After election day guidebook author and travel host Rick Steves, like many Americans, was bummed. He had planned to go to Washington D.C. for the presidential inauguration, but was suddenly changing his plans. In a statement on Facebook he told a fan, “Even though I canceled my flight and hotel reservations for the inauguration in Washington D.C. after Election Day, I still want to celebrate this important day for all of us Americans. And I want to do it in a way that reflects my values and what I love most about America: tolerance, diversity, and freedom.”
To do so, Steves chose to match every dollar spent in his website’s shop on Inauguration Day with a donation to the ACLU. The ACLU, a friend and ally to cannabis reformers long before it was cool, was selected by Steves due to the diversity of their mission in protecting the rights of Americans.
“I believe that Americans of any political stripe can feel proud of the ACLU’s mission, as it boldly defends minorities from the tyranny of the majority,” said Steves. “Political movements, presidents, and trends come and go, and, as a traveler, I well know how the world looks to America — in good times and bad — as a beacon of freedom, a land with a constitution that declares people of all religions, sexual orientations, and ethnicities should enjoy equality under the law.”
His plan worked spectacularly and this week he was pleased to tell supporters, “I wrote a check to the ACLU for $50,000.”
Steves told fans on Inauguration Day, his website had eight times the normal traffic. Folks who wanted to support the ACLU purchased 305 bags, 901 accessories, 573 books, and 161 DVDs, spending a total of $42,962. Not only did Steve’s keep his promise to match every dollar spent, but he upped the grand total of the donation to $50K.
Steves went on to note as a successful white Christian male he does not often have to “often think a lot about civil liberties. At least, not in an immediate or personal way. Civil liberties just aren’t an issue for most of us.”
Steves said that he doesn’t have to worry because he has the ability to afford a lawyer.
“If I want to smoke pot, no one’s going to arrest me,” he said. “It’s poor and black people who get arrested, and then disenfranchised. I have a voice because I fit societal norms and I have money. In these greed-is-good days, it’s the poor who have to struggle most for their civil liberties.”
In selecting the ACLU to receive the donation, he put extra conviction behind those words. The ACLU’s 2013 report The War on Marijuana in Black and White. The report offered many insights into cannabis such as in 2010, there was one marijuana arrest every 37 seconds and states spent combined over $3.6 billion enforcing marijuana possession laws.
Much of the most damaging materials to come out of the report focused on the severe racial disparity in the enforcement of cannabis laws. In the the most startling data a black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates. Such racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests exist in all regions of the country, in counties large and small, urban and rural, wealthy and poor, and with both large and small black populations. Indeed, in over 96 percent of counties with more than 30,000 people in which at least 2 percent of the residents are black, blacks are arrested at higher rates than whites for marijuana possession.
Now, thanks to Steves, the ACLU’s coffers are a little bit fuller to fight for the disenfranchised.
TELL US, have your civil liberties been compromised due to your cannabis use?