“Won’t You Care for John Sinclair?”

John Sinclair at Hempstalk.

“Won’t you care for John Sinclair?”

–  John Lennon

“Our culture is a revolutionary culture, a revolutionary force on the planet, the seed of the new order that will come to flower with the disintegration and collapse of the obsolete social and economic forms which presently infest the earth.”

– John Sinclair

I had my 75th Birthday April 1st. So, I headed to the cabin up at Odell Lake, high (4860’ elev.) on the Oregon Cascade Crest to spend some time contemplating just what it all means. There is still a lot of snow around in the shady areas. I got up early Tuesday and replaced the decomposing gasket on the wood stove’s door and after that went down to the dock.

I sat there on a bright, sunny morning looking out on the forested Wilderness and snow-capped mountains reflected on the mirror-like surface of the lake, as five migrating loons swam by to check me out. An eagle flew overhead, bothering the loons.

I grabbed my phone to take some photos and noticed a text message from one of my Flint pals. It was a superb article in the Detroit Free Press (written by one of my many cousins’ friends) on the passing of our friend, ally and hero John Sinclair earlier in the day. That sure amped up my contemplation on aging, while putting a bittersweet tint on my birthday musings.

I recommend the Free Press article, as it is a very thorough, very respectful recap of John’s amazing life and cultural contributions. So, I decided to get past my grief and write a more personal Remembrance of one of the greatest Peace, Justice, Equality, Environment, Anti-Racist, Civil Rights… activists, ever.

Michael. There is no best of anything. There’s shit you like. There’s shit you don’t like. And there’s shit you don’t give a shit about.”

~ John Sinclair

One of John’s talents was as a DJ (he was a young DJ when we first met – I was 13 and he was 21), music promoter and music writer. He knew just about every great 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s…musician. He made the above comment to me years ago after the CounterPunch Best Albums piece I had contributed to came out. He was quite pleased that Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On?” was a choice of most of the CP crew. He had a good point and I’ve tried to keep that perspective ever since. So, in Honoring him. I’ll just note “one of the greatest.”

John, after his rude experiences with Michigan authorities, moved on; first, to New Orleans and then to Amsterdam. I fell in love and moved to the Pacific Northwest. When the internet and email appeared, we kept in touch that way. One time, he found out that John Trudell, Quiltman and Bad Dog were going to be in Amsterdam on one of their European Tours. He wrote, “I’ve always wanted to meet and hang with those cats.”

I let John T. and Quilt know, but an Ice Storm prevented them from even landing at the airport. They eventually connected and became pals. Both Johns spent considerable time together promoting Cannabis Legalization. We all naively thought legalization was just around the corner back in 1970 when Sinclair was finally released from prison. I am so happy both Johns lived to see it happen in some enlightened states, but it’s now up to us to finish the job.

One night both Johns and I visited Madeline Martinez’s World Famous Cannabis Cafe in Portland. Madeline, a corrections officer, was a co-founder of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition). It was back in the era of legal Medical Marijuana and anyone with a card could come and safely enjoy time and smoke with like-minded folks. And like-minded they were – the entire crowd that night treated both Johns as the heroes they were! Of course, the Johns wanted to support Madeline’s courageous effort. She is now the Oregon chair of NORML.

John eventually moved back to Detroit. We’d see one another whenever he came to the Northwest for a Poetry Reading or pro-Cannabis events like Hempstalk, the great, large gathering Paul Stanford and his allies put on for years – a major contributor to Oregon’s eventual end of Prohibition that John and John Trudell wouldn’t miss. We also would get together whenever I would get back to Michigan.

John and I and pals at a John Trudell and Bad Dog performance at Hempstalk. We Flint geezers know to bring a chair!

John lived a rather Spartan lifestyle. Accumulating stuff was never his thing. Other than meaningful memorabilia and books, his Inner City Detroit apartment was rather bare. The Post-Industrial ecological vision John espoused since way back was all about vastly lowering human consumption (of everything) and living in harmony with Nature in egalitarian communities.

When my sister Kate and I visited John at his place last Summer, one thing he did have proudly displayed was a Special Tribute from the State of Michigan recognizing his importance. (Gretchen Whitmer for President, folks!)

In July 2019, John was a consultant for Michigan on how to set up Dispensaries, given the voters recent legalization of Cannabis. I went and picked him up at a confab at the State Capitol.

As we headed out, a woman came up and told John, “I love you. You never sold out.”

John responded with a straight face, “Well. No one ever made me an offer.” Seeing that his humorous response confused the woman, he quickly broke out a huge smile and his great, cackle laugh.

He told me as we left, “I used to be Public Enemy #1 in Michigan and now I’m some sort of hero.” He also told me that wasn’t the first time he’d cracked that joke.

(John Mitchell, Nixon’s Attorney General proclaimed Sinclair “Public Enemy #1” for his unapologetic Cannabis advocacy and his alliance with the Black Panthers, which is why he became a political prisoner in the first place. Mitchell had promised to “wipe out the Black Panther Party (and the allied White Panthers) by the end of 1969.”

John’s friend, Panther Bobby Seale came to the 1971 John Sinclair Freedom Rally that Jerry Rubin and allies organized and John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Stevie Wonder, Bob Seger, Commander Cody and others performed at and Seale gave one fine ecological speech.)

Ever after, whenever someone mentioned the John Lennon connection and asked for John’s take on Lennon, he’d say, “John Lennon got me out of prison.” Nothing more needed saying.

By 2019, John had to struggle to be mobile. The Neuropathy in his feet had made walking dangerous. He had a number of falls. Lisa Goldrosen gave me a couple beautiful carved wooden canes to pass on to him. But, soon he had to go with a four-footed, more stable cane and then, a walker and a wheel chair.

We headed up to my family’s decades-old retreat cottage at Loon Lake, where John first visited in 1962. From there, we headed across the state to attend the Premiere of Fellow Flintoid Jeff Gibbs’ important documentary “Planet of the Humans.”

Whenever someone introduced or wrote about John, it usually started with “John Lennon wrote a song about him” and focused on his abominable incarceration and Cannabis Activism and maybe a little on his concert promotion days. When Michael Moore introduced John at the theater, he mentioned none of that. Michael stuck to John’s very important legal success at taking on the government over illegal spying on activist groups. The packed crowd gave John a standing ovation.

Three Flint allies.

After the Premiere, we returned to Loon Lake where John, I, four of my five siblings and some Flint pals had a great few days at the lake. John spent a bit of time on the deck looking out on the lake and creating his weekly Radio Free Amsterdam show, as he did at Quiltman’s and other places we’d visited over the years. (Visit the Radio Free Amsterdam online and check out John’s archival shows.)

I sure am going to miss John. It will be hard this summer when we were hoping to have another retreat with my siblings and pals at the lake.

My dad used to say “Your friends dying is the hardest part of growing older.” At 75, I can live with the physical decline and all, but Dad was so right…and when it’s a friend, ally and hero…?

The woman at the Capitol was also right. John never did sell out. He never wavered on his main causes. He is a Youth Counterculture, Music, Civil Rights and Political Resistance icon. We were fortunate to have him. He’d want all to know that the way to honor him is to remain true to Planetary Peace and Freedom causes.


PS: “Let’s all get down to the nitty gritty – and don’t miss any nits or grits. All right. Some people are running around distorting, really, what people are talking about when they say that we want a society, we want a world of humanism.

Not only are we gonna free all the people. But you’re gonna have to free the birds, the snails and the worms and the trees and the lakes if you are gonna free humanity. You’re gonna have to do that…

…The only solution to pollution is a people’s humane revolution.” ~ from Bobby Seale’s magnificent speech at the John Sinclair Freedom Rally, December 10, 1971, Ann Arbor, MI

MICHAEL DONNELLY has been an environmental activist since before that first Earth Day. He was in the thick of the Pacific Northwest Ancient Forest Campaign; garnering some collective victories and lamenting numerous defeats. He can be reached at pahtoo@aol.com