My Protest Gets Zero Coverage
But I was in my twenties in the 1970s. There was only one important thing - girls. Girls were always on my mind. And you could use the Washington Post to help you find them as well and the paper even had hints to coach you up on how to act around them so you could secure one for yourself. You needed all the help you could get too trying to impress the ladies on $42 bucks a week. To make matters worse we had gas shortages and had to get into gas lines at the crack of dawn to fill up the car. There was odd even rationing. On odd days only drivers with the last number of their license plate being an odd number could get gas. The Washington Post was right there with articles advising you how you could use your time constructively while you waited four hours creeping in line to fill up. The Post also told us about President Ford's WIN buttons. WIN stood for Whip Inflation Now. All you had to do is come up with an idea to whip inflation now and send it into Jerry at the White House and bingo! You got a WIN button. I didn't have a clue what caused inflation. I knew it meant higher prices. The Washington Post never wrote a word about the private Federal Reserve Board or the fact that they were printing up huge quantities of dollars. Today, even Joe Six Pack has heard of the Federal Reserve and knows that if too much money is printed up it causes inflation. But in the 70s nobody at the Washington Post knew this and apparently neither did President Gerald Ford. I certainly didn't. It was never in the paper or on TV.
All I knew is it was hard enough dating on $42 bucks a week without also having to spend 4 or 5 hours a week sitting in gas lines if you could even find gas to buy at all. It was all too much. I tuned the whole mess out and drank more beer and smoked more reefer and cigarettes. I was using a motorcycle by then. This was the answer to the gas lines. Sadly, almost as soon as I got the bike in the middle 70's the gas lines went away. Of course they stayed away until I got another car and sold my Suzuki. Then the gas lines came back with a vengeance. But while I had my motorcycle I had a job briefly as a motorcycle messenger for a photo reproduction place called Campbell Photo located at I Street between 14th and 13th Streets. That was when I Street ran one way to the East. In the 1990s the government reversed traffic to the West on I Street to thwart domestic terrorists after the Oklahoma building was bombed by a guy named Timothy McVeigh according to the Washington Post. Back in those days no body had a computer and everybody used Ma Bell to make phone calls. If you wanted anything reproduced you needed to go to a place like Campbell Photo. The company did everything like make blue prints, enlargements, posters, basic copies, etc. My job was to take the finished photos and artwork they created and run it across town to the customers like the federal government, L Street lobbyist and lawyers, and anybody that needed some kind of artwork reproduced.
This one nice summer morning I get a delivery to some place called "the Libertarian Party" which I mispronounced to their receptionist as the "Lie-ber-tarian Party." She corrected my pronunciation. Then I said "Libertarian Smibertarian. What are you guys?" I asked because the Washington Post always said there were only two real parties in America - the Democrats and the Republicans. Oh sure I heard there was some communists and socialists and fascists parties but the Post didn't write very favorably about them so I knew they must be bad for you. But the Post had never written about this Libertarian Party and here I was an enlightened American newspaper reader with a curious nature. So the receptionist handed me a couple pamphlets and sent me on my way. So before heading back to Campbell Photo I sat on my bike, fired up a Marlboro and started reading the first pamphlet titled, "What Is A Libertarian." At this stage in my life I was totally apolitical since neither main party seemed to offer me anything and were always making laws keeping me from doing what made me happy and making me do things that made me miserable at the same time. I sat there drawing one puff after the other reading about personal freedom and individual responsibility. The more I read the more I became intrigued. At one point I finally commented out loud to myself, "Hell...I'm a Libertarian!"
Well, I have to admit now that I became a sort of pain in the ass for the next decade or two promoting the Libertarian Party. It's just that the whole thing lined up so perfectly with the ideals I had been taught about in school but never experienced in the real Democrat and Republican world. My mother summed up this period especially in the 1980s when she warned at family gatherings, "Don't get him started dammit!" That meant to the other family members to not broach any subject that would start up one of my ideological libertarian diatribes meant only to educate but usually evolving into a good browbeating. This warning was a cue to my brother and he'd say something like, "How about that drug war?" He might ask, "Who you voting for: Bush or Dukakis?" That would set me off ranting.
It was the drug war that was my linchpin issue too. I was busted for pot as a kid and I never forgot the incident. The ordeal was terrifying! There you are with grand juries indicting you and governments subpoenaing you. But the fact was I was just a kid playing with a harmless vegetable. You could drink legally too at eighteen and everybody did plenty of it. But I was sixteen and freshly finished with my legal ordeal. It was my first offense and I got off with a slap - scared but none the worse off. I was walking by the Helenwood high rise and was passing by a man walking a small dog. We looked at each other both knowing at first that we knew one other. Then simultaneously we both smiled and pointed at one another. He was one of the cops who had busted me for pot the previous year when I was fifteen.
Looking back, the whole affair was riotously funny. When it was happening to me that was a totally different matter. The year or so I went through the ordeal I was depressed and even thought about killing myself though not seriously. It disrupted my youth and forever changed the course of my life. It's fortunate that it has been for the better but I sure didn't realize it at the time. The cops sneaked up on my girlfriend and I. We thought the road behind us was a dead end down by the Helenwood high rise as I'm sure many teens did parking with their girlfriend. But the good cop lived in the Helenwood and obviously knew you could drive a cop car through that washed out path through the woods behind the Helenwood to reach the road where we were parked. To make matters more ludicrous we were sitting in a dip in the road staring towards what we foolishly thought was the only way in or out. When we saw the car headlight from the cop they were actually shining over our parked car and illuminating the hill in front of us. So Janet and I are passing the peace pipe back and forth as I warn, "Be cool now. Those lights up ahead could be a cop." We passed the pipe back and forth stoned as we stared at the lights that just stayed there. Of course the cops were parked behind us by then and the emergency light went on suddenly. I said to Janet, "Give me the shit!" and I grabbed the pipe and small quantity of pot then threw it out the window. It hit the cop in the foot. "Did you drop this sir" He asked lifting the baggie and pipe for me to see. "Ah...no sir officer." I replied sheepishly. Then the cop said several things that made me feel like an idiot for dropping marijuana on a cop's foot and I knew I was busted. So did my girlfriend and she was hysterical by this time. What to do? What to do? I figured both of us are going down or just me. So I decided it would be just me. After all most of the stupid things done that evening were done by me culminating in my throwing MARIJUANA ON A COPS FOOT! How goddamn stupid am I. So it was Janet's pot. It was Janet's pipe. This was only my second or third time smoking weed while she had been at it a while and some may say even enticed me to imbibe. But I took the rap. "Look officer. This is all my fault. My girlfriend was only sitting there warning me about the dangers of smoking pot and was pleading with me to give it up." Eventually the cops bought it because they let her go to mommy and daddy and she got off. Me? Not so fast.
The cops took me down to the station house, booked and fingerprinted me just like on Dragnet. They they called my mom who had already started her second martini. The call ended with the cop slinging his clipboard across the room hitting the wall with it. Mom's a tough negotiator after the second martini. When mom arrived on the other side of the station house I could hear her yell, "I've come to pick up my son...the drug fiend!" That morphed into the good Helenwood cop, the bad cop and my mom threatening me that if I didn't say where I got the dope from I'd be in real trouble. Hey guys! It's 2010 now. I got it from my girlfriend who you just let go because I told you she was innocent. Now you want my lying ass to tell you another story. Then my mom says, "Look you little son-of-a-bitch! Lay it on the table now god dammit! Where did you get that Marijuana?" To which I replied, "I ain't saying." My mom replied, "God dammit...tell us right now or I'll have you taken away as an incorrigible child!" The bad cops leans over and attempt to give a clipboard to my mother. He says coldly, "Here ma'am. Sign here and we can take him off your hands right now. The good cop bends towards me and whispers, "Better talk. He's serious." To which I replied, "I copped it from this guy with long hair down in Georgetown. I never seen the guy before" That was good enough to be enough to get me sprung. Everybody knew Georgetown was filled with hippies smoking pot.
This chapter of my life I thought ended in Court that day after my mom spent thousands of dollars to get the best lawyers her friends at the Justice Department where she worked could secure for my defense. I'd gotten off lightly as I was a juvenile first offender. But now this was different. I'd been busted a second time but was two weeks into adulthood and been charged the night we were celebrating my eighteenth birthday. The state had a big list of charges against me all because I went into a Dart Drug store with my friend John who was only seventeen and a half and thought it would be cleaver to swipe a pipe while I was buying papers. My girlfriend Ann had bought me a whole ounce of pot for my birthday. I'd giving him my birthday pot to hold while we were inside the store because I only had these stupid pants with pockets which were like slits and the dope would be hanging out. Doing these acts legally made me a multiple felon liable for ten or fifteen years in prison.
But it was not a cut and dry affair. I was never caught with any pot. As Johnny and happy go lucky me left the store a short, fat white guy and a big black guy followed as well. I had just noticed them closing on us from the rear as we walked outside. Then the fat guy says, "Hey we want to talk to you." I replied, "What for?" But I felt they were going to do something bad to us like rob or assault us. The fat guy says, "We want to talk to you about some pipes." And my mind raced back to just minutes earlier inside the store when I put the pipe back on the shelf commenting to Johnny, "Naw. I'm not paying five bucks for a corncob pipe. We'll get rolling papers." However, just as I was grabbing the papers Johnny remarked, "Doesn't seem expensive to me."
I had figured he was merely noting the fact that I was cheap which I did not even turn to him to acknowledge. I knew I was sort of cheap but clearing forty-two big ones a week forced cheapness upon me. And I was not even making that much yet. But it was in that instant that this scene flashed before me and I said to myself Johnny stole that pipe! These men are with the store and want to arrest me and Johnny and Johnny has my pot. RUN!
Mind you - all of this took place in the span of time it took to leave the store and walk ten yards from the door. The men were closing in fast and the fat guy was within a couple feet as I bolted. His fat ass gave chase for two seconds as I warped out of his reach making any further efforts futile on his part. For Johnny, that was a different matter. Johnny is a real nice guy but slow upstairs. He didn't budge and was apprehended - with my pot. The store detective said he was going to swear he saw me steal a pipe too. As I said I was charged with multiple felonies including the store detectives lies which he eventually didn't follow through on. But I had to sign a paper stating I would not sue the store because of his allegation against me that were not true. He was a narrow minded little man who I'm certain has eaten himself to death by now. The world is a better place as a result. But he really wanted to nail me as I was a long haired sort.
So apparently I was pleading down to simple possession when I had my day in Court. The first defendant before me had ripped off social services for some services including money. But the judge said something about times being tough and to pay the money back and keep you nose clean...now get out of here you big lug. I smiled thinking I had a compassionate judge. Next was a manager of a convenience store who had allowed a female customer to use their restroom then peeped in on her. Trouble was I think she saw his eye blinking on the wall in front of her where she sat. The judge spoke some Latin about he was the manager and therefore he was like the owner. It would be like allowing a person to use your bathroom then peeping through your own bathroom keyhole. You can't invade your own privacy. Not guilty. He walked out chewing gum if I recall never having said a word. Next case....that would be mine. After a brief explanation by the prosecutor to the judge, again apparently in Latin or Greek as far as I could tell with my head darting back and forth trying to follow the jib of the dialog, the judge began flipping through some papers. After keeping me standing there for what seemed like an eternity he finally spoke to me. "Mr. Estrada-Palma...do you realize that by pleading guilty to simple possession of marijuana I can sentence you to one year in jail and fine you one thousand dollars?" I replied that I did because I thought it was what he might want to hear. But I thought to myself hell no! I thought I was getting probation and a grand is like two years pay for me! Again keeping me standing there while he flipped papers and rubbed his chin I contemplated what it was going to be like in jail. Would I have to be somebody's bitch? I had just gotten all clean shaven for trial and now look what I've done to my pretty fine young tomboy looking ass! But he said probation and I walked free that day. But it scarred me for life. Sure girls were still important and all but I realized life could be cruel and real unfair.
Now here is the good cop standing before me. We chit chatted briefly and he really was a good guy with pure motives in the way things were understood in those days. Those days everybody drank and smoked and it was considered an American thing to do. Pot was like communism, as it was portrayed by institutions like government and the Washington Post. But drugs and the Washington Post are another story hidden by the mockingbird that we shall delve into at a later point. But this good cop was concerned for the youth of his neighborhood. At some point after making sure I'd "stayed off the stuff" - which I assured him I had after my post traumatic legal experience, he grabs a note pad and pencil from his pocket and begins to write. He says, "I know how it is being young. But you have to stay off that marijuana because it's dangerous stuff. But if you feel like you have to have it I'm giving you my address here at the Helenwood and my phone number. DON'T SMOKE ANY MORE OF THAT SHIT! Call me and I'll get you a couple of six packs." He handed my the paper after tearing it out of the pad. I took it thanking him and we parted. I knew he was just trying to straighten out what he thought was a wayward youth. But I had smoked marijuana and I had drunk lots of beer and wine too. There was no comparison - alcohol could knock you out while most times the pot we got back then just gave you a sore throat, maybe a headache and a psychological high. We were probably most times actually getting hemp and in fact smoking rope rather than reefer. Still, I knew that this was absolute opposite to reality that pot was somehow dangerous while alcohol was the nectar of God as accepted by Jesus Christ who was everybody's lord and savior back in those days.
So I never got over that conflict. When those Libertarian Party pamphlets among other things spoke of legalizing pot they had me sold right there. Before the end of the 1980's I was married, with one kid and another on the way as well as chairman of the Libertarian Party of Maryland. Some of the party old guard like Dean Ahmed advised me to don't waste time writing letters to the Washington Post because they don't print letters from Libertarians. I thought this must be nonsense and tried anyway in my official Libertarian capacity. To my delight I did get a couple pieces into the Washington Post and maybe a hundred or so in other publications in those years. What I did not realize at the time was, for example, the one on legalizing marijuana that the Post published was way out of the mainstream as far as people's understanding of the marijuana issue for the times. Americans were still mostly of the belief that pot was as portrayed in the now famous comedy, "Reefer Madness." Though funny today it was originally a documentary film. So I now realize my letters to the Post were published by the mockingbird to make the Libertarian Party seem radical and dangerous. Of course Tomas Estrada-Palma coming off like Thomas Payne didn't help matters. In retrospect, though my beliefs are now accepted as mostly mainstream. During the Reagan administration followed by the Bush administration, my letters were more like idea bombs blowing up any hope that regular Americans might understand what we were pushing - not dope, freedom to act responsibly to make yourself happy while you are here on earth.
It was during that first and last Bush administration after Reagan that shook my faith in the Washington Post for the first time. I was present at my first Libertarian Party national convention in Philadelphia as a delegate. C-span was there too and I had planned just another one of my protests which were becoming more and more successful. Though old guard party members again assured me that there was no chance to get media as a Libertarian I again proved them wrong on a number of occasion. One lesson I did learn rather quickly as the Maryland Libertarian chairman was to do protest where the media will already be rather that schedule your own protest and expect the media to show up. So I knew Bush the first would be delivering a drug war speech in the coming days and I passed the word around to other Libertarians at the Philadelphia convention that I was scheduling another protest on that night of the Bush speech. At some point this was repeated over and over again over the public address system including my phone number and this new tool, my email or perhaps it was just my fax number. Whichever it allowed lots of people to contact me. Why? Because what I did not realize at the time was C-span was broadcasting this political event live then rerun on video tape numerous times nationally.
To get to the point, I was inundate by contacts. This was going to be the most successful protest I'd ever organized and it surely turned out that way when the night arrived. There was at least 5000 protesters but there could have been 10,000? Who knows who is a protester and who is a jogger out for a run? All I knew was this was not going to be one of those protests where I call a list of Libertarian but they all say how many other have agreed to come. Then they say they'll come if I can get 30 others to come and feel free to call back if I do find them. Most times this meant it was Tom Mathers and I protesting but we had great success getting media even so. We use to haunt Governor William Donald Shaefer whenever he wanted to hold a drug war summit. We'd chase him from entrance to exit because he didn't want to be caught in a picture with Tom and I protesting the drug war. Next day it would be the two of us smiling on the pages of the Baltimore Sun and not Donald.
Now it was evening and Bush was speaking to the nation. There were TV crews all over Lafayette Park that night amongst the throngs of protesters. Bush apparently I was to learn later claimed his agents had bought crack in the very park across from the White House where we all stood protesting the drug war. To be fair not everybody was protesting against the drug war. I noticed four or so Guarding Angels complete with their little Red hats watching TV huddled close together. They were surrounded by thousands of screaming protester and it made hearing the Bush speech difficult so they leaned in close towards the set. The night for a political activist was like a dream...then a nightmare. During the evening I stood there and thought I did this. I got thousands of people to show up and prove not everybody liked this drug war. Young black kids who obviously had been victims of the government's drug war fought mostly in their poor neighborhoods came up to me one after another riding their bicycles and thanked me for organizing the protest. I have to tell you I was feeling pretty good as I rushed home later to see the news coverage. It was my first conscious experience of the news black out. There were thousands of Americans protesting the drug war right across the street from where the president was chatting up the drug war. This WAS a news story and there were plenty of TV cameras doing interviews to prove it. But none of those interviews, several of which I did myself, ever made it over the airwaves - zero!
That's okay because I knew my Washington Post would be there on the stoop first thing in the morning telling the story. I was partly correct. On the front page they did have a story about Lafayette Park. To my dismay it also came complete with a front page tight shot of those Guardian Angels watching their little TV with Bush on the screen lying in the background. The thousands of protesters, as well as any word in the Washington Post of their existence, was nowhere to be found that day or any since in the pages in the Washington Post. It was just the first of too many blackouts by the mockingbird for me to remember now but it was the one that started to open my eyes to their bird droppings. But conditioning is a difficult thing for one to break free of. I soon moved forward and certainly never contemplated what the hell I would do in the morning with no Washington Post even if for some unknown reason they did blackout my protest. I moved forward towards the rest of my life with my wife and growing family.