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Medical marijuana activist Corey Donahue carves a niche in Occupy Denver's kitchen

A newcomer at Occupy Denver might think that revolution was built on coffee and dick jokes. But while these are key ingredients at the group's rowdy and somehow entirely functional kitchen, they haven't replaced the ideals they augment. Corey Donahue, a key and consistent presence in Denver cannabis activism, is smoking from an incredibowl as he defends a (questionably successful) joke.

"If I've got to explain my jokes to you," Donahue says with a pull on his camouflage Gilligan hat. "They aren't funny anymore."

"Man, that means your jokes aren't funny," says Pat Marsden, his partner in the Thunderdome, the apt name for a kitchen in which literally anything goes, as long as it doesn't violate the health code.

The Thunderdome, Occupy Denver's official kitchen.
The Thunderdome, Occupy Denver's official kitchen.
Jenn Wohletz

For the entirety of the occupation's nineteen-day stay in Denver so far, Donahue has maintained a Thunderdome presence, monitoring it during the day and sleeping in a technically illegal tent at night.

Not that Donahue appears to be bothered by breaking the occasional rule. In July, he was jailed for disrupting a Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act meeting at the Boulder Public Library. Shortly thereafter, we revealed that Donahue was the target of a theft and disturbing the peace warrant for allegedly taking public records from the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division without paying for them.

Granted, Donahue is also capable of working within the system. A number of marijuana activists credit him with helping to defeat a bill to set THC driving limits. And he's assembled a draft marijuana initiative under the auspices of an organization he's dubbed Crazy For Justice that would, among other things, make 4/20 a holiday called Cannabis Freedom Day.

"Every conversation I have is about activism," says Donahue, pointing to the table, where, next to a donation of sardines in mustard sauce, sits a freakish amount of pineapple. "Right now, I'm talking to you about activism while I also happen to be stacking Dole Pineapple Tidbits."

With a masters in international relations and a resulting $57,000 in student loans to his name, Donahue has been out of work for a two-year span dedicated almost entirely to a series of causes: Amnesty International, the Rocky Mountain Survivor Center, cannabis rights. To the right of his head, above the tarps covering the freestanding kitchen, is a black flag, the symbol of anarchy, which plays an eerie, if ironic role in Donahue's discussion with a stranger he met two minutes ago.

"They're talking about re-golding the dome down there, and we're here feeding people on the streets," Donahue says. He picks up speed. "We can show society a way forward, build a sustainable community, live our lives as examples. We can't just wait until the next election and vote for someone who says they'll fix it but then won't."

The stranger, now introduced as Jim, hands over $5: "You young people are wonderful."

Minutes later, another stranger, this time sans first name, donates $20. The kitchen where Donahue and Marsden volunteer, along with others, is the occupation's first structure, in addition to acting as its beating (and bleeding) heart. Although there's an inordinate amount of spitting occurring on the sidewalk in front of it, the kitchen is run with the authority of the police the flag above them opposes. No request is ever denied, but each one is managed with strict and sarcastic aplomb.

"A lot of people gather around here, and we need that dialogue," says Marsden in an echo of Donahue's wish that the Thunderdome be established as a "people's kitchen." As he explains, a man about ten feet away begins to have a seizure, but before a medic can be called, one is already there. "The politics are nice, but they scare a lot of people away. We need the conversation to start first."

Tents at Occupy Denver.
Tents at Occupy Denver.
Jenn Wohletz

Donahue has adapted Occupy Denver's structures, as he creates them, to apply to marijuana activism as well, where he hopes that dialogue will become the key to progress in a plan that, albeit a little vague, is helped by the group's proximity to the capitol building.

"I want the same open forum for marijuana," Donahue says. Later, he will quote Hunter S. Thompson. Twice. He talks about "American interests" as an abstract concept, drops references to a "complete revolution of society" without losing any earnestness and can move from ex-cons to student loans to the Spanish-American War and back to marijuana in fewer than five minutes. "There's so much misinformation. We're so close that if we bring people up there to the capital for cannabis action when they're in session, the public comment will radically change how the legislature operates."

Currently, the camp's group focus is settled firmly on guaranteeing Occupy Denver is both safe and sustainable. Loftier long-term goals include worm composting, a vegetable garden and an increase in diesel generators, but the immediate plan focuses on an increase in blankets and army tents to counteract night-time temperatures.

Governor John Hickenlooper insists the tent city can't stay, because camping in its present locale is against the rules. But Donahue, who was the first to pitch his tent (about thirty others have followed his lead), isn't concerned. When asked about the chance of the police taking away the tents, Donahue responds that "like the phoenix, we will rise from the ashes of destruction."

Part of his childhood was spent on the streets; his mom lived for a time in halfway houses after her divorce from his father. The original tent Donahue brought has since been given to a family in a similar situation, and he has moved to a smaller -- but still shared -- tent. "I'm not some kind of fancy pants," he says. "The tents are really important for keeping everyone together and warm. We're trying to do it on the sly so it's not right in front of the cops, but it's still happening."

Rifling through an enormous bag of tamales, the group's most recent food donation, Donahue explains his hope of expanding Occupy Denver to fill the other side of the street. "If we do it right, we're on the verge of a new Renaissance," Donahue says.

Donahue seems uncomfortable with the grandiose words, but never with the grand intentions. In response, another volunteer comes up behind him and bends the lyrics of the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want:" "But you always get what you need," he says.

Marsden corrects him: "You get what you take."

More from our News archive: "Occupy Denver prepares for the cold with donated supplies."


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