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R.I.P. Ben Masel

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
Longtime civil liberties activist Ben Masel, a Kossack for seven-and-a-half years, has passed away as a consequence of lung cancer. He was 56.

He was a fighter to the end, going to the last of hundreds of protests he was involved in during the uprising against Gov. Scott Walker at the capitol in Madison, Wis., where he lived for 40 years:

He doesn't have health insurance and hasn't had a conventional job in a long time. But he has a history of winning false arrest and First Amendment lawsuits, "which is a great hourly rate if you can wait forever to get paid," he joked [six weeks ago].

Masel has also been a constant presence at the Capitol protests over the past month, even defying a doctor's order that he remain in the hospital.

"If I'm going to be deceased today, I can't think of a better place than in the rotunda," he told his doctor.

In short, while many talked the talk, Ben walked the walk, compiling more than 800 pages in his FBI file (the last time he looked).

Often a candidate, but never a victor, Ben had declared his candidacy in the 2012 U.S. Senate primary for the seat held by Democrat Herb Kohl. It was not the first time he challenged Kohl.

In an interview with Ben five years ago, Nathan J. Comp captured his activist essence quite well:
Walking the fine line between activist and troublemaker has earned Ben Masel, since the early 1970s, a fair amount of time in court. A boundary pusher, Masel's legal tussles often stem from his leafleting and sloganeering where such activities are prohibited. Businesses see these anti-campaigning policies as protection for their patrons. However, Masel sees them as impositions on his civil liberties.

Most recently, Masel was gathering signatures on July 3, at the Memorial Union in a restricted area of the terrace. Masel, 51, was gathering signatures in his effort to get on the Sept. 12 Democratic primary ballot. When told he was in violation, Masel challenged the policy, was pepper-sprayed and then arrested. His signature drive, if not his arrest, paid off. Just days after the Union scuffle, Masel turned in nearly 2,200 uncontested signatures, effectively pitting him against Democratic incumbent Herb Kohl (D-Madison) later this summer.

Admittedly, Masel doesn't stand much chance of winning. He's OK with that. Sporting a T-shirt with the word "Vote"� transposed over a marijuana leaf, Masel seems to like shaking the system more than playing by its rules. He's had an axe to grind since facing the Vietnam draft and his soon thereafter expulsion from UW-Madison for anti-war shenanigans.

It's an axe he grinds well. ...

Masel, a perpetual anti-hero, underdog and irascible champion of the people, may not be a quality candidate in any election, but the same could be said of many current holders of high office, including his opponent, Herb Kohl. In that regard, what a treat it would be if—by some wonderful misfortune—voters let Masel bring his 35-year-old rebellion to Washington. There, he could team up with Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Madison), to form a dynamic duo in a chamber of cowards, together pushing back the tide of retrogressive legislation sweeping the nation.

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.


NewsHawk: Jim Behr: 420 MAGAZINE
Source: dailykos.com
Copyright: 2011 Kos Media, LLC
Contact: Daily Kos :: State of the Nation
Website: Daily Kos: R.I.P. Ben Masel

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
Marijuana activist Masel was Madison gadfly for 40 years

No one was ever confused about where Ben Masel stood on most issues.

People might, depending on their own politics, be annoyed or amused at Masel and his opinions. In a way that was only fair, because usually he seemed to feel the same way.

Masel was best known for advocating marijuana use and free speech, the latter often about the former. He was a frequent political candidate, including against Gov. Tommy Thompson, Sen. Russ Feingold and Dane County Sheriff Rick Raemisch. He appeared naked in some campaign posters, contending that he was a candidate "with nothing to hide."

He even claimed that he set the "outdoor world's record for political arrests" during his long years in Madison.

He might have been right.

Bennett A. Masel - that's the name that appears in arrest records - died of lung cancer Saturday in Madison. He was 56.

"He was arrested a lot, but he was able to demonstrate a lot . . . and accomplish a lot through diplomacy," said Jeff Scott Olson, his attorney when legal help was needed.

"I've never known anyone who was more willing to take on the risks and sacrifices to make sure our constitutional rights stay on the books and functional," Olson said. "He had a heart full of love and good humor."

Masel's way with words came through in 1989, after he found himself once again leaving a Capitol protest in a squad car. When a reporter asked why he had been arrested, he replied: "Disorderly conduct, resisting arrest. In other words, exercising your constitutional rights."

More recently, he was at protests in response to Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposals. He held a sign that read: "This is a Test of the Emergency Free Speech System."

While Masel sometimes won his court cases - and even financial awards - he was best known for one particular arrest and conviction.

He was convicted of spitting on U.S. Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson (D-Wash.), when Jackson was campaigning for president in Madison. As newspaper stories later noted, he became known as "the spitter," as in "Spitter is indicted." Masel ultimately served 15 days in jail for that offense.

He also made national headlines for heckling segregationist George Wallace from a wheelchair.

Masel was born in the Bronx, growing up in New Jersey. He went to Madison as a University of Wisconsin student in 1971, before being tossed out for taking part in a demonstration during his freshman year.

Masel was the longtime organizer of Weedstock, an annual celebration of marijuana and the call to legalize it. It was held in different counties and locations, often attracting the attention of local law enforcement.

The Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival outside the Capitol drew criticism from Attorney General Don Hanaway in 1990.

Masel challenged Hanaway to a chess match, saying it would prove that past marijuana use hadn't hurt his brain.

Masel said he would even pay $5,000 if he lost any one of the four games in the match. He also said that he would stop smoking marijuana, which he said he has done "almost every day" for 21 years, if he lost the match.

Hanaway refused, saying, "Some things aren't funny, and drug abuse is one of them."

But others did find Masel amusing and even voted for him by the thousands.

His 2006 MySpace page included "good hash," as in hashish, as one of his interests. Others included, "Getting acquitted. Chess  . . .  Hangin' with my brand new granddaughter." He gave his occupation as "civil liberties plaintiff." At other times, he gave his occupation as publisher of an alternative newspaper.

Masel was, said Olson, a man of courage and conviction, irreplaceable on the Madison political scene.

"He was a true character, but he was in no sense a sideshow or a buffoon," Olson said. "He was an intelligent person. And he was able to accomplish a lot through diplomacy."

Survivors include daughter Semilla Anderson.

A private family service was planned.

- Thanks to greengo840 for submitting this article

Source: Marijuana activist Masel was Madison gadfly for 40 years - JSOnline
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