Get local news delivered straight to your phone
The Marquis de Lafayette—that sullied frog dupe. If only the general had known that his bucolic block of namesake outside the White House would serve as stomping grounds for every radical jackleg from Anacostia to Azerbaijan, surely he’d have opted for a strip mall in McLean.
Many of his park’s tenants speak their own peculiar tongue, such as the raspy-voiced gent sucking down tall-boys like they were Junior Mints: “I’m a mother’s boy. I smoke marijuana. Put ’em in jail. I’m a jumbo judgin’ muthafucka.” Needless to say, his bench is all his own.
Then there’s that Spanish, babushka’d bag lady who’s been manning the cot next to her no-nukes stand for the past 16 years. “No holidays, no vacations, no movies,” she says. Ah, Concepcion, I’m short on small bills, but here’s a tip: Nuclear abolition is a lonely beat. Pot is what’s hot.
Or at least it was last weekend, during National Marijuana Day in Protest Park. The Fourth of July Hemp Coalition, named for its raucous Fourth of July march-on-the-Mall smoke-ins, sponsored a tamer tune-up engagement on April Fool’s Day. Some 500 potheads turned out en masse, though it was slow going for the image-conscious attendees early on. “No one wants to be the first through the door at a pot rally,” observed John Pylka, the coalition’s head.
Many tags abound for the patrons of this freakstival, but “chic” isn’t one of them. Everywhere you turned it was filthy cords and fringe-booted leftovers with Johnny Fever coifs, Jamaican Red Ganja Weed shirts, wool-socked Birkenclerks, and backward-leaf-hatted, pre-pube mall refugees in velour Pumas who told their parents they were shopping at Pentagon City—then kept orange-lining right down to the boo jamboree.
They held up their “Free the Weed” and “Piss on Drug Testing” placards. They distributed enough inky “fact” sheets to fingerprint the entire Medellín drug cartel. They hocked their Hemp and Aloe Facial Wash to a crowd with no apparent interest in hygiene products. And looking on was a steady stream of rubbernecking, fanny-packing, cherry-blossom strays who had taken wrong turns, but still had the presence of mind to click pictures for Aunt May back in Tulsa, chronicling their foray into the heart of darkness.
Pylka, who looks like the love child of Bob Guccione Jr. and Angus Young, read shout-outs to the doobie brothers observing National Marijuana Day throughout the land: “Austin—great party town, man!…Columbus, Ohio—a lot of anarchists in Columbus, man—cool place!” At NMJ-Day’s hub in Atlanta, stoners came out by the thousands to hear music and get blunted. But here in Washington, we sat on the grass and were served the mixed-nut party tray of speakers denouncing mandatory minimums, touting the best places to be jailed, and getting misty over Amsterdam, where you can legally roll joints the size of your forearm.
Support City Paper!
“The FDA has not studied marijuana, and why haven’t they? Because it’s illegal—what a sham!” ranted Pylka. “We gotta bring that to their attention and put it in their faces. I’m tired of being lied to.”
Pylka was very fond of blacklisting the treasonous: “[Drug czar] Lee Brown, you’re a traitor to your country….Those people over there [pointing to the White House] are traitors to their country….Donna Shalala, you’re the head of Health and Human Services and you won’t give marijuana to people who need it for medicinal purposes…you’re a traitor to your country.”
And all this time I’d thought the merry hempsters were fighting for the right to stare at their tie-dyed navels while baking on Alaska Thundermudfuck. Nonsense; these kids are just concerned about the intraocular pressure on glaucoma patients’ eyeballs, and school children not having hemp paper for their three-ring binders.
The endless parade of activist windbags droned on. “If I’ve ruined anyone’s buzz today, I’m glad,” chastised Richard Cowen, the grand old man from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “If you don’t speak for freedom, you don’t deserve the high.”
The pro-pot libertarians also showed up, to promote their upcoming “No More Gas and Tank Attacks on Americans” Waco protest at the FBI. These cats should stop worrying about getting the government out of our lives and start subcontracting as crowd controllers. Get a libertarian activist riffing on the Branch Davidian debacle, and you could shut down Rio during Carnival.
Then there was Keith Halderman, an American University grad student who cornered me and anyone else he could punish with his narcolectures. Hemp is to Halderman what the peanut was to George Washington Carver. In fact, it would be much easier for him to list what’s not made from hemp than all the things created from the flower of the gods: Doormats, sails, ropes, birdseed, the Constitution, the original U.S. flag, and George Bush’s parachute are but a few. Had I not nodded off in midstream, I’m sure I would’ve heard the part about how, if it weren’t for those oil ‘n’ steel skinflint pudwhackers, we’d all be pumping hemp unleaded into hemp Hondas.
During the individual audience testimonials, one helmet-haired apostle said in a quivering, confessional voice: “I love my country and fear my government.” Nothing to fear here, Spliffy. The Man has lost a step. When I interviewed the U.S. Park Police, the sarge said he hadn’t seen anyone smoking. But we were all smelling something, and it wasn’t Drakkar.
In fact, the only police intervention I witnessed all day was toward the end of the event, when a suspicious cloud formed above the heads of a pubescent pack. Two Park Police waded into the group and gave the youngsters a stern talking to. Afterward, one baby-faced burnout said, “They said smoke it later. They saw it, but they can’t do shit.” Another chatty Cathy offered, “Here’s the bowl. They thought it was those kids, but I had it shoved up my crotch.”
Stereotypes aside, these young potheads were in tip-top mental shape, outsmarting the bulls and all. As a young MENSA-ite named Kirk later explained, “Marijuana is a natural remedy, it’s a stimulant, it’s used to relax you.”
Maybe. As for myself, I passed by the dutchie—I went down to the demonstration, but didn’t get my prescription filled. Still, as my Cypress Hill liner notes point out, George Washington may have been onto something when he said, “Make the most of the hemp seed, sow it everywhere.”
Or perhaps one of those fanny-packing tourists had it right when he said, “If this is the face of the hemp movement, they may want to think about a veil.”