Beating the counter-culture drums off

In between trips to Carson City to cover the mostly aging state legislative establishment, I hung out in Reno covering the area’s mostly aging Bohemian establishment. Last week, that meant listening to eternal hippie J.R. Reynolds talk about marijuana legalization. This week, it meant sitting through some of Burning Man’s most recent lobbying effort at the Washoe County Commission.

The gist of Reynold’s speech June 4 in front of the Thompson Federal Building was that the fed’s war on drugs is a war on us.

“This fight is not a new fight,” Reynolds began. The former KKOH talk show host spoke of being a jazz DJ in Hawaii in 1978, where he organized a seed-in on palace grounds. Participants were encouraged to plant as many marijuana seeds as they could before leaving the grounds.

“I never saw the fruits of our labor, but we did plant a lot of seeds,” Reynold said.

About 30 people showed up at the Reno protest. Their goal was to call attention to the sentencing in federal court of Ed Rosenthal, a medical marijuana grower from Oakland, Calif., who was sentenced to pay a $1,000 fine.

“I’m ecstatic to hear that he did not receive any jail at all,” said Howard Knudsen, who organized the event. “He is not a criminal. He’s a hero to many who use medical marijuana to alleviate their suffering.”

Many of the activists looked familiar from weekly peace gatherings. Knudson said the pro-pot event was provoking a heartier response from passers-by.

“The response is a little more enthusiastic than it is for the anti-war crowd,” Knudsen said. “They yell bad things at [anti-war activists].”

Knudsen, 19, has never been to Burning Man, but he’d like to go someday. Given the mean age of those speaking on behalf of Burning Man at the Washoe County Commission Tuesday, Knudsen might be a little young.

About 150 Burning Man supporters turned out for the public comment filibuster. About 50 signed up to speak. At issue was the commissioners’ recent vote to not allow Burning Man’s parent company to use a parcel of land it purchased as a staging area for the annual desert whatever-fest. Black Rock City, LLC, has sued Washoe County over the matter, according to a press release issued by the company’s public relations agency.

Speaking on behalf of the event were real estate agents, trailer park landlords, San Franciscans and business owners. As per directives in an e-mail from absent leaders—event founder Larry Harvey was off in England speaking to Oxford University about “The Vacant Heart of the Wild West"—speakers emphasized the economic impact Burning Man has on northern Nevada.

Michael Jackson of Las Vegas told the council that he’d just been to Mardi Gras—"imagine the trash they haul out of there"—and was looking forward to Burning Man. Jackson said he owns three houses in Reno and Sparks and a trailer park in Silver Springs.

“So I’m familiar with the aesthetic values of rural Nevada,” he said.

Between the Burners, Sam Dehne took the podium. He claimed to be “stupefied” that the commission balks at Burning Man yet fawns all over such heinously noisy events as Street Vibrations.

“Thousands of motorcycles take our town hostage,” he said. “They mutilate our community, and our commission wouldn’t do one thing about it.”

Dehne said he was surprised at the number of people who’d turned out for “the Sam Dehne show.”

"I’d have brought my guitar," he said. "It never ceases to amaze me what interests people. There are more people here for this little Burning Man business than turned out for the whole city of Sparks election last week."Excellent point, Sam.