Saturday, December 7, 2019

Elsie Sinclair: A Crusading Mother

Elsie Sinclair speaking at the 1971 John Sinclair
Freedom Rally in Michigan.
Poet, musician and activist John Sinclair has been in the news, as one of the first to purchase newly legal marijuana in his home state of Michigan.

Sinclair became a poster child for marijuana law reform when he was given a 10-year sentence for two joints, prompting Yippie! Jerry Rubin to organize an all-star Freedom Rally held on December 10, 1971 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

On the bill were Michigan natives Stevie Wonder, Bob Seeger, and Commander Cody (who did a soulful "Down to Seeds and Stems Again Blues"). Also appearing were VIP Allen Ginsberg, Phil Ochs, Steve Miller, Chicago Eight members David Dellinger, Renne Davis and Bobby Seale (ungagged), and, in his first American performance since the break up of the Beatles, John Lennon with Yoko Ono, who performed his composition "The Ballad of John Sinclair." Two days later, an appellate court freed Sinclair on bail.

Speaking at the rally in support of her son was Sinclair's 59-year-old mother Elsie Sinclair (about 39 minutes in here). Elsie said, to cheers from the crowd, "I can tell you young people: you can teach more to your parents than your parents have ever taught you. I’m speaking from experience. I just read John's book Politics and Music and I didn’t dig the music but I dug the book. I’m beginning to dig the music."

An article from the following May in the Aurora Valley Advertiser titled "Mothers go to pot" quotes Elsie:

A group of Michigan mothers are fighting to keep their offspring out of jail. The mothers have announced their support of the drive to take to the people the question of decriminalizing marijuana possession by putting it on the ballot in November. 

If 265,000 certified signatures are collected by July 7, people can vote next November and strike down the irrational marijuana laws which "send hundreds of our sons and daughters needlessly to jail. Our children should not be harassed and subject to prison life for smoking a harmless herb. Families have been torn apart by these unfair and unnecessary laws; mothers have been the victims of untold anguish as their children are taken away from them by the state."

In their statement the mothers, including Elsie Sinclair, 60-year-old mother of John Sinclair, concluded, "Millions of people smoke marijuana. Mothers smoke marijuana. We can't turn back the tide. But unless we get it on the ballot we face years of more harassment and arrests while the courts and legislatures move on the matter at a snail's pace."

This was a powerful statement at a time when parents' groups, lead by mothers, were fighting to keep marijuana illegal (as described in Emily Dufton's book Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America.) 

California activist and California NORML board member Jackie Gay Wilson recalls, "My kindergarten-teacher, League-of-Women-Voters mom Dorothy Novy Wilson met Elsie at the Ann Arbor Unitarian Church. Elsie was trying to get her son John out of Jackson State Prison. She took my mother under her wing and turned her into a revolutionary.

"They marched for and acted for many things, including John's cause, world hunger, housing, black lives, abortion rights, and drug legalization. The whole church, actually, was radicalized, and they harbored a fugitive Salvadoran family for several years."

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