by Rick Thompson/ originally appeared in The Rolling Paper July 2021
It’s been two years of writing my column for The Rolling Paper and I can’t believe time has flown by so quickly. Fellow Rolling Paper columnist Jamie Lowell and I have used the page space available to give an inside look at the hard work of cannabis law reform, and as a way for people to be aware of what’s happening in the unseen world of political intrigue. I hope you’ve enjoyed these monthly mental massages.
In reporting not just facts and stats but our feelings, hope, fears and ambitions, we’ve sometimes pushed the boundaries. I’m referring to the boundaries surrounding privileged conversation, boundaries surrounding interacting with the government, boundaries of friendship. I stand by every word I’ve written.
By pushing boundaries we’ve accomplished a great deal over the course of Michigan’s medical marijana era, 2008-present. Were it not for everyone pushing, insisting, rallying thousands on the Capitol steps and helping to get the right people elected, our movement would not be where we are. It has been a long road, and one we’ve not reached the end of.
Along the way we as a smart, thinking community came to understand some forms of boundary-pushing are counterproductive. Not every tool in an activist’s bag is appropriate for the fight at hand. This becomes more important to remember, when the task of advocacy is influencing a single person to vote for, decide on or regret doing something. When the focus stops being on politics and becomes a series of attacks on a person, activists must tread carefully.
There is a difference between calling into question the character of a person with a long history of being an asshole, and just being downright mean about it. While fighting then-Attorney General Bill Schuette we crafted anti-Bill public relations campaigns featuring his checkered history and single-minded focus on using his office to undo the results of the 2008 election. I named Klint Kesto the ‘Reprehensible Representative’ and called Mr. Linder ‘Evil Steve’ on the radio. I have no fear of challenging a person for specific purpose in ways more personal than political.
There are boundaries to doing this, though. Personal attacks may feel good at the time, and one’s personal echo chamber of friends may encourage bullying, but when the rabble’s roar becomes the reward for a vicious attack, and one selfishly desires more rabble and more roar, the attacks grow in intensity. The purpose of inciting change fades and the rush to sensationalism takes hold. The roar becomes the barometer of success. To the one, a pinnacle. To the target, a horrible string of horrible things said and shared about them.
When one, or a group acting as one, goes past the boundary of good taste and acceptable behavior they begin to lose support, not gain it. The roar may intensify but it’s the vocal rabble roaring, not the quiet decision makers. When one takes on a corporation it’s encouraged by all, because everyone wants to, but personalized attacks are tougher to get support for. People view them as petty and mean. The more vicious the attack is, the fewer people who actually support it, even though social media may deliver the illusion of support via increased popularity.
More importantly is the damage done to one’s personal advocacy power by going too far and being too vicious. Act too harshly and lose respect among your peers. When one’s immaturity makes it difficult for others to do their advocacy, resentment arises. Those who stood beside you step away from you, to distance themselves from the crazy, and you earned it. Media begins to ignore you, because they don’t like to interview whackos. Elected officials don’t find time to talk to you. Your circle changes.
Advocacy is a tricky game because it involves playing with power. The pursuit of an enemy can make you the enemy of your own friends, if done poorly. Boundaries are not easily identified and each of us uses differing definitions and have individual interpretations. There are some boundaries, though, which are societally set; like it or not, ‘going too far’ is a boundary defined by the community at large, not one’s own personal behavior yardstick.
Over the last twenty-three columns I’ve tried to encourage involvement, called readers to action and warned people of problems on the horizon. There is advocacy work to be done and we need everyone’s help- but, make sure your work is helpful, not harmful. I hope you’ll continue to join me on our monthly journeys. Stay safe and love each other.