Archive for November, 2005
Anyone who hasn’t been following the progress in New Jersey’s campaign to end the death penalty should pay some attention. New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty have been running a great campaign and are close to passing abolition legislation! A recent study i New Jersay reveals that the Garden State had spent $253,000,000 on its capital punishment system and hasn’t even executed anyone! Talk about a waste of taxpayer dollars! By the way, thre is no reason to believe that there is any difference in regards to the costs of the death penalty in Tennessee.
But right now, there is something that YOU can do to help New Jersey along. The “Courier Post” is doing an opinion poll on whether or not NJ should abolish the death penalty in their online edition, so everyone go to www.courierpostonline.com/opinion and vote! And check out the results so far. When I looked a little while ago over 50% were voting to abolish! Check it out!
I was stranded at my house on Friday, since, unbeknownst to me, my bus pass had run expired, making it impossible for me to get to the office (it’s about 9 miles and just a little too far for a walk). So, unable to get to work, which was a pretty grueling experience, I have to tell you, I started doing the only work I really had, which was viewing some of the various death penalty documentaries that I had borrowed from the office to try to access some of their value as organizing tools.
Now I’m always looking for short videos (10-20 minutes) to go along with presentations. A 10 minute video can really help make an hour long talk interesting. We have a few of these, but I like the ABA’s call for a moratorium, which does a great job of talking about some of the problems in the legal system. The only issue I have with it is that it is out of date, still calling for the elimination of the death penalty for juveniles and the mentally retarded.
But I’m thinking now, primarily, of films as events. Film screenings where people come to sit back and learn a nd then maybe take part in a discussion, petition signing etc. There are a few terrific documentaries out there, like “Deadline” regarding the Illinois moratorium or “The Empty Chair” that Amnesty International used as a central part of their organizing for the National Weekend of Faith in Action on the Death Penalty. Both are really informative and well done (both are available through working films). But you run into a problem with documentaries (much like any other lecture, talk etc.: It is hard to get people to come!
So what’s are solution? People have tried using popular films, “Dead Man Walking” is a favorite of mine, that deal with the death penalty (others that I think have even more limited utility would include “The Life of David Gale” and “The Green Mile”) because they have larger drawing power, but how well do they really deal with the death penalty issue? Most popular films and television shows are not directly “anti-death penalty” and may not make our points so much as go for emotionalism. Is exploring the issue in an often cursory, although entertaining, manner enough? What have people found? What kind of films and cultural events go well? Which attract people and which send people away empowered and invigorated? I’ll keep you all (or y’all as we say here in Tennessee) updated on my experiments in this regard. We’ll be doing a screening of some kind at Vanderbilt in a few months, I may try an episode of “The West Wing” that dealt with the death penalty and see how we do with that.
If you haven’t checked out the current issue of Mother Jones magazine, get up and go get one, read the article on Catholics and the death penalty and then come back. It’s really a great story and relates very much to what we were discussing on this very page a few days ago: Catholics are moving toward opposition of the death penalty to a greater and great degree. This particular article tells the story through the prism of one Catholic church in North Carolina (with nice mentions to People of Faith Against the Death Penalty and the Death Penalty Information Center in the process). I wish I could link the article, but the issue isn’t online yet.
What interested me in particular was not so much the facts that Catholics are moving against the death penalty (not that that is not great news, but we’ve already been there on this blog) but more so the story of the particular church, which had a mother of a man on death row as a member of their congregation. The parish began offering intentions for this man and eventually for the abolition of the death penalty. Now its members are lobbying the state legislature to end capital punishment.
What really struck me about this was how much the growth of this church mirrored an idea for a program which we hope to launch during the new year called “Circle of Grace: the Living Word on Death Row” This program is a ministry of compassion designed to pair churches of all denominations with individuals on death row. Churches would offer prayers at mass, send small care packages and cards for holidays and birthdays, and recruit members to act as pen pals with their inmate. The program is not one of evangelism, but rather a chance for churches, as communities not individuals, to live the Gospel by providing solace to those most estranged and marginalized from society. And the congregants will have a rare opportunity to truly apply their faith and to really grow in an understanding of the death penalty system. As we learn to stop dividing people into “us” and “them” and see everyone as our sisters and brothers, as the Gospel calls us to, I believe that support for the death penalty can no longer stand. Ideally Circle of Grace can offer comfort to the abandoned and growth and challenge to the comfortable.
As soon as FUSE is up and running, we will be able to begin once again writing to the row to assess interest from the guys there. Then we can begin pairing inmates with churches. Let the church say AMEN!
No, TCASK isn’t blowing anything up (except maybe the idea that the South isn’t ready for abolition), but the fact that you thought that clearly demonstrates that you haven’t been keeping up with your blog reading homework. FUSE is Families United to Stop Executions and it’s a new program that we’re launching here at TCASK to empower family members of those on death row to speak out for themselves against the death penalty. These families represent the invisible victims of capital punishment, and it is long past time that their voices be heard.
A short while ago, we sent out our initial letters to the inmates on death row, asking them to provide us with the names of their family members that they thought might be interested. This week, responses have started to come in and today we received three separate letters with contact information for five family members! Needless to say, we are excited here in the office. So as we all sit down for Thanksgiving dinner with our families and loved ones tomorrow, let’s take just a moment to remember the families that can’t be together and let’s all give thanks that their voices may finally be heard.
The interesting thing about the demographics of Tennessee is that there are a few cities, and then there are big stretches of nothing. I mean there is a lot of space with very few people out there, I mean John Wilder’s Senate district alone encompasses 8 complete counties. This presents a certain amount of challenge, shall we say, for the organizer.
Now supposing that you are a resident of one of these more rural counties and you have become interested in TCASK (and we certainly hope that you have). You may not have an easy organizational structure to allow you to spread your passion of abolition, and it is certainly hard for you to be a TCASK chapter all by yourself. It can also be hard for individuals to fit into the TCASK structure with our committees for outreach, legislation, and fundraising. Obviously, you can’t be the representative for your area on all three committees. You’d be overworked like crazy, but if you only are a part of one, your efforts kind of get pigeon-holed and we may never grow in your area like you’d like. What to do?
Well here’s a suggestion. Ask yourself, “Who do I know?” Who would be a good fit in one of these committees. Joining a committee, that meets by conference call, can allow new members to become involved quickly, but without putting the burden of organizing an entire region completely on them. It can also allow them to feel connected to both the staff (a representative of which meets with each committee) and other abolitionists around the state. Meanwhile, it allows you to continue as the bulwark of abolition in the area and builds are organizational capacity and structure in your region as well. And we all know someone. Someone who could really offer some good fundraising ideas, or might know a little about local politics and be interested in working on the legislative committee.
So instead of asking ourselves, “How can I organize these big three counties?” ask yourself, “Who do I know?” It might lead you to organizational success faster, and it’ll help you keep your peace of mind.
so the united states is fast approaching the 1000th execution in the modern era (since executions started back up in 1977 after a brief hiatus) and there is quite a lot of buzz about taking action around the event…
this lil’ tennessee dude is of 2 minds about this…
okay, if there is a grassroots clamor to organize around the moment then organizers should assist these activists in making the event strategic within the state…i mean, i think the last thing that the movement needs are loose cannons shooting off all over the place…i mean even as a metaphor, cannons shooting off randomly are likely to scare people…perhaps that’ s not what makes sense in some states – perhaps in others it might…might…
so by all means if the people want to act, be creative and direct their motivation in a strategic direction…
but if there’s no push from below to make something happen around the event i would think very carefully before seizing upon it just for the sake of doing something…
i mean let’s face it – this is a negative event, a real bummer, a low-point, a nadir … am i making my point???
1000 intentional deaths coordinated and carried out by governments in the name of all her citizens…
in tennessee we will issue a press release that taps into (HEAVILY) the press release from MVFHR … we think that’s strategic in that it’s directed at the media per se and not at them as a proxy to carry a/the message to a wider audience…
1000 executions – f_____ing a – that’s not right…make sure your response moves your state plan (or community) forward…
that’s what i’m talkin’ about…that’s all i’m sayin’…
So it may surprise some of you that one of our board members has dubbed abolition a hurricane. He explained that hurricanes begin as a number of smaller storms, little squalls really, which come together and build upon each other until they become the raging vortex that we all know. I like that. We never know the effect that our little whisper of wind may have.
Last night, we were certainly up against our equal. With tornadoes sited in the area and rain pouring down, Amy Staples, the chair of the state board, and I drove to David Lipscomb University to do a panel discussion on the death penalty. Of course when we got there, we found that the theatre was on the second floor of the student building and that everyone had been evacuated to the basement. Nevertheless, we did eventually speak, along with Harmon Wray one of the legends of the abolition community in Tennessee and Professor Lee Camp. We all spoke to approximately thirty or forty students who braved the rather heinous weather to attend.
Our discussions ranged over a number of topics, but one of the main concerns expressed was our focus in America on retributive justice. In a nutshell, if someone steals $20 from me, our system may capture that person and even incarcerate him, but he does not have to give my $20 back. In the same way, in speaking about the death penalty, advocates continually claim that the death penalty is “for the victims’ families,” yet families are often neglected. Families have begged to not have the murderer executed and the death sentence has still been sought. As the case goes through the appellate process, families are forced to relive their horrible loss again and again.
Restorative justice provides a different model. A restorative justice system would say that is someone steals $20 from me, they should have to work and pay me the $20 back. This is certainly a simplified explanation, but possibilities of such an approach to violence were similarly discussed. A restorative justice response to murder would include, a lengthy prison term with a meaningful work program for a meaningful wage, a large proportion of which would go to restitution for the victim’s family (obviously not in a direct manner). In fact, public opinion tends to support such a model. While over 60% of people will say that they approve of the death penalty, less than 40% will still support the death penalty when presented with the alternative of life in prison and restitution to victims’ families.
I was surprised and pleased by how thoughtful and prayerful the questions and comments from students following our presentation were. Harmon, who has done hundreds of such forums, said that they were the best that he had ever encountered. The attendees really questioned the way in which our system works, even when we had to start late and there was a tornado outside. Maybe our little discussion was the beginning of a hurricane.
There are times when being a Catholic has not been easy for me. There have been times when I thought the Church did the wrong things, or, more often, did not do the right things with enough force. But this week was not one of those times!
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops came out of their semi-annual gathering in Washington D.C. to release a new statement against capital punishment! The statement reaffirmed, in ever-strengthening language, that as a Church which expresses an abiding belief in the sanctity of all human life, we can no longer give our support to a policy which so fundamentally denies the dignity of some lives, and called on Catholics across the country to pray, learn, and act to end the death penalty. The statement also repeated what we know to be true: that the death penalty is applied unfairly along racial and economic lines. The bishops affirmed that, as people of faith and conscience, we must look at all these dimensions of the capital punishment system.
All across America, people of faith are beginning to re-examine their positions on the death penalty. Recently, polls have shown that the majority of catholic now do not support capital punishment. Additionally, those who attend mass at least once a week are more likely to oppose the death penalty than those who do not. More and more, we see a polarization of America into liberal and conservative camps. People who attend church regularly tend to fall into the “conservative” camp and vote overwhelmingly Republican. The death penalty is often labeled as a “liberal” cause, which would make one think that the trends for supporting the death penalty would run along the same lines as they do for voting. Fortunately, these numbers tell us that this is not the case. The death penalty is an issue which is not easily boxed or pigeon-holed. When we are talking about killing a human being, people on all sides of the political spectrum, especially from faith communities find that their consciences and beliefs cannot accept the killing of another human being. We are not liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans. We are Abolitionists who believe that life is sacred, that justice is vital. For once the Catholic Church and I completely agree.
I wanted to include a personal note of thanks to the whole board and to all of you out there. At last weekend’s board meeting, the board, after much begging and debate, agreed to keep me on here at TCASK after my year with the JVC ends in August. I am, obviously, delighted and honored to be allowed to do this work with all of you. I am very blessed in being allowed to work for something a deeply believe in (to truly fight on God’s side) and with such amazing people.
I’d especially like to make note of my incredible mentor, Randy, who works himself to the bone, and has done so for many years. Without him TCASK would certainly not be where it is today. If you ever wonder if heroes still exist in today’s world, look to Randy.
With humble thanks to all
alex “the jesuit”
Strategy is a word that we hear thrown around all over the place, nowadays. On Saturday, TCASK’s board went through the process (and it was a long one) of developing our strategic plan for the next three years. But what is this whole strategy thing, anyway?
I gotta tell y’all, the concept of strategy is not an easy one to grasp; I certainly struggle with it. When we’re talking about a political issue campaign, we too often confuse strategy with tactics. When we talk about strategy we want to ask some basic questions:
What do we want? or What is our goal?
Who can give it to us?
With this as a starting point, we assess what resources we have (money, people, information etc.) and then ask what resources we will need in order to achieve our goals or, to put it another way, in order to leverage political power over the person who can give us what we want (aka the target). This may include secondary targets, for example, I need Assemblyperson X to vote for the moratorium bill, but I’m not in his district and he isn’t likely to listen to me, however he is a devout Methodist and will listen to the Methodist District Superintendent from his area. The superintendent is then our secondary target, the person that we want to get to ask the target to give us what we want. Very complicated, and this is just the beginning, but, to prevent everyone from abandoning our newly budding blog here, we won’t get into too many details here.
There’s just one last issue, why haven’t I spoken about rallies, petitions, public speaking? Aren’t those part of our strategy? Yes and no and here is where I often find myself getting confused. The above are all examples of tactics. A tactic is an action you employ to help you gain political power over your target. It is not that these actions are not strategic necessarily, it is simply that they, in and of themselves, do not constitute Sstrategy. They are a part of our strategic vision but our strategy revolves around the question of our goal, target (and secondary targets) and the messages and messengers needed to develop and deliver those messages.
With all that said, TCASK’s current strategic goal is to pass a moratorium and study bill in the next three years. It was wonderful for me to meet all the board (having only started here a few months ago I hadn’t had the opportunity previously). We did develop a plan with goals laid out throughout the next three years as to what we need to accomplish and when to succeed in the end. I have great faith. The people we have at TCASK are committed and dedicated and I do believe that we can accomplish great things.
One of the nicest things about strategic planning is allowing us to think big. What a re we going to do? Pass a moratorium and study bill in three years! How are we going to do it? What do we need? We will begin 15 new chapters over the next three years! I think we can do it, but often in organizing we spend a lot of time on tiny details. How will I get so-and-so to the meeting? What are the details of the speaker’s visit that we’re bringing in? How should the press release be worded? In doing so, we can sometimes miss the forest for the trees. Strategic planning is designed to help us keep our eyes on the prize as it were. Even while working on all the tiny details (and without them we’ll never achieve our goal) we keep in mind where we’re going and why.
Carry on, all!