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News (Media Awareness Project) - US MI: John Sinclair Recalls Impact, Importance Of Freedom Rally
Title:US MI: John Sinclair Recalls Impact, Importance Of Freedom Rally
Published On:2011-12-01
Source:Ann Arbor News (MI)
Fetched On:2011-12-07 06:01:27

John Sinclair had the worst seat possible for the freedom rally held
in his own name at Crisler Arena on Dec. 10, 1971.

But he didn't miss a minute of the show.

Sinclair, then 30, was sitting in his cell at the state prison in
Jackson throughout the concert, serving 10 years for giving two
joints to an undercover police officer. But he was listening in on a
transistor radio to the WABX-FM broadcast of the event, which
featured, among others, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Bob Seger and Phil Ochs.

Even 40 years later, Sinclair, who is seldom at a loss for words,
struggles to describe the experience.

"I was gassed about it," Sinclair recalled last week during a phone
call from Ghent, Belgium. "It was just very, very heavy.

"Amazing. Unbelievable."

It was also scary, he said, since he used his weekly call to his
wife, Leni, to call in to the concert and have his words broadcast
throughout the arena.

"I was terrified, because I thought as soon as the guards found out,
they'd carry me off to the hole," he said, breaking into a hearty
laugh. "But I was lucky, because they were listening to the
basketball game instead."

"Then I figured all weekend I figured when the warden came in and
heard the report of the phone call, my goose would be would be cooked."

Still, Sinclair recalled, it was worth the risk.

"I felt like I had the chance to speak with people who were
supporting me from the penitentiary was an opportunity I couldn't pass up."

Ironically, instead of waking up Monday morning to a punishment, he
learned that he was going home. On the day before the concert, the
Michigan State Senate voted to remove marijuana from the state's
penal code for narcotics and to reconsider all existing convictions.

"We'd won before they even played a note," he said.

More importantly, after two and a half years in prison, he was going
home to his family.

Although his release was secured through a twist in the state's
political machinations, Sinclair believed then--as he does
today--that his release came about in part to the hue and cry he and
his supporters raised about what they saw as political and social persecution.

"They took two and a half years of my life--but on the face of it, I
beat them because I refused to shut about it," he said. "Ten years
for two joints is cruel and unusual punishment, but I was a
vociferous opponent of their system and they made an example out of me."

Today, Sinclair remains a staunch pro-marijuana
advocate--particularly for medical reasons--and said that his and his
compatriots' efforts during the 1960s and 70s helped to break down
the stigma attached to its use.

"There was nothing wrong with marijuana then and there's nothing
wrong with it now," he said.

Sinclair, who today, at 70, splits his time between Detroit and
Amsterdam, will be back in Ann Arbor on Dec. 9 and 10 for a two-day
Ann Arbor District Library event commemorating the 40th anniversary
of the Freedom Rally. He said he's particularly gratified to see
their efforts being recognized for their contribution to Ann Arbor's history.

"Everything we did in the '60s and '70s has been erased from modern
life, because they don't want people to do it again," he said. "They
don't make movies or TV shows about hippies and dope fiends like us.

"So for the library to enshrine this countercultural, left-wing,
anti-capitalist movement that we were a part of ... well, that excites me."

He said he also plans to attend the Friday reunion of former
residents of the two houses on Hill Street that were the headquarters
of Sinclair's White Panther Party.

"It'll be a kick," he said. "I lived with these people and went
through some heavy (stuff.)"

Then he added with his trademark raspy laugh: "I'll try to keep an
open mind and not call anybody any names."
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