Long before there was a HiWay Diner, General Store, Italian Farmhouse, Rest Rooms and Liquor store, there was just a liquor store. . . and restrooms.
When I had arrived in New Hampshire I had just been let go from my previous employer. This allowed me lots of time to go around and not only take landscape photos but to work at my photojournalism chops as well. One of my early photo shoots of activism in New Hampshire was the protests known as The Redress of Grievances.
I am ignorant as to who exactly came up with the idea but I’ve got an idea that a man named Bob Constantine had something to do with it. Bob was being brought up on charges that he grew marijuana on land that belonged to the NH State Government, but that abutted his property. We all know that our legal system is set up like an assembly line. If you are a juror, your job is to listen to what the court people want you to, and forget what they don’t. You are there to listen and then say “guilty” and get back to your life. The system has a process of pushing through easy convictions, such as those who are caught using or possessing marijuana, a drug that has yet to been overdosed on in the history of mankind. Many people, such as myself, believe that the drug should be decriminalized so that police can handle problems that they are really needed for. Bob was looking at decades behind bars, for smoking a plant and working around the house and his property. I knew Bob fairly well, and knew he was a great father, husband and man in general. Bob was always looking out for others. Bob wasn’t looking to fall right through their system and be locked away. Bob fought by using the natural right of Jury Nullification, or the juror’s right to judge not only the defendant but the law itself. If a juror felt that the person was guilty of a law that had no business being on the books, he could vote in good conscience that the person was NOT GUILTY. To do that, he had to start getting the word out that he was in trouble and needed the public, whoever would be sat on the jury, to vote their conscience. Should this man be jailed for minding his own business? Should this man not be allowed to use a safer “drug” than one sold by our own government at the State Liquor Stores?
The Redress was born. Early movers came out in droves to support the idea that marijuana should be decriminalized and they were looking to tell others the fact. The bystanders were entering an establishment that sold alcohol, but not only that, they held a monopoly on the sales of hard liquor. You had to get it from the state, but that same state locks people up for choosing a different substance to get high on. The irony was strong, and the people shopping there were made to feel it.
Customers, in general, had that New Hampshire “Live Free or Die” spirit. Many customers spoke candidly to me seeing as I wasn’t wearing a marijuana leaf hoodie nor had a blunt sticking out of my mouth. I wasn’t holding a sign, but documenting the scene. Many of them told me quick stories of a family member who still can’t get a good job because he’s got a conviction for marijuana hanging like an albatross around his neck, or that they themselves tried marijuana a few times and never thought it was that bad. Few customers even expressed the fact we were looking to convey by saying “hey look what I bought, this can kill you. . .marijuana can’t even come close.”
The first of two “Redress” protests at the Liquor store was held on August 20, 2010. When I arrived I parked in the back parking lot which was located not on the highway but on Route 3A. I found that there were 3 State Police cruisers. Not unusual, until I saw a few others that were unmarked and one of which had a large lens and blacked out windows. You’d think that these guys were looking for Osama Bin Laden or Whitey Bulger. My best guess was that these guys were undercover State Troopers looking to build cases against the participants of the protest. Maybe they were just looking to get some easy busts of people smoking pot in public. Perhaps they succeeded in the first, but I know they failed in the second.
We had a good crowd, lots of the earliest movers of the Free State Project, a movement to gather libertarian minded individuals to the state to create activism in order to bring about a shift towards liberty. Many of these individuals have created even more activism, and some of these people have left the state for greener (a pun!) pastures. I felt strongly that I was part of a protest that was laying the groundwork for future liberty activism. Someone mentioned to me a small area of grass, taped off with “POLICE LINE” yellow tape. They pointed it out and told me that it was a “Free Speech Zone”, or an area that authorities have graciously given for you to express your speech. I laughed this off, they were just trying to grow the grass and didn’t want people walking on it. I was wrong. In some places, this would be the only area where one could peaceably assemble to redress their government. In New Hampshire, and when you’re dealing with liberty folks, those “Free Speech Zones” are laughed at and disregarded. As you can see in the photos, the tape was ripped and taken as souvenirs. Free Speech Zones, of course, are bordered by the political designation known as the border of the United States. Authorities have no business restricting your rights, but will do so and get away with it unless you do what these activists did, disregard and laugh at them.
The second of two “Redress” protests was held September 24, 2010. The band was back together again, but this time with new faces and new costumes. That’s right, Bob Constantine had created a persona known as “Weeda Claus” and was taking his show on the road. Weeda Claus’ mission was to inform people of their right to nullify a jury especially in cases where the person has harmed no one but perhaps got caught with some marijuana. It was a hit among liberty people and customers alike. He was roving around striking up conversations with anyone who wanted to stop and hear his plight. Bob carried his new persona around the state until it was retired after his court case, more on that later.
This bigger and better protest had the famous Kat and Russell Kanning dressing up as Pope and Knight. They were always trying to get some photos with the police, but the police were not having any of it and kept moving out of frame. The State was at a loss, they couldn’t control these people for simply expressing their views. Some customers this time informed us that they didn’t feel this place was appropriate for a protest. Some felt that they shouldn’t be forced to see people pointing out the hypocrisy of their support for harder
drug laws and stiffer sentences while they themselves, at one time in our nation’s history, would have been arrested for possessing the Canadian Club or Jack Daniels they were carrying out in brown paper bags. Overall, more support than detractors. This was before any true legalization in any state of our union. This was groundbreaking activism for ending the War on Drugs, and it was done here in New Hampshire.
There was also plenty of disobedience. As you might be able to infer from the photo below.
As for Bob Constantine, his jury trial ended in a hung jury. Nullification rarely acquits the individual, but typically a hung jury is just as good, as the State doesn’t want to expend anymore money to hash out a useless conviction. Bob was given a deal to pay $1,000 and spend a week in jail, down from several hundred thousand dollars and decades behind bars. He did his time, and when he was welcomed home at his “Getting Out Party”, I presented him with the fine paid in full that I had collected from
gracious members of the liberty community. It was *almost* like it never happened. Groundwork, right? A couple years later another Free State Project activist, and fellow Lakes Region Porcupine, Cathleen Converse, successfully helped a jury to nullify and acquit a person for possession of marijuana. Score!
That wasn’t the only disobedience. Here’s my wife giving activist Matthew Hunt an illegal haircut. We do it all here in civil disobedient New Hampshire! Obviously, he needed a trim and my wife is always obliged to help fix a guy’s hair!
This post is dedicated to two fellas who have passed on, but who fought so hard to live and live free. We miss you both, Chris and Lloyd. Two guys that should never be forgotten in our circles.