United States: Celebrating the Life of Wisconsin Activist Ben Masel

An activism pioneer who inspired many, Ben Masel loses battle with lung cancer

By Michael Bachara, Hemp News Correspondent

There is a truth that must be heard! Madison, Wisconsin - A lifelong activist, Ben Masel, has died after his battle with lung cancer. As the Hemp and Cannabis Community and many others mourn this great loss, we must also remember what Masel spent most of his life fighting for and continue on the path he helped to blaze.

Over the course of his life, Masel traveled countless miles and spent innumerable hours voicing his ideas and fighting for the rights of his fellows. Even in the face of opposition, he continued to speak out in favor of hemp and cannabis legalization, freedom of speech and the ability of people who make a stand to make a difference.

Masel's life-long passion project, Madison, Wisconsin's Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival, began as a marijuana smoke-in in 1971. The Harvest Festival, now celebrating its 41st year, has a long history of promoting cannabis hemp legalization and free speech while providing an annual celebration for like minded people to join together.

Masel was also a member of The Youth International Party, commonly called Yippies. The Yippies were more radically youth-oriented and a counter cultural offshoot of the free speech and anti-war movements of the 1960's. Embracing the alternative culture, arranging street protests and public pranks, the Yippies have often been described as anti-establishment.

Longtime fellow activist, attorney and good friend Don E Wirtshafter has published a blog tribute to Masel and explained, "Through the intransigence of one activist, Madison became the one state capital in the US with well-defined rights for civil protestors." Wirtshafter goes on to say, "Ben set an example of courage and determination that should inspire all of us to action."

Hempstalk Festival Stage Manager and long time friend Steve Wessing, told Hemp News, "I first met Ben in 1978 during the organizing for the 10th anniversary of the Chicago convention riots. He introduced me to most of the biggest names in the Cannabis community."

Wessing continued, "He has been my roommate, business partner, mentor, figurehead, point guard, expert witness, co-defendant, cellmate, hero, brother and patient. We have traveled tens of thousands of miles together by trains, buses, cars, and airplanes. We've faced police lines and tear gas together in more states than I can remember – all in the name of legalization." Wessing concluded, "I will miss him greatly."

Masel was able to inspire many over his life. Said Robert Platshorn, author of The Black Tuna Diaries, "Despite me being an almost total stranger and despite Ben being very ill and weakened by a futile debilitating series of chemo treatments, he picked me up at my hotel with all of my books, and promotional gear, and took me to the theatre." Platshorn was in Madison, Wisconsin for the premier of the Square Grouper, a movie featuring events from Platshorn's life.

During their dinner conversation after the premier, Platshorn found himself amazed Masel's passion to fight for the people, most recently for Wisconsin teachers, and the fact that despite illness, Masel was still out protesting on the cold and windy Wisconsin Capitol steps.

Having breakfast the next morning after the premier, "[He wanted] to encourage me. He believed the senior vote could be the missing piece to full legalization of cannabis. In retrospect the high point of my movie tour, was to introduce Ben Masel to the audience at the close of my Wisconsin screening. I gave him his final bow in front of the people for whom he had fought so hard, for so many years. They all knew him, loved him and gave him a final standing ovation. This will always be a proud moment in my life."

Earlier this month, Masel received The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) Board of Director's Special Appreciation Award for "A Lifetime of Outstanding Work in Advancing the Cause of Legalizing Marijuana". The award, which was presented by Wirtshafter, was accepted by Wisconsin and Madison NORML members who had made the pilgrimage to the "Mile High City" on Masel's behalf.

According an article by NORML Outreach Coordinator Russ Belville, "[Masel] first caught attention for his radicalism when at age 17 he became the youngest person placed on President Nixon's infamous 'enemies list' and 'the man' has kept his eye on Ben ever since."

There is a truth that must be heard! In conjunction with Hempstalk 2010, Masel created one of the first online festival petitions asking President Obama to pardon or commute the sentences of long-term marijuana prisoners. He educated the crowd on how the President has the authority with the pull of a pen to pardon these individuals.

Hemp News urges you to visit Masel's ongoing petition site and take the time to sign in his honor as thanks for a life well lived, dedicated to many noble causes. Even after his hospitalization due to his illness, Masel continued to speak out for what he believed through social networking websites. His petition for marijuana prisoners can be reached at: http://www.act.ly/2dk .

Related: United States: Ben Masel, Freedom Fighter, Dies Too Young by Paul Stanford

Photo Source: Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival, Madison NORML

Photo Source: Hempstalk 2010, Austin King

Source: Wisconsin activist Ben Masel honored by NORML in Denver

Perfecting the Art of Civil Protest by Don E Wirtshafter

Madison NORML’s Ben Masel loses battle with lung cancer

Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival