The back-to-back press conferences by cannabis prohibitionists, Smart Approaches to Marijuana – Minnesota (SAMMn), and full legalization advocates, Minnesotans Against Prohibition (MAP) coalition at the Minnesota State Capitol, were the focus of a deep dive through the 10 video series from New Hughes. The short films juxtaposed the words of SAMMn speakers and those of MAP members to create a virtual discussion between the opposing groups. The article Cannabis Prohibition Will Not Stand put the videos in context and detailed the internal conflicts and mischaracterizations at the heart of the prohibitionist perspective.
Our approach was inspired by the teachings of George Lakoff, raw video footage that paired the 2 sides almost perfectly, and the opportunity to shred the defense of prohibition put down by SAMMn. The article and video series were also a direct response to the preponderance of mainstream and social media narratives that focused on the “disruption” of the SAMMn presser by repeated heckling, impromptu speeches from the crowd, and one person that loudly took the spotlight for little more than 3 minutes toward the end of the Q&A session. The multiple videos from New Hughes confirm that the so-called “disruptions” had little to no negative impact on the ability of SAMMn to make their case. More critically the videos show that the prohibitionists from SAMMn were first met with laughter and righteous anger by the people, and then with reason and knowledge by the MAP coalition. On January 16, the prohibitionists put their best arguments to the public and every single one was refuted, shown to be specious, or dismissed. That was the take home story, but that was not how it was played for the masses.
Those few moments of conflict in a press conference more than an hour long were spun into a near viral wave of social media driven by on-line newz outlets. Along with the Disruption Narrative, an awareness of the cannabis legalization movement in Minnesota shot across the globe. It was all the rage for about a day. On the ground, Marcus Harcus and the dedicated network of full legalization advocates working with him were back at the Capitol educating legislators on the perils of continued prohibition. Apparently the pundit’s concern that the movement for cannabis legalization would be slowed by the angry outbursts of those suffering from prohibition was unfounded. The MAP Coalition has been very successful in the month since the dual press conferences were held. Significantly, they have pushed Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (SD 9; GOP) to put full legalization on the agenda and into committee. The Senator has moved from dismissing legalization out of hand, to blurting “I love cannabis!” at a recent legislative agenda discussion at the Humphrey School. More realistically, Gazelka and House Majority Leader Melissa Hortman (HD 63B; DFL) agreed that the issue deserves more, and more serious, consideration at the Capitol. Neither legislative leader supports full legalization, but the persistent pressure from legalization advocates and the support of the Governor has forced them to deal with the issue. Last week, MAP and SAMMn met with AG Keith Ellison’s staff to lay out their respective perspectives. No heckling. No interruptions. No video. No change in result. Prohibition cannot stand in opposition to the voices of reason and justice. Not in a place like Minnesota.
When local TV reporter – Tom Hauser – in a question to MAP spokesperson Marcus Harcus as to whether the actions of hecklers and John Thompson hurt the campaign to legalize cannabis in terms of connecting with undecided Minnesotans, he signaled his intention to spin the events into a story the would pit one part of the pro-cannabis movement against another. I contend that Hauser should have asked himself that question. It was in his hands how the story of the nearly 3 hours and 2 press conferences he had just witnessed would be presented to the viewing public. He could have told one or two of the stories in our 10 part series, but along with so many others he chose to spin the Disruption Narrative. Hauser pointed a disapproving White Finger at the angry Black Man and demanded that Marcus disapprove of John, too. It could not have been more blatantly divisive. This is where the Disruption Narrative does it’s real work and it doesn’t even need to be true. It is used to cultivate controversy and dissent within the activist coalition, and between the activists and the public at large. It doesn’t even need to be intentional for it to work. But it does need to be seen. It needs to be viral.
I have no way to find out what the millions of people who saw the social media posts featuring the Disruption Narrative that grew from the MN State Capitol last January thought of it. Or what they remembered about it the next day, if they remembered it the next day. But I’m pretty sure most of them were not thinking about the perils of prohibition or the benefits of cannabis legalization. I suspect a good number of them remembered an Angry Black Man shouting “racist” at a bewildered White Man. The reason for that suspicion brings us back to George Lakoff and how to break existing Frames. New Hughes, like other opinion/issue centered newz outlets, works to subvert popular Frames by offering alternative perspectives. John Thompson, like most social justice advocates, works to break negative cultural Frames from the inside. I deeply appreciate the way John embraces stereotypes and turns them inside out. The Angry Black Man wonders at the lack of anger in others. The Professional Black Man building a career from life long experience of white supremacy in our society. Thompson breaks those Frames by pushing outward and creating a new paradigm that reinforces his humanity and a encourages full range of emotions. I try do do my part be making videos and posts that featuring John and his fellow social justice advocates in alternative Frames that better align with the core messages than those of the mainstream. Your part is to read, share, promote, and reinforce the alternative Frames. Like I said, it needs to be seen. It needs to be viral.
John Thompson, the man at the center of the storm, was quietly living with his family and working for St. Paul Public Schools when his friend and colleague Philando Castile was gunned down by Jeronimo Yanez in St. Anthony, MN in the summer of 2016. John has been on fire ever since. Thompson burns with the desire to change the conditions that stole the life of his friend. When he stood up and questioned Kim Bemis at the January 16 SAMMn press conference, John knew that Officer Yanez felt that because he suspected Castile of using cannabis, he felt justified to use force. Thompson also knows that police use cannabis prohibition to criminalize people of color and, assuming they survive the encounter, either take their money, or lock them up. He stood by, almost quietly, and listened to the SAMMn speakers use vague references and outright lies to tell stories about the dangers of well regulated and seasonably taxed legal cannabis market in MN. Thompson kept calm and barely chimed in with the others that regularly heckled or interjected response to SAMMn speakers. Near the end of the Q&A session, John stepped up to speak his piece and query the prohibitionists about why they had not honestly addressed the racial biases in enforcement of cannabis prohibition in MN or it’s usefulness as probable cause to tap a vein for profit, incarcerate, or kill another Black Man in MN.
The last time I spoke with John Thompson about anger, he told me that he was interested in transforming it into MAD – Making A Difference. That’s why he does the work to renew and repair his community, particularly the lives of Black Men.