Being Right vs. Being Nice

I was initially taken back, and then inspired by an interview I heard Princeton Professor Cornel West give on Democracy Now. Here was the statement that got me thinking:

“I think that it’s morally obscene and spiritually profane to spend $6 billion on an election, $2 billion on a presidential election, and not have any serious discussion — poverty; trade unions being pushed against the wall, dealing with stagnating and declining wages when profits are still up and the 1 percent are doing very well; no talk about drones dropping bombs on innocent people … I mean, I’m glad there was not a right-wing takeover, but we end up with a Republican, a Rockefeller Republican in blackface, with Barack Obama, so that our struggle with regard to poverty intensifies.” -Cornel West

Now those are some harsh words for President Obama; but words that he should really take a hard and close look at. Often it is the reality of true criticism where we grow as people, and as movements. While I am sure President Obama is not thrilled to be called a “Rockefeller Republican in blackface,” that is a criticism that he his going to have to, for better or worse, digest and come to terms with. The hope is that it is such a blistering critique, that it forces the President to look at these issues that Brother West is putting forth; and hopefully he can begin to address some of the more progressive and important issues we face as a Nation.

Cornel West has taken some heat for his comments, with people and pundits calling them too harsh and saying West went “too far.” I could not disagree more.

When ever did we become a society of such wimps and sissies? It is flabbergasting to witness the thin skin of an entire nation (and in my case the entire cannabis movement) become so fragile that grown adult humans cannot put real issues on the table for discussion without fear of upsetting the applecart. Here is a little newsflash for you…the apple cart is kinda screwed up right now. It could use some upsetting.

Often when I have been critical of folks within the movement my motivations have come into question. Some have went as far as questioning if I was “working for the other side” because of my willingness to put truth on the table for an open and honest discussion. There is a concerted effort to silence our own criticisms , often with the cliches of “unity” or “the greater good.” Yet, nothing is more damaging to a movement and/or industry than the inability to look inside of the machine, and make the necessary critical adjustments instead of continuing down the same path as if there were no issue.

We have seen this manifest in disaster on more than one occasion. Because we have not chosen to have the tough discussions, we have seen a real lack of discipline (and sometimes and outright sideshow) that has made everyone’s job in changing the hearts and minds of the public on cannabis much more difficult. But still, rarely do we ever take our own to task; rarely do we ever hear the “leadership” of cannabis reform call out a person for being an idiot and making the road ahead more difficult for the rest of us. It simply lacks courage.

It is extremely healthy to examine the structure, behavior and outreach of the movement to see where we can develop more sound strategies, cohesive messaging, and shared objectives. What is not healthy is being told to keep your head down, shut up, and do not criticize in the name of “unity.” The fact is that most of the cartoon character activists who use this movement as a conduit to fame and fortune have no desire for unity whatsoever. It is a catch-phrase that usually means, “get in line and do not call me on my bullshit.” Then in one fail swoop, these same characters will turn their back on the movement, disregard a cohesive message, and sell out all morals and ethics for a shot at a close up. It is disgusting.

But do not hold your breath for the great reform council to come to the rescue. They are all bought and paid for. There is a reason that people are allowed to trample the core values of this movement, time and time again, with little repercussion; it is called money.  The desperation of our current system that pits the community against itself in a high stakes competition for funding is embarrassing. It is almost as if the reform community has little intention of really reforming anything.

Instead, we see a constant struggle to one up each other, and an attempt to not rock the boat in fear of drying up one funding source, or another. Pathetic is an understatement.

If we wanted to have that tough conversation, now is a good time for it. The time for being “nice” has passed. We are on the brink of real change and we need some courageous decision making happening in our movement, sooner than later. We cannot afford  to continue down a meager path to limited immunity, when the rest of the world is asking for freedom. It is sad when Pat Robertson of the 700 Club has the courage to make more pointed and real statements about legalizing weed than many in our own movement. What gives?

It is necessary to be right. It is not necessary to be nice.

Whether within the movement, or in discussions with our friends and neighbors, there is a right and wrong side of this issue. There is no middle ground. Often it takes harsh and critical statements to move people’s positions. We have to be firm and direct in expressing our disgust for these policies. It can sometimes take a volatile and graphic discussion about the evils that result from cannabis prohibition to wake a person from their apathetic slumber. Sometimes we have to shake a person at their very foundation to make them understand the severity of a situation.

These types of discussions are messy, and usually anything but “nice.” But they are necessary if we want to accomplish our objectives of making cannabis available for all adults to use as they please, and an end to the mass incarceration of our citizens. So before you bight your tongue in fear of being overly-critical or too harsh, DON”T. Let it fly. We can handle the truth. We may not always like the truth; but we can handle it. We are all big kids here…so act like it already.