Slow and Steady Wins the Race: A Reflection on Legalizing Marijuana and Gay Marriage
The 2012 election is over, but the public opinions, controversy and debate surrounding it is hardly finished. Even on the Whitman campus, reflections and analyses have only just begun.
On Tuesday, Nov. 13, guest speaker Eli Sanders came to offer his own observations of the recent election. An esteemed journalist, Sanders has been featured in numerous reputable sources, including Time Magazine, The New York Times, Esquire.com, and The New Republic online. Earlier this year, he received the Pulitzer Prize for his feature article published in Seattle’s The Stranger, where he currently holds an associate editor’s position.
This week Sanders spoke with Whitman students about the radical changes that happened here in Washington State on Nov. 6.
“I write features,” Sanders explained, “but I also write a lot about politics, and so, of course, I want to talk about this big election.”
Sanders veered away from national politics, however, and focused more on the big changes in Washington State. Not only did the country reelect President Barack Obama, he stated, but here in Washington both marijuana and gay marriage are now legal.
“I thought it was very useful in analyzing and deconstructing results of the election,” junior Genevieve Jones said. “I think there was a lot of national coverage about the momentous progress in Washington, but it was cool to see it from a local perspective.”
Sanders told students, “What happened here, essentially, is that overnight, Washington became the most liberal state in the country. It is the only place in the U.S. to legalize pot and gay marriage by popular vote.”
Thanks to election results on Nov. 6, Washington is more liberal than Amsterdam and Canada. Sanders advised the audience: “Savor it.”
“It was really interesting. I like how he personalized politics … he brought a local approach to it,” sophomore Ashley Hansack said.
Sanders also reminded students that despite overall support of legalizing pot and gay marriage at the state level, here in Walla Walla, popular opinion still sways in the opposite direction.
“In Walla Walla, neither of these things was approved,” said Sanders. Even President Obama was only supported by 38 percent of the county’s voters.
“I learned a lot about how Walla Walla functions politically. It was interesting to understand my place in it as a liberal voter,” junior Meredith Kretzler said.
Such liberal students on the Whitman campus are the minority here in Walla Walla, Sanders claimed.
Nevertheless, Washington made its way to this historic moment. Even some Republican politicians are showing signs of tolerance. One example Sanders noted was the reelected state representative Maureen Walsh: Despite her conservative affiliation, she gave a “moving” speech about the acceptance of gay marriage.
Getting to this state of tolerance was “a very long march,” he said. Sanders explained how in 1997, 68 percent of Walla Walla residents voted against a measure proposing basic gay rights, such as the opportunity to be employed without being openly discriminated against. This month, only 62 percent of Walla Walla voters rejected Referendum 74, the right to gay marriage.
“It shows that even this part of Washington is moving forward,” Sanders said.
This push forward came after years of hard work from civil rights activists. The only county in 1997 to support the legalization of basic gay rights was San Juan County. In 2005, the State Supreme Court continued to uphold the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. Only in 2006 did basic civil rights for the gay community pass in Washington State. Yet by 2009, domestic partnership had developed to become gay marriage in practically everything but name. Finally, here we are, allowing two people of the same sex to enter into holy matrimony together.
Sanders described this pattern as “one step forward, hold your ground; get pushed back a little, then one step forward again.”
He said that marijuana was legalized the same way: “slow and steady.”
“It’s worth celebrating what a historic moment this was and the hard work that got us there,” said Sanders.
He noted that controversy and conflict surrounding marijuana is by no means over, and that students should keep an eye out for the role it plays in years to come. As for gay marriage however, congratulations, “this is it—celebrate it!”