In 1971 the radical, youth-oriented Human Rights Party won two seats on council, leaving us Democrats dependent on their cooperation to get things done. Their election had little real impact on the city’s affairs, but it did change the climate in council meetings, leading to many dramatic post-midnight political confrontations. In March 1971, we passed the infamous marijuana ordinance that made possession and use of pot no more than a minor misdemeanor. The $5 penalty was a compromise between the $9 we Democrats wanted and the 25˘ penalty the Human Rights Party proposed. I remember at the end of the very loud and highly emotional evening of council debate and audience participation, one of my neighbors came up to me in tears, and said, “Bob, you have destroyed our town.”
Fortunately, the town survived. And looking back, I’m proud that during those years of political and social turmoil, while some cities were calling out the National Guard to quell assorted scenes of violence, Ann Arbor remained reasonably well ordered and fairly free of dangerous and damaging turbulence. Much of this relative calm was doubtless due to the restraint exhibited by our city and university leadership, but that in turn was a reflection of the character and attitudes of the larger community. At a time when so many college towns throughout the nation were disrupted, most confrontations here were directed into raucous but reasoned discussion rather than violence. That’s not a bad legacy for any community.
[Originally published in April, 2009.]