I attended a march by supporters of cannabis legalization yesterday, May 10. The march went through Dublin city centre, from Parnell Square, down O'Connell Street, past Trinity, to Kildare Street, and back again.
The atmosphere was very festive. It seemed more like a celebration of a fait accompli than like a protest. This put me off just a little. People were pretty wild, there was a lot of beer drinking, and public smoking of cannabis. There were some parents with children, and some older people scattered through the crowd, but the bulk of the people were students and teenagers.
The weather couldn't have been more cooperative, it was sunny and cheerful, with a slight breeze, and scattered, dramatic clouds. The gardai were relaxed but attentive and very visible, riding bicycles along the sides of the road, their day-glo vests green and futuristic. A few of the participants also rode bikes, slowly inside the crowd. Fixed gear bikes seemed to be popular.
Traffic was effectively controlled. A group of gardai on motorcycles cleared the way ahead of the marchers. The last group of marchers had snare drums and the like. They were probably my favourite part of the group, although the most fun part, it also seemed the most serious about what was going on. After the drum corps, the march was closed in by a six or so mounted gards.
As I said, the mood was overall more carnival than activism. The crowd left a wake of empty cans, cigarette butts, flyers, plastic packaging and Chinese novelties. Someone brought a sack of promotional stress balls and frisbees. These were whipped around mercilessly by hands well-trained from hurling. The inevitable ragged hemp clothing, dreadlocks, eyeliner, and chunky heels were balanced by the track suits, trainers, and bags of Bulmer's.
The marchers didn't show much thanks or much respect for the gards, but thankfully there was no open conflict. I did see one garda hit by one of the aforementioned viciously whipped promotional items, but there was no harm done, and she wisely ignored the offense. It could have been accidental anyway, things were being thrown pretty indiscriminately.
A few times someone decided it was time to sit down. I didn't really see the point, but I don't often get to sit in the middle of the O'Connell St. bridge, or outside of Parliament, so of course I went along with it. Occasional half-hearted shots of "legalize it" never really managed to get off the ground. People laughed, chatted, sang, drink, and smoked as they marched. Signs were wobbled lazily waved. Onlookers stared, or scowled, or grinned bemusedly as the motley human river streamed past them.
A handful of pamphleteers walked up and down through the ranks of cannabis' unlikely army, handing out propaganda. The flyering campaign didn't seem very effective. The leaflets were distributed almost exclusively to the people who had showed up to march, while the hundreds of bystanders waiting for buses or interrupted in their daily business When one of them tried to give me a brochure I said to him, "hey man why don't you give them to the people out there," and pointed to the sidewalk. He said "hey yeah good idea," and headed out to be a little more useful.
People were excited, and evidently everyone had fun. The group was smaller and less serious than I had hoped. It is an encouraging sign that an event like this was tolerated by the non-participants. I was a bit uncomfortable with the march in some ways. I'm not sure that public intoxication, littering, and provocative behaviour is really the best face for cannabis supporters to show the public.
While I doubt the event did much to advance its nominal purpose, it could have been worse. Maybe being the only sober person apart from the police in a mass of hundreds of intoxicated souls made me a little bitter. Also I was experiencing a mild but annoying rash, I suspect from an allergic reaction.
I left before we got back to the Garden of Remembrance. Moving out of the street, I leaned against the wall of a "4D Adventure Theatre", while I waited for the number 19 bus, a hundred metres or so north of the Spire. I thought about buying haddock and chips on the way home, but I decided that is a habit that I don't want to develop. Worn out from all the excitement and still a bit itchy, practiced a few songs out in the courtyard, then retired to my room to do a bit of writing, and to take a long afternoon nap.