Starting Up A Chapter

By: Marlene Martin

At a student activities fair at Columbia University in New York City, 700 people signed up to get involved with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. And the Campaign's national office has received numerous requests for information on how to start a chapter.

So here are some practical steps to help you get started.

Holding The First Meeting
First, think about where to hold it. If you're a student, the likely place is on your campus. If you're not a student, there are other places. Several of our chapters meet in churches or community centers.

If you know people interested in working on this issue, sit down with them to figure out a meeting place and to make up a flyer announcing the meeting. One union member of Service Employees International Union Local 46, Sherida Hudak, got some of her fellow union members involved with the case of Mario Flores, an Illinois death row inmate and a former member of their local. They worked to get a resolution supporting Mario passed on the local and even on the national level (see story on page 4).

If you don't know people interested in the issue of the death penalty, then find a meeting place yourself and make up a flyer announcing the meeting and the main topic of discussion. Make lots of copies, hand them out to people you know and put them up around campus or in your community.

Publicizing The Meeting
One of the best ways to publicize a chapter meeting is to set up an information table. Choose a place where lots of people pass by. The Campaign's Hyde Park chapter has held many successful information tables at a local food coop, where members have met a number of people who have gotten involved with the Campaign.

At the table, you should have the copies of the New Abolitionist for sale, flyers for an upcoming meeting, membership cards for people who want to join the Campaign and perhaps a petition for people to sign. Make your table visible with a poster with slogans like "Moratorium Now!" "Stop All Executions" or "Join the Fight to End the Death Penalty." You can also sell anti-death penalty buttons and have fact sheets about different death row prisoners whose cases the Campaign is profiling (contact the national office to get copies or go to our fact sheets section on this site).

At The Meeting
You could begin with a short presentation on at topic related to the death penalty, such as racism and the death penalty, or innocence on death row, or the need for a moratorium. The presentation doesn't need to be longer than 10 or 15 minutes. Then open up the meeting for discussion so people can speak their minds. There should also be a section of the meeting devoted to talking about what the chapter would like to do and making plans.

The important thing is for meetings to be held on a regular basis -- set your own pace with either weekly or biweekly meetings.

Building A Chapter
There are a lot of exciting events that chapters can plan to both raise awareness about the death penalty and help us gain new members.

Chapters have been very successful with Live from Death Row events, in which a death row prisoner calls in to address an audience via speakerphone. These are often held in conjunction with panel discussions that include exonerated death row prisoners, family members of those on death row, activists and abolitionist lawyers. Other events to consider are speakouts in favor of a moratorium, marches and demonstrations, and fundraising events, where a local band(s) donates a night of music.

These bigger events take some planning, but there's no reason why even new chapters can't do them. The Campaign chapter in Los Angeles held a Live from Death Row event as its very first meeting to launch the chapter. People who joined the Campaign at the meeting participated in demonstrations outside of the Democratic National Convention in August. Every New Abolitionist and fact sheet that the Campaign brought was gone when it was over.

These are just a few suggestions for how to get started. Anyone who wants to start a chapter should call the Campaign's national office at 773-445-9541 or e-mail us at We'd be happy to send out a starter kit (see description below) and possibly arrange for a speaker to visit the chapter and help out in any way we can.

Get a Campaign to End the Death Penalty starter kit for $25.

The kit includes:

  • An Abolish the Death Penalty t-shirt
  • 25 buttons. Sell the buttons for $1 each
  • 25 copies of the New Abolitionist newsletter, to be sold for 50 cents each
  • Fact sheets and petitions on several death row cases and on the campaign for a national moratorium on executions
  • A video on the issue of the death penalty, to be shown at chapter meetings.