directed us to transform moments of inspiration into a movement supporting a greater cause, and I feel this greater cause centers on the ability to recognize and embrace our inherent and shared humanity. Doing this will allow us to begin re-shaping some of our driving cultural stories so that we can better address major challenges of our time--from climate change, to police brutality, to affordable housing, to minimum wage, to healthcare, to education reform, to nuclear war, to religious oppression, to freedom of expression, to a transition from capitalism to whatever comes next.
By encouraging freedom of expression and action, decriminalizing marijuana allows us to be just a little bit more in touch with our inherent humanity, and this is one of the reasons why it excites me so much.
To help Atlanta take their latest victory forward into a greater movement, please consider joining Peachtree NORML or the Georgia Care Project in their efforts to move from decriminalization to legalization. Also, if you have the opportunity to vote for Vincent Fort, please do! I know campaign volunteers will remain welcome from now until the election as well. To explore Fort's platform and access details about election day and volunteering, please visit VincentFort.com.
Finally, I thank you for reading this column and ask always that you allow this post to be a seed. Share it, and watch it grow!