Making change

John Sinclair vs. ‘the dictates of conventional society’
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  April 21, 2010

FINGERS IN MANY POTS Poet, activist, musician John Sinclair.

John Sinclair’s poem “Ask Me Now” (which contemplates the meaning of Patriots’ Day from the finish line of the Boston Marathon) leaves little question about the poet’s values. He implores that we “live in peace together,”

while we exercise the freedoms
guaranteed by our constitution —
to be free from armed invaders

in the comfort of our homes,
free to say or believe in
anything we might want to,

free to meet & mingle
with our friends, whomsoever
they may be,

free to get as high
as we want to, & enjoy all the substances
our happiness may require,

free to dance & sing,
free to make love with
whomsoever we may please,

free to have children
or not have children
as we may see fit,

free to live outside the dictates
of conventional society
like true americans,

tolerant of the differences between us,

quick to accept,
slow to anger,
loath to harm or destroy —

so let the word go forth
from boston today: yes, let us re-
dedicate ourselves

to the freedom & justice
our ancestors intended
when they founded this great nation

Read the whole poem at, or ask him to perform it at the North Star this Saturday, when he appears with the Houston-based jazz/funk outfit the Free Radicals. On April 24, Sinclair, an activist, poet, and cultural crusader, will spend the day in Portland, attending a screening of 20 to Life: Life and Times of John Sinclair and answering questions at SPACE Gallery, then moving eastward for the North Star gig, and ending the evening at an “after-party” at Mama’s Crow Bar. Part activist, part performer, he’ll likely leave a wake of fringe energy.

“I’m not a pop artist, I’m a poet,” he says. Indeed, he blames pop culture for society’s sterilization — what he describes as “an entertainment straitjacket” that’s “all part of the machinery of oppression.” He lumps almost everything — Madonna, 50 Cent, even American Idol — into that machine, which he says creates apathy and stunts creativity.

Sinclair fears that type of detachment; after all, public activism and outrage is what got him out of jail in 1971. He’d been arrested in 1969 for trying to sell two joints to a narc; he served 29 months before a freedom rally in his name — attended by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Phil Ochs, Stevie Wonder, Allen Ginsberg, and other iconic counterculture figures — earned him recognition, and release.

Over the years, he’s been active in various causes and played different roles in the hardcore hippie movement. During the ’60s, he was chairman of the White Panther Party, a militantly anti-racist organization; he also served as manager of MC5, the pre-punk and anti-establishment hard-rockers. Post-prison, he spent time in Detroit, and then New Orleans, as a poet and jazz/blues scholar. These days, he spends about half his time in Amsterdam, a place he lauds for its free health and human services.

His pet cause, now and always, is the legalization of recreational drugs, namely marijuana. For decades, Sinclair has been on the front line of the war on the War on Drugs, asking, “What do the police have to do with what goes on inside our heads?”

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