April 30, 2011

Ben Masel — the great Madison activist — has died.

Very sad.
Ben Masel, prominent marijuana activist and professional rabble rouser, died Saturday from complications due to lung cancer. He was 56....

Masel was born in the Bronx and grew up in New Jersey. He moved to Madison in 1971 and quickly became a fixture of the counter-culture, known specifically for acts of civil disobedience in the cause of legalizing pot...

"He wasn't just some pothead," said Sal Serio, a longtime friend. "He respected the constitution. He respected the system. And he fought to make sure others did too."

In fact, Masel made his living fighting those who tried to limit personal freedoms and rights. He was, for lack of a better term, a professional activist....
Meade and I had coffee with Ben less than a month ago. He looked and sounded like someone who was going to beat the terrible odds. It was possible to survive. You have to get into the "long tail." He was vibrant and completely engaged in the recent political events of Madison and took great pleasure in telling us about the many free speech battles he'd fought over the years. He talked about moving to another apartment and wanted to find a place that would accommodate his tall bookcases and all his books. With death staring him in the face, he was fully alive.
Jeff Scott Olson, Masel's attorney for the past 20 years, said his client focused mainly on challenging limitations to free speech and right to assemble. Whenever police departments or cities tried to stop him from collecting signatures or protesting, he would sue. And according to Olson, he almost always won.

Said Amy Gros-Louis, a friend of 25 years, "Ben knew the laws better than the police did."
And better than a lot of law professors! He was quite a brilliant guy.

Here's video Meade shot on March 24 at the Wisconsin Capitol, with Ben reading the free speech guarantees in the Wisconsin Constitution:



ADDED: Here's Ben's Facebook page for the event he called "Take back Wisconsin Constitution."
Yesterday the police issued the first citations for holding signs on the first floor ring of the Capitol building, in contravention of the court order which directed the department of Administration to return speech options to January. individuals have been free to hold political signs in this area for at least 25 years.

It's particularly ironic thatbthe Departmet of Adminisration's sign announcing the ban on protest ias immediately adjacent to an originalcopy of our State's Constitution, open to the very section which guarantees our right to protest there.

40 comments:

TMink said...

RIP bro. Sorry to see you go.

Trey

MadisonMan said...

Hard to think of Madison without him.

garage mahal said...

R.I.P. Ben. What a guy.

DADvocate said...

He was thoughtful and civil during the recent protests. More than you can say for many others. And, I hate it when someone younger than me dies.

RIP.

Sixty Grit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KenK said...

A "professional activist"? How did earn a living do that? Even in Madison.

chickelit said...

Masel was convicted in 1976, of assault, for spitting on U.S. Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson.

I think one had to live in Madison then to appreciate how outrageous that was even then.

R.I.P. Ben Masel

Big Mike said...

In fact, Masel made his living fighting those who tried to limit personal freedoms and rights.

Pardon my cynicism, Professor, but how did the late Mr. Masel feel about Republican's rights to free speech and freedom of assembly? If he was like most leftists, his notion of personal freedoms and rights ran in one direction only.

Paddy O said...

"If he was like most leftists, his notion of personal freedoms and rights ran in one direction only."

Well, he showed up in the comments section here not too long ago, in the thread about the posted threat against Althouse, taking Althouse's side.

Paddy O said...

Very sad. I hadn't heard of him before he made his comment around here, then went to look him up.

I very much liked this on his Facebook page: for Political views he has "I transcend your puny categorization"

Irene said...

Truly sad. He was a civil and thoughtful man who wove an interesting thread into life in Madison.

Meade said...

"If he was like most leftists"

He wasn't.


Sixty Grit, sincere condolences to you and your family.

pbAndj said...

""If he was like most leftists"

He wasn't."

I'm not sure that demeaning "most leftists" is productive in this thread. Is it possible to express appreciation w/o also taking shots? Is it too much to expect this to be a taking-shots-at political-adversaries-free zone.

Around here?

Obviously: yes.

Fred4Pres said...

RIP.

One thing I have to ask, did Ben Masel smoke cigarettes or tobacco or just weed? I hear people claim no one ever died of lung cancer from weed.

Really? I know people who never smoked anything who got lung cancer (and some of them have died of it). How do we know there is no connection between week and lung cancer.

And before I get the procanibas crowd fired up (so to speak) I am for legalization. I just can't understand objectively how any smoke (wood smoke, cigarette smoke, clove smoke, dope smoke, etc.) in your lungs doesn't have some harmful effect.

Freeman Hunt said...

Too young, too young, too young.

Fred4Pres said...

Sixty Grit, sorry for your lost.

Fred4Pres said...

I lost my grandfather and uncle the same way. They both worked with asbestos too. Bad combination.

Roux said...

How do you support yourself as an "activist"? Did he have a real job on the side?

Fred4Pres said...

Ben's emergency test was well played. I enjoyed that.

George said...

Wasn't he a cabbie?

Michael Haz said...

Ben Masel may have been a heckuva interesting and nice man; no dispute about that. Godspeed, Ben Masel.

However great his qualities, he is but an imitation of Edward Ben Elson, Madison's original and unequaled character.

Eddie Elson died 25 years ago; there are many who still get a tear thinking about him.

Pogo said...

He seemed a man of integrity, much as we disagreed.

Godspeed, and welcome home.

Franklin said...

That's very sad, sorry to hear that.

AJ Lynch said...

Sixty Grit: My sympathies to you and your family.

AllenS said...

Sorry to hear about the loss of your brother, Sixty Grit.

Pogo said...

Sorry for your loss, Sixty Grit.

Harry Phartz said...

Masel was convicted in 1976, of assault, for spitting on U.S. Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson.

I think one had to live in Madison then to appreciate how outrageous that was even then.


I did live in Madison then and pardon me for telling this great story one more time, but...

Masel got arrested for the famous spittle deposition on Scoop Jackson and managed to get released on bail fast enough that on primary Tuesday he was out and on the streets making noise. I was walking to class along Lake Street that morning, ready to turn up the Library Mall to the campus when I see on the NE corner of Lake and State, Ben Masel in a sandwich board sign urging people to write him in as candidate for President. He was right there in front of what was then Rennebohm's Drugstore as I passed and he exorted the passersby "A vote for me is a spit on all candidates!" Unforgetable fellow. R.I.P.

Lem said...

You know, we could have been left with a cafe or something.. instead of a saturday night funeral..

I'm just saying.

Almost Ali said...

"Ben knew the laws better than the police did."

Generally, the police know very little about the law.

reader_iam said...

Well, he showed up in the comments section here not too long ago, in the thread about the posted threat against Althouse, taking Althouse's side.

That thing called integrity clearly mattered to him. This is important.

tim maguire said...

It's hard to think of the death of an activist's death as being more tragic than anybody else's, but he sounds like an interesting fellow.

I can't resist, "Ben knew the laws better than the police did." A backhanded compliment if ever I hear done! Here in NYC, police ignorance of the law is a serious problem.

There are probably undiscovered tribesman in the Amazon rain basin who know the law better than the police.

traditionalguy said...

Ben sounds to me like an old fashioned Liberal who wanted to liberate everyone from repression. That is an act of love that wants to see men be free and live in mutual respect. Those were the types who loved JFK, and they were not today's phonies out to rob and kill everyone. Thanks for your efforts, Ben.

Sixty Grit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary said...

HippieDeadAt56.
FilmAtEleven.

John M Auston said...

Ben spit on Scoop?

I didn't know that.

Wonder if that was the early signs of the mood that led to the transformation of the Democrat party from the still 'loyal opposition' temperament Kennedy (Jack and Bob, only) and Jackson folks, to the sad joke it is now?

BT said...

Sixty Grit, my condolences to you, your family and all of Ben's friends. RIP.

Skay said...

I find nothing noble about a person spitting on someone else-no matter who it is or for whatever reason.
In fact, it is disgusting.

I am very sorry about your brother's death Sixty Grit. My mother also died of lung cancer - it was from smoking.

vbspurs said...

RIP, Ben Masel.

And Sixty Grit, my deepest condolences on the death of your brother.

Cheers,
Victoria

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Curtiss203 said...

Very sad to hear this. Ben was a friend back when; I remember hanging out with him at my apartment in the aftermath of the Scoop Jackson episode. Just googled his name on impulse and got this news. Condolences to all who mourned his passing.