What The Campaign Convention Meant To Me

David Bates with his daughter

Participants from the Campaign to End the Death Penalty’s convention talk about their reaction to the weekend.

  • It was at the end of his speech on Saturday night. David Bates, a victim of torture by Chicago police, asked his daughter, Daniella, to come on down. He lifted her high above the podium. A pause filled the air, as we gazed upon this beautiful little girl in a bright blue dress. She looked a bit apprehensive and then smiled, as we all smiled at her and her father.

    David’s face showed his pain. He told us that he wakes up with these images of his torture in his mind and thinks of them throughout the day. The sight of the police can return his mind back to those horrific days.

    But times have changed and keep changing. The Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP) reached out to him, and David embraced our multiracial, multicultural organization. David introduced other exonerated men at the convention to Daniella, not as former death row prisoners, but as her uncles--for they, too, are his family and friends for life.

    As I returned to Boston, the image that was etched in my mind from the CEDP’s first national convention was the picture of David and Daniella. This symbolizes who we are and what we hope to accomplish.

    --Mary Rogers, Boston

  • I honestly see the convention as a turning point in my life. I was saddened and infuriated by the stories I heard, but I was also deeply touched and inspired by the great strength and will of the people who told them: Shujaa Graham and Darby Tillis and David Bates and all the others.

    My favorite moment, I think, was on Sunday afternoon when I said goodbye to Shujaa Graham, who hugged me, looked me in the eye, and said, "I’m depending on you." Yes, I am definitely in this fight for the long haul. The convention filled me with a new sense of excitement and hope, and I can’t wait for next year!

    --Jenni Rowe, Maryland

  • The CEDP convention provided a platform for incredible speakers, useful workshops, and powerful discussions. Experiencing the energy and conviction of campaign members throughout the country reinvigorated my personal desire to abolish this racist, unjust, and barbaric policy. No abolitionist should miss this convention next year.

    --Joe Moreno, Chicago-Wicker Park

  • One moment that stood out to me was when I was on my way to get lunch with David Bates and Kerry Max Cook. The night before, after the evening meeting, David had introduced his daughter to all of the former death row prisoners as "uncles," because their common experiences made them like family.

    I asked if Kerry was an "uncle"--or would the fact that Kerry is white and David is Black mean that he couldn’t be. David put his arm around Kerry and said that of course he was considered an uncle. And Kerry said, "There’s only one color on death row, and that’s the color poor."

    I thought that was a great way of getting to the guts of who gets targeted by the death penalty: poor Blacks and poor whites.

    --Marlene Martin, Chicago

  • This year, Georgetown University attended the inaugural Campaign to End the Death Penalty annual convention, where chapters from all over the country came to exchange ideas and challenge one another with new goals for the coming year. With 12 Georgetown students attending alongside activists and enthusiasts from every corner, we all felt the energy and dedication that is making the Campaign successful.

    Our chapter was so enthused that when the time came for working on the Mission Statement and Guidelines, almost everyone had ideas about ways to strengthen an already strong organization. Our co-chair, Ginny Simmons, gave a short teach-in about our Death Penalty Awareness Week, which passed as a national initiative.

    Our Georgetown chapter is looking forward to next year’s convention, where we can share our accomplishments, learn from our shortcomings, and rededicate our energies to this struggle.

    --Christina Fleming and Ginny Simmons, Washington, D.C.-Georgetown

  • Amy, Cari, Jay, and I just got back from the first national CEDP convention, and I think it is more than safe to say that each of us is probably more motivated than ever to stop this killing machine. And we have just been informed that the man our state murdered last night after 25 years of dehumanizing treatment was horrifically tortured during the process of lethal injection.

    Aside from this action being so very wrong in itself, there can be no doubt that with each of these murders by the state, those who are on death row lose more of what must be their ever-dwindling hope.

    We can each take a few minutes out of our lives and a few cents out of our pockets, and with this small effort, little by little, we can each give humanity back to those on death row.

    --Leigh Craigmyle, Atlanta