I met Ben Masel initially online at DailyKos. It was immediately apparent to me that he was both knowledgeable and astute. Still, I had no idea.
I met him in the flesh at YKOS'07 in Chicago. I didn't realize who he was at first, I just spotted him as someone I'd like to know. I caught up to him as he was walking down a hallway and said “Hey brother.” He smiled and we stopped to talk. I looked down and saw his name tag and realized who he was. I knew well the name of Ben Masel (only I thought until then that is was pronounced 'Mazzel', it's actually 'May ZELL'). It was a delight to finally meet him. We discussed some of the online conversations we'd had in the past and soon wandered off to find a place to roll one up. He was the soul of generosity, always willing to share – his time, his thoughts, his cannabis, whatever. We were both refugees from the sixties and were instant friends and brothers.
My son Daniel, then 17, had come to YKOS'07 with me, and one of the many highlights of his experience there was the quality time he got to spend with Ben and our friend and brother claude.
We never missed a chance to hang out with Ben (or claude) from that point forward.
A man can live an entire life without ever finding friends like these. Believe me, I am counting my blessings today.
We hung out in Austin. And we hung out in Pittsburgh, which is the last place I saw him. We talked recently and he asked if he'd see me at the NORML convention in Denver on April 21-23. I told him I couldn't make it, but it was clear that he planned to go. I'm guessing now that he didn't make it either. I don't know if he knew how fast he would be gone...I know I didn't. I had asked him about writing his biography and was still waiting on his reply. I can only hope that the speed of his demise served to shorten his suffering.
And now I have a sad confession to make. The last time I saw Ben was in Pittsburgh at NN09 where I took this photo of him bending Arlen Specter's ear about privacy laws as I recall.
Later he approached me and asked if I wanted to accompany him to a hastily organized demonstration in front of Mary Beth Buchanan's office, just 4 blocks from the convention center. There was so much going on in the convention center that (and I hate to admit this now) his invitation seemed a distraction and I declined. I so wish I had gone with him and had the experience of standing shoulder to shoulder with him in public protest. I hate now that I blew that opportunity. It would have meant a lot to me now to have had that memory.
Here is Ben Masel in action:
4th Amendment meets Amtrak, DEA
This is a test of the emergency free speech system. Capitol Building. Madison, Wisconsin.
Ben was an organizer and leader in the Hemp and Cannabis Legalization movements. From Meteor Blades' earlier diary:
His 35-year-long fight against marijuana laws was nearly legendary in Wisconsin. He was repeatedly arrested for protests and spent time in prison for a cannabis conviction. He was state director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws for six years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and was vice president of the state branch of the organization for nearly a decade before his death.
"I didn't think it would take this long," Masel said about his still-unrealized hope to legalize marijuana.
Thank you for that diary MB.
More on Ben's activism:
Harvest Fest owes its endurance to Ben Masel, who took over organizing the festival after its second year. Ben is the VP of Madison NORML and an officer of Wisconsin NORML. Ben has shepherded the festival through four decades and many changes in Madison. Ben was also the organizer of Weedstock, a cannabis and hemp educational music/camping festival that was held in various Wisconsin locations. An expert on the history of industrial hemp cultivation in Wisconsin, Masel has also been active in fields outside of marijuana law reform.
He is a longtime free speech First Amendment activist who has filed and won many test cases over the years in courts across the nation. Ben is also a perennial candidate having run for assorted offices over the years including Dane County Sheriff. He ran against Herb Kohl for the Democratic nomination for US Senate in 2006 and is running again in 2012. When not organizing Harvest Fest or litigating Constitutional rights, Ben may often be found at local coffee shops enjoying a cup surfing Daily Kos, Facebook and other interesting web venues.
Ben Masel's Civil Disobedience
I was on some blog or other where Ben was the subject of discussion and some guy pipes up and says, “It's so amusing to see an old hippie still fighting 'the man'.” In weak moments statements like that infuriate me. I can't help but think that if guys like that had ever gotten their asses in gear and followed guys like Ben Masel into the streets, that we could have all made a difference. But too many ppl chose to poke fun at those who tried (and try still) to make a difference. What do they think they have gained by laying down for the brainless steamroller that is our greedy, thoughtless culture?
Ben Masel knew that your rights are not yours until you stand up and defend them. What do 'the amused people' think they have gained by hiding in their heavily-mortgaged cracker box houses, spraying poisons on their lawns, numbing and distracting themselves with drivel and propaganda, driving their gas guzzlers to meaningless jobs to make rich people richer while their bosses plot how to squeeze more out of them and leave them with less? Cooperating with a greed-besotted society that is committing full-on suicide is not really all that smart. Some people want the world to be as simple as they have imagined it to be. And then there are these guys who can so easily look down their noses at Ben Masel – guys who never disobeyed a direct order in their entire lives. Total sheeple and yet they mock those with the integrity to resist.
"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were once our countrymen." ~ Samuel Adams
"If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so." ~ Thomas Jefferson
"He who dares not offend cannot be honest." ~ Thomas Paine
Ben often described himself as a professional defendant. In his career as an outspoken activist and official pain in the ass he was arrested some 138 times. Few people knew more about Constitutional Law than he did. What else could you call a guy like that but a pro?
Some question what is accomplished by the kind of public demonstrations Ben Masel was known for, but whatever is or is not accomplished, it is better to speak out than not to. All it takes is the courage of a Ben Masel.
Most people have no idea how much courage it takes to be the one guy in the crowd carrying a sign, to be the one individual to stand up to tyranny, to be tear gassed and maced, to be beaten and dragged off to jail. Ben knew all of these things, yet he never hesitated to take the head of the line.
It is better to have spent a lifetime tilting at windmills than to have swallowed the shit being shoveled, I would say. I think Ben would agree.
Ben Masel possessed a brilliant mind, an indefatigable spirit, and a heart of gold. They don't come any better. If only we had more like him we wouldn't be in the shape we're in.
Farewell Ben. Rest in peace. Much love and respect to you brother, and thank you for everything.