Highs and Lows: Observations about the Angela Davis event and weed legalization

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On Monday, October 22nd, social worker and community activist Jackie Barkley offered a commentary aired on CBC Info Morning. Jackie, who is also a member of Solidarity Halifax, shared with listeners her observations about hypocrisies surrounding the Angela Davis event at Dalhousie and the celebration of weed legalization. Here is a transcript of her commentary:

 

Ahhhh. The sweet smell of weed…..or was that self congratulatory, self indulgent celebration of a change that will be fun for some, but embedded in the injustice of amnesia. The amnesia that allows us to quickly forget the suffering the new legislation may cover over….

I woke up on Oct. 17th , the morning after hearing Dr. Angela Davis speak at Dalhousie university, and I was struck by the unbelievable contradictions of how we learn, or grow, or don’t, as societies.

Maybe beginning with Angela Davis at Dal would give some context for the weed issue, since at the core, both of these events concern class injustice and racism – the latter embedded, relentless and particularity invisible to most white people.

Dr. Davis was amazing, deftly handling the dual victory and institutional hypocrisy at receiving a doctorate that was handed over by Chancellor Ann McLellan. Why hypocrisy? Well, Chancellor of Dalhousie Ann McLellan was the Federal minister of justice in the year that Judge Corrine Sparks (first female Black judge in NS) was censured and punished by the legal community in Nova Scotia. I remember the day Ms. McLellan was giving a talk at the Dal faculty club, while protesters outside decried the treatment Judge Sparks had received when she had openly spoken in her courtroom of the racism that permeates our institutions. Yes, the very same Anne McLellan who had refused to use her role and power as a federal cabinet minister to speak to or act on, the unfairness and injustice that Judge Sparks was undergoing in her career.

Yet there she was last night, cheerfully handing out an honorary to a person who had been a member of the Black Panther Party, and member of the Communist Party, and had served jail time in a US prison. As long as it’s not current protest, it appears it’s all good.

That was the hypocrisy.

The victory was that Angela Davis was there, speaking to all who honour her activism and history, speaking almost intimately to the Black community in Nova Scotia, about a shared history, speaking to an audience that included contemporaries of Dr. Davis, such as Joan Jones and Lynn Jones, family members of Burnley “Rocky” Jones, activist and fighter who brought Black Panthers to Nova Scotia to speak . It was a moving, incredible evening – with eloquent commentary not only from Dr. Davis and the performers, but thoughtful and deep questions from people of colour in the audience, whose voices were for once appropriately and unapologetically prioritized by the moderator, Paul Kennedy of CBC Ideas.

So back to weed. The CBC opened the morning after the Dr. Davis talk, with clips of people lining up at now legal weed shops, delighting in the promise of a legal high. The voices sounded so white and cheerfully triumphant -maybe they weren’t all white, but they did sound so, as did the clips of people speaking about their new cannabis “industry” and the economic benefits that would come rolling out.

But like the Angela Davis event, the contradictions are hard on the heart. Because what remains invisible to the larger population are those people with criminal records, or in jail, disproportionately Black or poor white in Nova Scotia, or disproportionately Indigenous or racialized in other parts of the country, who’ve been involved in the cannabis business before it was legal. Why is this a problem? And what does it have to do with Angela Davis? Well she spoke last night about criminalization and incarceration of poor, racialized people all over the world. And what we know in Nova Scotia, is that some Black and poor white persons (especially young men without jobs and education) are those who’ve been involved at the street level in selling weed. It’s these people who’ve been taking the risks in the weed business that others, disproportionately white, have enjoyed the benefits of for lots of years. They are who will be paying the social cost for years to come, in having records, or still being in jail for the small time illegal street trade.

And while the government announced plans for pardoning those convicted of possession, the jails here in Nova Scotia, are actually not full of users – who are mostly white, but full of a disproportionate number of young Black men. And they are not celebrating today, because the damage to them and their communities has been done, and now they again have to face no prospects, as they are unlikely to be employed at the NSLC outlets or by the celebrated new industry ready to haul in cash.

So a hearty congratulations and thanks to Angela Davis for a life of truth telling to power. And perhaps for a celebration of decriminalization – but only if we remember that Black and poor white people in Nova Scotia continue to suffer justice denied and dreams deferred.


A recording of the Angela Davis event is available here: 

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