Thursday, November 27, 2008


It is Thanksgiving morning in Fayetteville. The early-morning air is cool and crisp. The sun, having made its way over Mount Sequoyah, holds the promise of yet another beautiful day in the Ozarks. It's unusually quiet for a Thursday morning. Many are out of town; most are out of work for the day or weekend. For many of those who remain, the hours ahead hold the promise of the Macy's Parade, in which the Fayetteville High School band will be participating, football, visits with family and friends; and of course, Thanksgiving dinner. There's trouble in India, but for the moment, it is unable to break the holiday's spell.

On a morning such as this, it is difficult to believe that just a couple of days ago there was so much excitement in the air due to Fayetteville's mayoral race and the runoff election between Dan Coody and Lioneld Jordan. I was at the Jordan campaign's watch party, which was held at Uncle Gaylord's Tuesday evening. The restaurant was filled, not only with Lioneld's campaign team, but many hopeful supporters as well.

At around 9:00 p.m. former alderman Don Marr announced the final election results. Mr. Jordan had won the election by a bit more than 57 percent of the vote. At that moment, the scene turned to one of total pandemonium. It was reminiscent of the jubilation that took place in the Fayetteville Town Center when Barak Obama defeated John McCain; there were jubilant screams, tears of joy, high fives, hugs, and plenty of congratulations. Not being one that enjoys crowds, especially those that are loud and celebratory, I stayed at Uncle Gaylord's only long enough to listen to Lioneld's victory speech. Then, I headed back toward the Square, not only to retrieve my vehicle, but also to share the election results with anyone who might have been interested at Tim's Pizza/West Mountain Brewing Company .

As I approached my destination I could see a silhouetted figure standing on the dimly-lit sidewalk outside of Tim's. It was Mayor Dan. He was standing by himself -almost sadly; at least, that was the impression I had at the time. This was a bittersweet moment for me. On the one hand, I, like the others who had supported the Jordan campaign, was feeling quite jubilant. Still, I could not help but have some remorse over Dan Coody's loss. There had been a time some years ago during which I had put a lot of my hopes and support into Dan Coody's efforts to win a mayoral election against the then incumbent Fred Hannah. When I saw Mayor Dan standing there by himself, it was easy to imagine what he must have been thinking - all those years of hard work for Fayetteville only to be turned down by the voters. He congratulated me for Lioneld's win. We shook hands; I thanked him and all I could think of at the moment was to give him a tap on the shoulder and to mumble something about not really deserving the congratulations myself since I hadn't done "all that much" in the Jordan campaign.

At that moment I forgot my political disagreements with him and only felt our common humanity - our common love for Fayetteville. There was a loss for words. I wanted to say more to him, but the right words only came to me when I was inside the building and he was back with his supporters. A van had pulled up from one of the local TV stations, and I realized that I had lost the opportunity for any heart to heart discussion that I might have wanted to initiate.

I know that Dan Coody has done a lot of good things for Fayetteville and during that bittersweet moment my thoughts suddenly hearkened back to an interesting encounter that occurred for me last week when one late afternoon, I walked into the brewing company and was introduced to a man that turned out to be the mayor of another Northwest Arkansas city, who I'll simply refer to as Mayor M (for mystery).

As it turned out, Mayor M and I talked for hours that night; yet, the time absolutely flew by for me as I found myself challenged with hypothetical political scenarios in order to see how I, as an imaginary member of his city council, would react. We also spoke about Fayetteville's mayoral runoff election. His opinion was that in the end, Mayor Dan would win a third term. During this particular discussion he related a story concerning some sort regional conference - perhaps a solid-waste conference, that he attended. His tale revolved around Dan Coody's participation in that particular event and how impressed he was that our city's highest-elected official stuck to his guns and pushed for implementation of the greenest program possible. "Although you may be supporting the other candidate," he told me, "remember the things that Dan Coody has done for Fayetteville." A bit later, we said our goodbyes and we both headed for home.

Yesterday afternoon, as I went into West Mountain, one of the wait staff came up to me while opening a folder. Inside the folder were a note and a ten-dollar bill. Both were from Mayor M, who had apparently come in looking for me. With the bill came the instructions to have a couple of drinks and to leave whatever was left with the bartender for a tip. The contents of the note are as follows:

"Congrats on election - don't forget all the good things Dan did. I wanted to drink with you but cannot stay. You'll have to drink them both." - Mayor M

On this Thanksgiving morning I have a lot to think about and a lot to be thankful for. While I am rejoicing in Lioneld Jordan's victory this week, I have had a very poignant reminder that, despite my reasons for no longer supporting him, Dan Coody has done a lot for Fayetteville over these past eight years. It didn't hurt to have this perspective reinforced by someone who lives outside our community - from someone who understands the challenges that all mayors and community leaders face.

The last two evenings have been very bittersweet for me. The particulars of the election are behind us now and hopefully, I can put my disagreements with the outgoing mayor aside. So perhaps, I can resolve the conflicting feelings that reside within me by saying, "Congratulations on your big win Lioneld, and Dan, thanks for the good you've done in helping to keep Fayettevile a good place to live."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A "Half-Baked Vote? Not really!

There must be something strange in the ventilation system at the Northwest Arkansas Times this week that seems to be causing some of that newspaper's editorial writers to take on what appears to be a mean-spirited attitude toward well-meaning political activists in the Fayetteville area. Earlier this week, the Times lashed out at supporters of Lioneld Jordan by referring to them as being "extremists" and on "the fringe." On Wednesday, in its November 19 edition, the Times published an editorial entitled Half Baked Vote, which devalued both the hard work of Sensible Fayetteville in its efforts to bring an initiative before Fayetteville's voters that would make simple possession of marijuana a low priority for police and the overwhelmingly positive voter response to that initiative. The above-mentioned editorial went so far as to refer to the Low Priority Initiative that was approved by Fayetteville voters overwhelmingly as a "wholly worthless measure," and questions why legalization proponents don't instead, work toward changing state laws.

It would seem that whoever wrote the above-mentioned editorial must be totally unaware of the fact, that for the most part, those working for sensible marijuana laws have faced setback after setback in their decades-long struggle to achieve passage of more just marijuana laws. Sure, some states did decriminalize simple possession during the 1970's, but since then, pressure and propaganda coming from the federal government has done much to undermine even those state laws. Several years ago, voters in California changed their state laws by passing a proposition for legalized medical marijuana. Recent actions by the federal government has demonstrated that it has little respect for the will of the people in that state as its law-enforcement agencies have conducted raid after raid against growing and dispensing operations that are now legal under that laws of that state. Further, after decades of almost hysterical anti-pot advertising campaigns, often paid for by the federal government and various private organizations, how many politicians are willing to work with advocacy groups for laws that would bring about decriminalization? Most politicians will not sponsor such legislation; it is considered to be political suicide to do so.

The Times article attempts to link marijuana possession with violent crime as it calls into memory an alleged incident in which a young couple shot and killed someone who they believed stole their pot. While such situations though very rare, might occur from time to time, one must keep in mind that, more often than not, it is the illegality of the substance and the inability of a victim to seek a legal remedy that causes violent behavior; this much more so than the physical influence of the substance itself. Few will argue that the use of tobacco, as it is currently sold and marketed, is a healthy activity for a person to take part in. Yet, if a business owner believes that someone has stolen several cartons of cigarettes from his or her store, a legal remedy exists. There is no need to go after the accused. Such situations are usually handled by the police - a legal remedy.

If one considers that the prohibition of the 1920's spawned a huge growth in organized crime and violent crime, how much of a stretch would it be to consider that the legalization of marijuana, a relatively-benign herb, would put a stop to much of the violence relating to its distribution. Mexican drug cartels likely wouldn't be holding shootouts on the streets of Ciudad Juarez, that troubled city just across from El Paso, because they could simply call the police to protect their legal activity. Further, one only needs to look at the model that has been advanced for some years now in the Netherlands where pot is openly sold in the coffee shops of Amsterdam; this, with the support of that country's government. Isn't if interesting to see how this enlightened approach to marijuana use has eliminated any violence surrounding it?

"How much longer before one makes the argument that if possession isn't a big deal, how can society really make a big deal out of someone having 28 pounds of marijuana to supply those individuals who only want to have a joint or two," the Times article asked. It would seem that the Dutch model pretty much eliminates that argument. Further, what about the tobacco vendors who service those who only want one or two packs of cigaretts per day or so? Why is the vendor of one product treated with respect while the other is considered evil?

All the above and other arguments aside, there is one final point that, in the opinion of this writer, puts to rest the Northwest Arkansas Times' contention that the recently-passed Low Priority Initiative is a totally worthless measure. It comes from our founding document, The Declaration of Independence; and, while that document in and of itself was intended as a legal separation from the political ties that bound the thirteen original colonies to Great Britain, the principals contained within it are not currently legally binding. Still, these are the principals upon which our nation was founded.

In the declaration's second paragraph, while speaking about certain unalienable rights, goes on to say the following: "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

On November 4, the governed of Fayetteville, with a strong majority of 66 percent, spoke on this low-priority issue; and, as evidenced by the results of that election, they withdrew their consent for the continuation of business as usual in this regard. The "consent of the governed" no longer exists for the continuation of marijuana arrests for simple possession by adults. Statements concerning this withdrawal of consent must now be sent to state as well as federal officials on a yearly basis in order that they be reminded on a regular basis that the consent of the governed has been withdrawn. The editors at the Northwest Arkansas Times may consider this to be a "wholly worthless measure," but for those who believe in principal, it is huge.

In order to change entrenched belief systems and affect the vast majority of politicians who would resist decriminalization efforts by groups such as Sensible Fayetteville, preliminary first steps must be taken. That's how you open the door. With voter approval on November 4, the doorway to future changes in Arkansas' marijuana laws has been opened. That is significant.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Word About Estremists

It was some time back in the late 80's or early 90's when I found myself working with a friend at the home of an elderly lady - one of his regular yard work customers. My friend and I were both self-employed at the time, and would occasionally request the other's services when an especially big or complicated job would present itself.

At some point on this particular day, the lady of the house came up to me and said, "I know who you are. You're one of those troublemakers!"

The woman's comment certainly took me somewhat by surprise, especially since I'm not ordinarily considered by others in the community as being one who causes trouble. At the time, I was raising a child by myself and was working for a living instead of going on welfare. Furthermore, my own residential customers considered me to be impeccably honest and would regularly give me access to their houses and refrigerators when they were not at home. Still, I knew the source of the lady's misconceptions about me; it was the Northwest Arkansas Times, which at the time, had been running news stories and editorials that described various activists (myself included) as "aginers" and extremists.

Yes, I was labeled extreme by both the city administration and the editorial board of the local newspaper. I was on the outer fringes because one day, while sitting on my front porch reading The Scarlet Letter, a vehicle went by spraying a foul chemical as it went down the the street; this, without regard to my or anyone else's health or the small mimosa tree that I had been nurturing just a few feet from my front yard. I clearly remember having to evacuate my front porch and retreating to the back yard as each breath I took made me progressively more nauseous. When I set out with a group of people to put a stop to this reckless spraying that the city was engaged in, I became an extremist. When I became politically active and started talking about the relationship between unbridled growth and potential increases in the crime rate as well as the need for the city to adopt sustainable policies, my reputation as a troublemaker was solidified.

Those were the good old days alright! It was a time during which deeply caring about one's environment and community could get you labeled as an extremist - a person that any self-respecting member of the community ought to stay clear of - whose opinions they should never listen to.

Quite frankly, I thought that those days were long past. I had hoped that our local newspaper had long ago moved beyond the character-denigrating assaults of the old days. Then, an editorial appeared in the November 16 issue of the Times that was entitled "In the balance Coody is Fayetteville's best choice. The editorial not surprisingly, endorses Mayor Dan Coody's bid for a third term as Fayetteville's highest elected official. It's not the paper's endorsement of Mr. Coody that bothers me as much as the way in which the editorial board described those supporting Mayor Dan's opponent, Lioneld Jordan.

The Northwest Arkansas Times put it this way: "Many of Jordan's core backers are former Coody supporters upset that Coody hasn't been the extreme liberal leader they wanted."

After reading that statement I came to the realization that there must be some comprising that newspaper's editorial board who still do not get it. If these people actually spent time getting to know area activists and listening to them instead of denigrating their character, they might have learned that the disconnect from Mayor Coody has nothing to do with his compromises or not being extreme enough. Rather, it has everything to do with the way in which he uses people and their issues, only later to throw them away like an old shoe, or to violate agreements with them when it's convenient. A perfect case in point occurred several years ago when Mayor Coody, after the Chamber of Commerce and the environmental community each compromised to support the recommendations made by the Mayor's Task Force on Wilson Springs, and after the recommendations were adopted by the City Council, decided to sell those wetlands to a developer behind every one's back. Talk about a slap in the face!

The Times editorial went on to say, "Most residents, however, want and need elected representatives - especially mayors - who take the people's vote on election day as permission to advance the causes they campaigned on. They have their own lives and want government that is accessible when they want to talk, but don't want to battle the city's fringe forces for control. With Jordan in office, the extreme will have a far, far more active role in dictating Fayetteville's direction."

Now, we're not only extremists, but we've become the fringe forces as well! Does the author of this article actually believe that we so-called extremists don't have jobs and other responsibilities to take care of as other people do? We show up and participate because we care enough to do so. This is a right that every citizen of Fayetteville can and ought to exercise. Perhaps the writer of this editorial should consider the mess that our country has gotten into within just eight years. How did this happen? Perhaps it's because "we the people" trusted the politicians in Washington, D.C. along with what is now considered by many to be a criminal regime to run rampant over our Constitution, the environment and the sovereignty of other nations. The Bush Administration and their corporate cronies did just as the Times editorial suggests; they took "the people's vote on election day as permission to advance the causes they campaigned on."

Of course, they didn't really campaign on many of these issues. Instead, they fed "we the people" lie after lie while they ran our country, its constitution, and its stated principals right into the ground. Far too many non extremists trusted the government, and they got hell in return. So too, should the Northwest Arkansas Times editorial board keep in mind the words of another who was called an extremist during his time. I am referring to Thomas Jefferson, one of the founders of our country, who once said that "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance."

It is a sad day in Fayetteville, now that our local newspaper has once again, lowered itself to devaluing the character and opinions of certain members of the community due to their political opinions. It's a sad day when one picks up the paper to once again see him/herself labeled as an extremist in the very newspaper that he or she buys or subscribes to.

The pontificating author of the above-mentioned editorial might do well to consider that it has always been the so-called "extremists" that have moved our country forward. During various times in our history it was the abolitionists of the nineteenth century who fought against slavery and later, the women who worked with determination in order to win the right to vote that were called and treated as extremists. More recently, it was Martin Luther King, who marched for the rights of his people and for world-wide justice that was considered to be extremist. He paid the ultimate price for being a part of the so-called fringe. Yet, because of the efforts of people such as these, many women and African Americans were able to cast their ballots two weeks ago in order to elect our first African-American president.

On election night, as I listened to Barak Obama's acceptance speech, I gazed upon the countless happy faces - faces of all colors bursting with pride in their country and fellow Americans. These were celebrating an historic event - a turning point in our history. I say thank God for the extremists! Where would we be without them?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Night To Remember

As I sat near the end of the bar at Urban Table, the place where Lioneld Jordan's watch party was being held, I stared at the three TV sets that were set before me. Each one had on a channel that was offering election-night coverage, both local and national, yet none of the three was giving me any information that could alleviate my growing frustration. The counting of the local contests appeared to stop somewhere between 5 and 11 percent of the total vote tally. On the national scene, many of the eastern states were showing up on the map as blue, while those in the Midwest were painted in red. Florida was undecided. "God! I hope it's not happening all over again. Why hasn't Florida reported? The results should be in by now," I stated to the person sitting next to me.

"You know why they haven't reported yet. Ol' Jeb just didn't know how to steal an election the right way." His response did nothing to calm my fears and my anxiety continued to grow.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder and I turned to speak to her. When I turned back toward the three televisions once again, the magic words were spread across one of the screens - "Barak Obama Elected President of the United States."

At first, I thought that the words were being showed as some kind of joke, or an exposition of what could be. How could it have been anything else? After all, only seconds before, Obama still needed some 64 electoral votes in order to claim victory. Then the shouts of jubilation began to spread throughout the premises. At that moment it occurred to me that our long national nightmare would soon come to an end. The American people had spoken; they expressed their desire to leave the dark and anti-life policies of the neo-cons behind.

I left Urban Table and went back to the Town Center across the street in order to see what was happening at the Democrat's watch party. Upon arriving, I walked into a scene of near pandemonium. There were shouts of joy coming from all quarters, high fives and hand shakes were given freely, and the pure joy being expressed could hardly be contained within the confines of the building.

I wanted to watch Barak Obama's acceptance speech in the peace and quiet of my own living room. Still, on my way back to the car, I couldn't resist running into West Mountain Brewing Company in order to give M, one of the bartenders, my own special brand of Woo-hoo! He looked at me a bit strangely; then, I was on my way home.

That's my personal story about election night 2008, but undoubtedly, everyone who was out last night or participated in this historic election likely has their own to tell. The evening of November 4 was unusually warm and memorable. As with every election perhaps nobody is completely satisfied with the way the chips fell, so to speak. There were various amendments to the state constitution, initiatives, and many candidates running for various offices. As we all know, there are always winners and losers in elections. Usually however, we get some of what we want, but not everything. That's the way it was for me.

Still, I would like to congratulate all of those who participated and worked hard for change - regardless of their contest's outcome. At risk of showing my own personal biases, I would like to congratulate the following people and organizations for jobs well done:

* Green Party candidates Abel Tomlinson and Rebekah Kennedy, who both ran good campaigns against major-party candidates for the Congress and the U.S. Senate respectively, and who earned very respectable percentages of the vote in their races.

* Ryan Denham and Sensible Fayetteville, for working so diligently to make arrests for adult marijuana possession a low priority in Fayetteville. Congratulations on your impressive win!

*Don Connor from Ward 1, who ran an honorable race in order to bring new ideas to the city council.

Candy Clark, who after being forced from the Fayetteville Planning Commission by the Coody Administration, defeated
James Reavis in his bid to the Washington County District 5 J.P. position.

* Sarah Lewis, who won the bid for Lioneld Jordan's Ward 4 seat.

* Bernard Sulliban, who also ran a good campaign for the Ward 4 position. May you continue in your quest to sit on the city council. Seek and you shall one day find - and deserve.

* Last but certainly not least, I would like to congratulate Lioneld Jordan for running an excellent campaign - a campaign that has forced a run-off election between himself, and incumbent Dan Coody.

Yes, it will be two more weeks of political agony for the two final contenders in Fayetteville's mayoral contest. For those who voted in yesterday's election, it is very important that you all return to the polls one more time in order to decide whether Fayetteville will continue with its current mayor, or bring a new administration to City Hall. For Fayetteville's voters who participated in the November 4 election, there is still a bit more work to do on November 25. I hope to see you at the poll.

To everyone else who participated in this historic election, either by petitioning, campaigning, or voting, good work!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Not So Free Election

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." - Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

"Take off your cell phone, take out your change and your keys, take off the belt, and put them all in the container," the officer said to me. I complied with the deputy sheriff's directive and walked through the metal detector; this, in spite of my resentment of having to do so. Was I at the county jail attempting to visit someone at his cell or in the visiting center? No, I was actually at the entrance to the Washington County Courthouse. I had just gotten back to Fayetteville the day before from a visit to Southern New England. I was emptying my pockets and getting scanned in order to exercise my right to vote - in this case, to early vote.

Early voting works for me. In recent years, my polling place has seemed to change with just about every election. The school-board elections seem to be held in one place, special elections in another. Sometimes I have to vote at the church on Sixth Street, and at other times, in my own neighborhood. One time, I went to the church where I had voted on numerous occasions, only to learn that my voting place had been moved to the public library. Shortly afterward, the public library moved - you get the picture. Voting became a subject of great confusion for me - a hassle, so I was really glad when early voting became an option. I would always be able to vote at the same place, and as an added bonus, I would avoid the long lines that I had often faced when going to the regular polling places.

The post 9/11 world we now find ourselves living in has certainly put a damper on my enthusiasm for early voting as two or three years ago, the Washington County Quorum Court decided to secure the courthouse by installing a metal detector manned with sheriff deputies at the main entrance. The choice one now faces when attempting to enter the building is simple; either a person must separate him or herself from all the metal objects that he or she is carrying, wearing, etc. or else be refused entry into the courthouse. Either be searched and scanned, or don't vote or conduct any other business there. There are no other options.

As with all the other justifications used to destroy the Constitution and our civil liberties since September 11, 2001, Washington County officials claimed that the deputies and metal detector are necessary in order to make the courthouse safer - more secure. The measure was implemented in spite of the fact that, at least to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever attacked or attempted to conduct a terror attack upon the Washington County Courthouse.

The reasoning offered by the folks running the county is quite typical of that being offered all across the United States since the terror attacks upon the World Trade Center and Pentagon eight long years ago. At the core of such reasoning is a synergistic mix of a national paranoia over terrorism, a strong and almost pathological desire among many Americans to feel safe, and the desire by many in high places to both propagate and use this fear in order to accumulate more power unto themselves. Make no mistake about it, people of ill will can, and often will attack anytime and anyplace. Recent events have shown us that such places can include schools, post offices, hamburger places, our places of employment, or even at home. We receive no guarantees of perfect safety upon coming into this world. The only question is, how many of our rights and freedoms will we incrementally give up in order to live this illusion of safety - a false safety provided by those who, in many cases, do not have our best interests at heart.

Within the song entitled The Star Spangled Banner, which is our national anthem, are the words "land of the free, and the home of the brave. " This anthem is likely sung in every school and before almost ever major sporting event in the country. Yet, a gaze into reality shows that most Americans, rather than being brave by standing up for their freedom, are acquiescing to this continued onslaught against our dignity and constitutional rights. One can only imagine how much the American people are willing to give up in order to feel safe. Sure, it's a bit scary standing up to police officers or governmental agencies when they demand our rights on a silver platter, and it's true that many police officers and their departments are abusing their authority; all one has to do is remember the horrendous events that took place outside the Republican National Convention this past September. I would venture to guess however, that much of this abuse is likely due to the fact that the people have acquiesced so much already. The abusers are now reveling in their newfound power and over time, will likely carry it to further extremes.

Of course, I am not implying that the deputies at the Washington County Courthouse are being abusive, and some may think that I've gone off on some type of tangent here. Still, I have to wonder how many members of my community who are early voting this year are even considering that in order to exercise their right to vote, or at least to early vote, they must relinquish their Fourth Amendment right against warrant less unreasonable search and seizure. I find myself being forced to wonder just how many infringements upon their freedom Americans in general will acquiesce to before deciding that it was time to say "no more" a long time time ago.

Sadly, I too acquiesced last week. I did this with the knowledge that while there is power in numbers and solidarity with other people, neither the numbers nor the solidarity appeared to support my cause. As I was re-threading my belt through the loops on the waste of my jeans, I commented to a man standing next to me that the hassle of going through the metal detector is making me wonder if it's worth it to early vote at the courthouse. He didn't say anything, but as I began walking away one of the deputies called to me in with a hint of annoyance and authority in his voice. He said, "just remember before you come next time sir!"

I'll remember, I thought to myself, but I'll be remembering everything that we've lost over these past eight years.

"Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety deserve neither Liberty nor Safety" - From a letter written written in 1755 from the Assembly to the Governor of Pennsylvania