Notes from the National Coordinator

By: Marlene Martin

I am happy to report some new chapters of The Campaign to End the Death Penalty have sprung up in different areas across the country over the past several months.

They include a chapter in Marin County, Calif., which has been very active in mobilizing around the Horace Kelly case and exposing the injustices of the death penalty overall. A chapter in Pittsburgh which started in March has been building a core group of anti-death penalty activists. They have been holding meetings and held a spirited demonstration recently. Also, a chapter has started at Boston University, where they are discussing how to organize a "Live From Death Row" event.

And just the other day at the University of Maryland-College Park, a "Live From Death Row" panel discussion drew 110 people, 15 of whom joined the Campaign. This event came together largely by the efforts of one individual, Tom, who got interested in the Campaign after attending an event put on by the Washington, D.C. chapter. With some guidance from that chapter, Tom pulled together an excellent event. Not all in the audience were against the death penalty to begin with, but many shifted their position during the course of the meeting.

So far, only the Washington D.C. and the new University of Maryland chapter have held a "Live from Death Row" event. We are attempting to branch out and do them at different places. Even though Jay Nickerson, Tyrone Gilliam's lawyer, is busy litigating for Tyrone (especially now that a death warrant may be signed any day), he understands the need to build the fight outside the courtroom and has agreed to travel to other chapters to do these events. On May 12, New York City will host a "Live from Death Row" event, and the Campaign has been invited to hold a similar panel at Socialist Summer School 1998, an event sponsored by the International Socialist Organization which takes place in Chicago in late June.

We are taking important steps in building a vocal, activist approach to ending the death penalty. Involving ex-death row inmates, family members of those on death row, students, unionists, lawyers - these people together can be the building blocks of a movement that can stop capital punishment.

As Michael Mello put it in his new book Dead Wrong: "The era of the attorneys and legal academics as the important actors in our system of capital punishment is over. For years now, the lawyers have controlled the conversation about legal homicide, marginalising other voices. Now we need to reverse this."

It matters what we do and how we do it. To focus the fight only in the legal arena is a mistake. We have to remember that Mumia Abu-Jamal won a stay of execution because of the mobilization of activists around the country and around the world for him. And although we were not able to save Karla Faye Tucker, the fact is that her case made a tremendous dent in support for capital punishment in this country. A Texas poll showed that support for the death penalty dropped a full 20 percent after her execution.

I encourage people to stay driven and focused. During the summer, many chapters are planning to hold concert fundraising events, like "Rock Against the Death Penalty" or a citywide fundraising cookout. These are great ideas. Chapters should try and maintain regular meetings and petitioning throughout the summer as well as planning a fundraising event.