John Lennon and Yoko Ono perform "John Sinclair" at 'John Sinclair Freedom Rally' - Crisler Arena, December 1971
John Sinclair (born October 2, 1941 in Flint, Michigan, United States) is a Detroit poet, one-time manager of the band MC5, and leader of the White Panther Party — a militantly anti-racist countercultural group of white Socialists seeking to assist the Black Panthers in the Civil Right movement — from November 1968 to July 1969.
Sinclair was involved in the reorganization of the Detroit underground newspaper, Fifth Estate, during the paper's growth in the late 1960s. Fifth Estate continues to publish to this day, making it one of the longest continuously published alternative periodicals in the United States. Sinclair also contributed to the formation of Detroit Artists Workshop Press, which published five issues of Work magazine.
Involvement with the MC5
Sinclair managed the hard-edged proto-punk MC5 from 1966 though 1969. Under his guidance the band embraced the counter-culture revolutionary politics of the White Panther Party, founded in answer to the Black Panthers' call for white people to support their movement. During this period, Sinclair booked the "The Five" as the regular house band at Detroit's famed Grande Ballroom in what came to be known as the "Kick out the Jams" shows. He was managing the MC5 at the time of their free concert outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The band was the only group to perform before baton-wielding police broke up the massive anti-Vietnam war rally, calling it a riot. Eventually, the MC5 came to find Sinclair's politics too heavy-handed. He and the band went their separate ways in 1969 but they are still friends and he has spoken at their recent reunion concerts, including Massive Attack's 2008 Meltdown at London's South Bank.
Arrest and imprisonment
After a series of convictions for possession of marijuana, Sinclair was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1969 after giving two joints of marijuana to an undercover narcotics officer. This sentence sparked the landmark "John Sinclair Freedom Rally" at Ann Arbor's Crisler Arena in December 1971. The event brought together a who's-who of left-wing luminaries, including pop musicians John Lennon (who recorded the song, "John Sinclair" on his Some Time in New Yor City album), Yoko Ono, David Peel, Stevie Wonder, Phil Ochs and Bob Seger, jazz artists Archie Shepp and Roswell Rudd, and speakers Allen Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, Jerry Rubin, and Bobby Seale. Three days after the rally, Sinclair was released from prison when the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the state's marijuana statutes were unconstitutional. These events inspired the creation of Ann Arbor’s annual pro-legalization Hash Bash rally, which continues to be held as of 2009, and contributed to the drive for decriminalization of marijuana under the Ann Arbor city charter.