Back in 1987, the marijuana rally scene had long since faded away, and it wasn’t until a group called the Freedom Fighters appeared that the modern rally scene took off. That’s because in the late 1970s, the media was using smoke-ins to mine images of hippies smoking joints in public, and these images were greatly alarming mainstream America, and were helping turn people against legalization.
Because it was so difficult to distinguish hippies from burnt-out drug fiends on looks alone, NORML began a policy of not supporting smoke-ins. It was the birth of what became known as “the suits versus the stoners.”
I thought it was a silly policy by NORML because you can’t have a culture if you don’t congregate and hold ceremonies. So when I got a letter from some students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor saying their legendary Hash Bash founded by John Sinclair was down to less than a dozen die-hards and about to die, I took action by creating the High Times Freedom Fighters.
The concept of wearing tricorner hats and Colonial outfits was to help carry the new message about hemp and our founding fathers, while also costuming the members so that their appearance could not be held against them. The Freedom Fighters became instant magnets at every rally because news crews seek people in colorful costumes. Members were trained to start talking about George Washington and hemp as soon as any cameras were rolling on them.
To encourage participation, members were given pins at every rally they attended and there was even one letter-writing campaign where you could get a pin with a blue Liberty Bell for every response you got from Congress. John Birrenbach gathered so many responses his tricorn became smothered in pins. I didn’t initially realize the implications of what we were doing, but the magic began manifesting on a big scale right away, and the costumes and Betsy Ross flags were certainly helping.
Within two years, the Freedom Fighters became the largest legalization group in the country and only required $15 to get a lifetime membership that included the Freedom Fighter Newsletter edited by Linda Noel, who was the original brains behind the Boston Freedom Rally. From their inception, the Freedom Fighters were wired into my Cannabis Cup, and a member elected by open council to attend the Cup all-expenses paid every year, an honor won by luminaries like Jack Herer and Gatewood Galbraith. It was bizarre when High Times told me to give up the organization saying it conflicted with my editorial duties. I’d amassed a volunteer army of over 10,000 members, and many were enthusiastic supporters pouring immense energy into creating new rallies and other cannabis events all over the country. It was certainly snowballing.
This background is all in the way of announcing my hope that someday a Freedom Fighter reunion takes place at the Hash Bash and Rodger and I are put in charge of a few of the ceremonies.