A political buddy of mine died this week.
His name was Ben Masel.
He was one of those great characters who've so defined Madison, Wisconsin, over the years.
This bearded, soft-spoken, yet defiant man truly believed in our Bill of Rights, and he exercised those rights more vigorously than anyone I've ever known.
He could be counted on to attend just about any rally or demonstration for peace and social justice, but the two issues that animated him the most were the legalization of marijuana and the upholding of our civil liberties.
I remember him walking into the office of The Progressive magazine one time just reeking of pot. And he was, for many years, the chief organizer of the annual legalize-marijuana rally here.
But that was just part of his freedom-loving activity.
For instance, he put together one of the first demonstrations against the Patriot Act here. And he was never afraid of getting arrested.
In fact, his was a self-funding operation. Knowing his rights, he would stand his ground, get arrested, and then sue the police successfully and win substantial awards. That's how he got to keep doing all that he did. He was ingenious.
I last saw Ben at one of the huge rallies in March against Gov. Scott Walker's assault on collective bargaining.
He pulled me aside to let me know that he'd been diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer, and that it was incurable. He also said the doctors advised him not to go to the rally but he told me had to be there.
That was Ben: indefatigable, strong, reliable, and sweet, too.
On May 4, I went to the memorial service for him, at least for a little while (hey, it lasted five hours!). A guitar player sang playful pro-pot songs, while old veterans of various social justice causes milled around. Inside the Gates of Heaven there were a lot of photos of Ben. The one that caught my attention had him wearing a tri-cornered hat and a T-shirt that said:
"NOTICE TO LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS: I do not consent to a search of my person, house, papers, effects, or motor vehicle. I retain my 4th Amendment rights and all other rights under the United States and State Constitutions." (Foolish me, I didn't take a picture of it. But here's one I found on the Web with him wearing the same shirt.)
Ben Masel fought for his rights -- and for ours. And he did so with courage, cleverness, and joy.
A model citizen he.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Labor Denounces Walker's and Kasich's "Recognition" of State Employees."
Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter.