Highlights Of The Struggle

Reports from Campaign chapters around the country

California by Crystal Bybee

All six California CEDP chapters are in the midst of a very busy spring. In February, we celebrated the one-year anniversary of Kevin Cooper's stay of execution. The UC Berkeley chapter held a successful "Live from Death Row" event featuring Kevin Cooper via telephone hook-up and exonerated California death row prisoner Shujaa Graham. We know that we need to keep up the pressure and build awareness about Kevin's case. At the same time, we are working to raise awareness on campuses and in communities about Stan "Tookie" Williams. The UC Berkeley and Los Angeles chapters recently held screenings of the movie Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story. The St. Mary's College of Moraga chapter also held a successful meeting featuring Barbara Becnel speaking about Stan's case. We have two more "Live from Death Row" events featuring Stan planned for April, at San Francisco State University and at UC Berkeley. The Bay View community chapter is planning a forum on racism and the criminal "injustice" system with Barbara Becnel and other activists. CEDP members are also part of the Bay Area Anti-Death Penalty Coalition and are helping to plan larger protests against the execution of Stan "Tookie" Williams and any other scheduled executions in California.

We're proud to say that our newest chapter, in Fresno, is now holding monthly meetings, and one chapter member was invited to do a presentation about women on death row at Fresno City College as part of a month-long series of programs for Women's History Month. There are activities fairs happening at UC Berkeley and St. Mary's College, so the chapters are planning on tabling and finding new activists! The LA chapter connected with other activists by attending anti-police brutality events and passing out flyers about Stan "Tookie" Williams. They will work in coalition with other groups to plan a major event around Stan's case, reaching out to anti-gang violence organizations in South Central Los Angeles.

All over California, we are combining activism with outreach and education. These "basics" are more important than ever|we need to grow if we are to take advantage of the many opportunities arising for the movement here in California. Our work is incredibly important right now, and by reaching our to a broad layer of people around us, and building our chapters, we hope to have a serious impact over the coming months.

Austin, Texas, by Jerry Kim

Our chapter is trying to make this spring a turning point. We faced some challenges last year recruiting new members to the chapter. So, we've regrouped with a renewed focus on activity and membership.

As a result of the Houston crime lab scandal, more Texans are aware of the problems in our death penalty system. In response, we called for a press conference and protest on the night of a scheduled execution. In February, we screened Redemption, a movie about California death row prisoner Stan "Tookie" Williams. Through these events, we've been able to gain experience in activism and we're eager to do more. Also, several new members joined and have brought a lot of energy into our chapter. Now we're holding a table on campus once a week to hand out information about the death penalty and publicize our events.

During spring break, we worked with the Texas Moratorium Network (TMN) on a new project, the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break. This brought high school and college students from all over Texas to Austin for a week of workshops, a press conference and a protest at the governor's mansion.

As part of the spring break activities, we planned a "Live from Death Row" event with Stan "Tookie" Williams. Because of problems with the prison's phone, Stan was unable to call in. Instead, we played a radio interview featuring Kevin Cooper, another California death row inmate. The students really responded to Kevin and the recording showed the importance of humanizing the issue of the death penalty.

We are now working on a huge campus display about the death penalty. Plus, we're planning a forum with family members of death row inmates. Planning these events has reinvigorated our chapter and brought members and new people to our meetings.

We are also protesting a double execution scheduled on April 20 and are involved in organizing against the possible execution of Frances Newton, an innocent woman on Texas' death row!

Mt. St. Mary's University, Maryland, by Trudy Conway

It has been a very busy few months at Mount Saint Mary's and a very active slate of programming has our campus talking actively about the death penalty. A substantial Lilly Grant plus the generous support of our university president, Thomas Powell, has enabled the chapter to do intensive educating about the death penalty. We have seen views completely turned around and people amazed by how little they knew about the death penalty.

As chapter moderator, I have been running a course, "Perspectives on the Death Penalty," which drew forty students. Through this course and our chapter, we have had seven campus faculty give talks on the Supreme Court decisions, international perspectives, the history of the death penalty in America, race and class issues, and the death penalty and our culture of violence.

We also had full, engaged audiences to hear Madison Hobley, Billy Moore, and Kirk Bloodsworth on their experiences on death row, and Robert Johnson on the execution process. The Moore-Hobley panel engaged the audience by presenting together the stories of an innocent and guilty person on death row. Hobley's graphic account shocked the audience into realizing the tragic risk of executing innocent persons. Moore's story of his transformation over time and commutation just hours before his execution challenged many of the unexamined assumptions regarding those convicted of murder. Their dialogue dramatically captured the perseverance and triumph of the human spirit.

Upcoming events will feature speakers from the Catholic Bishops Death Penalty project, the Maryland Catholic Conference, other anti-death penalty organizations and families of persons on death row. All this will culminate in a series of events with Sr. Helen Prejean in May, and faculty and students are reading her new book in anticipation.

In addition, students have been corresponding with Baltimore's death row inmates and have formed a very close relation with Vernon Evans and his family. A powerful "Live From Death Row" program enabled Vernon to speak directly to our community about his moral strength and determination and his community on death row. He has been distributing the course readings on the death penalty to the men on death row, who have been writing lengthy position papers in response to the readings, adding to the lively campus debate. It is hoped that all this reading, discussing, and debating will have a ripple effect, spreading awareness of the barbarity of the death penalty and mobilizing efforts to abolish it.

Chicago by Robert Waddelow

The Chicago chapter has been busy these past months raising awareness throughout the community. In January we marked the fifth anniversary of a moratorium on executions with a cultural event called "Voices from Death Row," featuring performances, readings and rap by exonerated death row prisoners, family members and activists. Plus, the audience was invited to participate in an open mic.

In February we sponsored a powerful public forum for Black History Month titled "Legal Lynching in America," featuring Rev. Calvin Morris of the Community Renewal Society, who talked about how the death penalty is nothing short of legal lynching. In addition, Alice Kim of the CEDP talked about the men who have been sentenced to death in Illinois since the commutations in 2003 and Robin Thompkins, the daughter of former Illinois death row prisoner Willie Thompkins, talked about the difficulties family members face when their loved ones are on death row.

The following month, the chapter co-sponsored a wonderful art show, "Hope Breathing Life: Art from Death Row," with the No Death Penalty for Zolo Committee and the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. The show featured artwork by Indiana death row prisoner Zolo Azania and former Illinois death row prisoner Renaldo Hudson. Incredible beauty and spirit is reflected in the artwork of both men, and we were thankful to have the opportunity to view their paintings. A panel discussion and a screening of the documentary Too Flawed to Fix were held at the gallery to help educate people about Zolo's case and the death penalty.

More recently, we heard from Vernon Evans who called in to our chapter meeting from Maryland's death row. We were thrilled to learn that Vernon had won a stay of execution. We wanted to give Vernon an opportunity to air his side of the story and let him know he is not alone in his struggle.

We're heading down to Springfield, Ill., for Abolition Lobby Day and are busy preparing for the Chicago Social Forum. We hope that our workshop on the death penalty at this day-long conference will allow us to touch many with our message of peace and justice.