Highlights Of The Struggle

Reports From Campaign Chapters Around The Country

Austin, Texas
By Laura Brady

2009 promises to be a stirring and eventful time for the anti-death penalty struggle in Texas. The Austin CEDP chapter continues to build the movement toward abolition with a focus on the innocence of Rodney Reed, and that of Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott, the Yogurt Shop defendants.

We ended our Fall 2008 semester with a fundraiser. The event, which took place on December 12, featured a memorial tribute to Stan Tookie Williams, executed three years prior by the state of California. Flowers and candles surrounded a photo of Stan, and a slideshow commemorating his life and the movement to halt his execution looped throughout the evening.

During the holiday, we received news that Rodney Reed was denied a new trial by the Texas CCA. We called for a response on December 22. About 25 people attended, and we were able to take a group photo for Rodney's birthday.

Things are heating up with the Yogurt Shop case. DNA results from March excluded Robert and Michael, and now, additional, more recent samples exonerate them further. We will gather at the upcoming January 7 hearing wearing green and purple, colors of support for the defendants. We have a large-scale rally planned for January 24.

We will attend the upcoming march for Martin Luther King Jr. with a CEDP banner and publicize our upcoming spring kickoff meeting, set for January 28.

We have had great success with a recent series of evening tables on the University of Texas campus that have been case specific and lively in nature. Last semester, we had two focusing on Jeff Woods and Troy Davis. We now have an upcoming one planned for Rodney Reed. A crowd is drawn through visuals and chanting, and we lead with a current petition.

We have a Live from Death Row tour stop scheduled in March.


Denton, Texas
By Jason Netek

On December 13, we held a screening of Tribute: Stanley Tookie Williams, 1953-2005 at Rasoi Indian Kitchen. In spite of the fact that the event took place after school let out for the holidays and many people went out of town, about 30 people turned out. We watched the film, discussed the death penalty in general, and signed holiday cards for DRIVE members, as well as petitions against the death penalty. CEDP member Jenny Espino spoke a bit on the nature of the injustice system, and the need to turn the appeal to hope and change in the Obama era into something meaningful through pressure from below.

Overall, the work of our chapter has become unbalanced and sporadic. We have been working with Reginald Blanton's family on the case, and shortly should be planning a protest around his appeal in Austin, Texas. Reginald, who is African American, has been in jail and on Texas death row for the past 10 years. Many groups have come out in support of Reginald.

We'll be going into overdrive with planning for the protest very soon. We have plans to link up with community religious groups for this and for other work.

Right now the main priority is getting back on track with routines after the holidays. Some good ways to do this will be to take part in the university's freshman orientation fair as well as the upcoming MLK Day march.


Chicago
By Tom Callahan

This fall was a very busy one for the Chicago Chapter. In early September, when Troy Davis faced his first execution of the year, our chapter petitioned in Hyde Park, downtown Chicago, DePaul University and wherever else we carried our petitions.

In addition to petitioning, we held two rallies. The first one was held as part of the National Day of Action for Troy. A small group gathered in the pouring rain in downtown Chicago at Federal Plaza. The second rally drew 60 people. It was at DePaul University in collaboration with DePaul Students Against the Death Penalty and Amnesty International. Both were very successful.

On Sept 23, we also held a picket outside of Loyola University where Lisa Madigan, the Attorney General was speaking. We were there to demand that Lisa Madigan work with us for new trials for torture victims.

She was appointed to oversee the prosecution of police torture victims in 2003. And while it is within her power to ask for evidentiary hearings for these victims--she hasn't.

This rally drew 50 people. It was organized in conjunction with members of DePaul's Amnesty chapter and various other members from Chicago's social justice community. Several members attended the lecture Madigan gave, held signs and confronted her on her failure to initiate evidentiary hearings for any torture victims.

Later on in the fall, Jon Burge was indicted after decades of struggle. Our chapter was a part of the press conference and rally outside of Burge's first court date, organized by Rainbow-PUSH. Some members of the chapter attended the hearing following his arrest on charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice for his role in the cover-up in the torture cases.

As Burge's next court date approaches in May, we plan to continue actions that will keep the issue in the public eye.

Before the holidays, our chapter hosted a potluck where we signed cards for prisoners and sent the money through the Illinois Prisoner Gift Fund.

In the new year, we will continue the struggles to free Troy Davis, jail Jon Burge and get new trials for all police torture victims of the Chicago Police Department.


New York City
By Wendy Lopez

The NYC chapter of the CEDP has focused our recent efforts on raising awareness about life without parole (LWOP). Although technically LWOP prisoners are not at risk of being murdered by our injustice system, they do face dying in a prison cell slowly and painfully with no chance of becoming positive contributors in society.

Although the weather has been quite cold, we have continued to schedule tablings in Harlem, where we have met new faces--and new faces have met the case of Troy Anthony Davis. We have continued to petition for Troy and inform people about his case. This has also granted us the opportunity to recruit new members.

Along with tablings, we had our annual prisoner holiday card writing party in December. It was an amazing success! While the event was getting started, we had our guests do much-needed holiday card writing to prisoners serving LWOP, as well as prisoners on death row. We started off the evening with some speakers, including Lawrence Hayes, a former Black Panther and former New York death row prisoner, as well as Jean Blount, whose son is currently incarcerated.

We also reflected on Stanley Tookie Williams, in observance of his execution in December 2005, and screened segments of Redemption, the biographical film about Tookie starring Jamie Foxx. We had new people sign up to get involved, and we ended the night with amazing food, drinks and more card writing.

To kick off the new year, we are starting a book club, beginning with The Autobiography of Angela Davis. We have also started our pen-pal program that connects the community with prisoners on LWOP and death row.

We want to get others involved in doing much needed reaching out to our isolated brothers and sisters behind bars. In this New Year, even with our new president, the struggle will continue, and we are ready to continue our fight against the real criminals!


Bay Area
By Dana Blanchard

The Bay Area CEDP was part of an amazing event on December 13 honoring Stan Tookie Williams and his work for peace and justice. Over 500 people attended the event put on by Barbara Becnel and the Stan Tookie Williams Legacy Network at Merritt College in Oakland.

The first part of the event was testimonials from death row about the conditions prisoners endure on San Quentin's death row, and the second part of the day was a discussion by a panel of activists about bringing justice to our communities. Elizabeth Terzakis spoke on behalf of the CEDP and got a great response.

In addition to the STW event, the Bay Area chapter also attended a holiday party organized by Veronica Luna to support SHU prisoners and their family members. The party was held in San Jose on December 20. SHU is the Special Housing Unit at San Quentin and has very restricted conditions for the prisoners housed there--they are not allowed things like contact visits with their relatives and phone privileges that other prisoners have.

In addition to these larger events the chapter participated in, we have been continuing to write to and visit prisoners on death row at San Quentin. We had a very successful card-signing party in late November and have gotten a really positive response from prisoners who appreciated the note of support from our organization. A few people have written that it was the only holiday card they received this year and that it meant a lot to them.

For the spring, we are planning on having our first chapter meeting in January to plan events around Black History Month and at least one more Live From Death Row at a local college campus. We are looking forward to a busy and productive spring as a chapter, and to relating the new mood of hope and change on the political horizon.