The only time I ever saw Steve McWilliams laugh was a couple of months ago; little realizing that soon, like a Buddhist monk wrapped in flames, he would use his own life as a metaphor for justice and light in a society gone blind with fear, hypocrisy and greed.
I stood there talking to him, as I often did when he walked his dogs along the sidewalk in Normal Heights, discussing the weather, the dogs or my large garden. With great sadness, he looked beyond my eyes, over my left shoulder, watching the bulbous clouds as they slid through the blue-green brightness. As the gray shadows moved over the daisies and roses; he remarked how, as human beings, driven by selfishness or compassion, we can make the world either ugly or beautiful.
On his walk back, the street ends at the edge of that great San Diego canyon, Mission Valley, he was on the opposite side and watched as I came out of the courtyard just as someone was pulling their dog off the grass, leaving several piles of doggy doo. Now, I had a shovel in my hand, so I scooped it up on the shovel and walked behind, yelling “sir, you forgot something.” All the neighbors came out to witness his attempt to ignore the selfishness and contempt reflected in this act. Steve joined in that communal laugh.
It will take more than a shovel, even a skip-loader, to trail behind Judge Reuben Brooks or U.S. District Attorney Carol Lam and all the other government tyrants. Not even a freight hauler could carry the blood, anguish, wasted lives in prison, pain and suffering, they have created in their obscene efforts to control our lives.
McWilliams, nailed to a cross of pain for his efforts, fought the power of the state to regulate our personal freedoms and choices, not only for himself but every person in need of inexpensive medication without side effects. Yes, the truth shall set you free, and the government and media, both owned by powerful pharmaceutical companies, don’t want you to know that you can grow your own medicine in a coffee can, right there on the table in front of the window, alongside the geraniums and ferns.
If Steve, who suffered from severe neuropathic migraines caused by a traffic accident, had continued to quietly self-medicate with marijuana, after his arrival in San Diego in 1997, he would still be with us today. However, his integrity and compassion drove him to found, with his partner, Barbara MacKenzie, Shelter from the Storm, San Diego’s only Medical Cannabis Resource Information Center.
He sought to not only empower sick people in pain with information but to liberate them from the evilness of store bought chemicals. Manufactured, dangerous pills; without long-term study, threatening side-effects, developed primarily to make others, CEO’s and wealthy investors, richer.
He understood that the power of the federal government has been bought. From the President, through Congress to the Supreme Court; ordered by their corporate masters to make the world safe for profit. This is what the War on Drugs is all about, why there are over 2 million young people, mostly of color, in our prisons and jails; more than the rest of the world combined.
Poor folks don’t have the resources for Valium or Prozac, so they have been criminalized, persecuted and stigmatized by the fear mongers as an excuse, the learning methodology, over the years, to build the links of the chain - a prison state, with the police and military in control, to protect the rich and to punish all who dissent.
With Bush’s re-election, a new phase in the clash of freedom over corporate tyranny, has begun. The federal police system, using its years of experience in the hoods and barrios, has now moved its battle lines into middle-class neighborhoods, to win the cultural war, once and for all; to mop up the last vestiges of hippie notions and free will. Using simple-minded, cruel Judges like Reuben Brooks, who McWilliams called “a wretched, evil little gnome” and ambitious, ruthless agents of fear, like agent Carol Lam, they seek total control of not only our economic possibilities but our private life as well.
Steve McWilliams called himself an “impeccable warrior” in his death letter. He was facing the usual fascist response to dissent, prison, and in increasing pain, under court order not to grow or use the natural herb of relief. Saying he refused “to allow the government to control my life,” his last words were that he had “given every thing to the cause - all my possessions, my time and my life.”
Our greatest tribute to Steve, will be our own efforts toward overcoming hypocrisy, fear and selfishness; to fight this increasingly cruel, authoritarian government on behalf of our children and neighbors. Steve, like all great and noble persons of history, hands back through space and time the courage to be free. His walk with love and death widens that path that we all must take; to make our lives meaningful, loving and liberating.
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