Archive for February, 2006
We all deal with murder and loss differently. We all have our own ways of responding to family troubles, and each family is unique. I’d never pretend to understand the complexities of all family dynamics (I can barely understand what’s going on in my own), but, recently, I’ve been privileged to begin to work with a number of families of the inmates on Tennessee’s death row.
Now of course each of these families has been forced to deal with an extremely traumatic situation on a number of levels. First, imagine knowing that you’re loved one was going to die – like a terminal illness except that there’s nothing wrong with them. Then, imagine that you could barely see them, and when you did had to go through invasive searches, be viewed with suspicion, and see them in a de-humanizing and degrading environment. I thank God that I have never had to discover whether or not I possess the strength that these families have summoned.
And while every family, and every person, deals with this experience in their own way, there are some common themes that I’ve seen already emerging. The pain that these families feel is, of course, obvious. To have their loved one facing death and reviled is a horrible experience. Moreover, to know that their brother/sister/son/daughter/husband caused that kind of pain to another family is hard. And this has lead to a feeling of guilt, wondering if they could have done anything to prevent it, or if they should have testified or said something different when they did to move the jury. “Could I have saved them?”
Sadly, there are other, more insidious, trends that I’ve had to see, and the biggest of them is ostracism. Our society has tended to blame these families for their loved ones. Family members have told me of losing jobs when people recognized their names, of being excluded from social groups, of having to move because of hostility. And being told that their grief and concern for their loved one is unimportant.
Meeting with a family recently, one of the members told me that they had always previously supported the death penalty in the past, but that they thought life in prison might punish the offender more. It might, I’d hate to speculate, but the death penalty certainly punishes their family more. These good people are the hidden victims of the death penalty system, and we as a society have done nothing to look out for them.
This post is dedicated to Amy Staples, the wonderful board chair of TCASK and the board chair and founder of TCAAHH (the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish Alex’s Hitch Hiking)
So I spent Friday afternoon and night hitching from Nashville down to Mobile, and I should make it clear, at this point, that this was a recreational trip – TCASK does not force it’s employees to hitch hike for work trips. But over and over again the similarities between our outreach work and trying to get rides struck me, so I thought that this would be a good time to share.
To begin with, in a lot of ways, the goals are similar. In both cases we are trying to build a relationship of trust with people, either to get them to share their time and stories with us, or to get them to trust me enough to let me into their car. And we’re doing it for a purpose, a strategic goal (get to Mobile, abolish the death penalty, etc.)
Now some quick tips.
1) Have a goal- in my case this involved a sign which read “Mobile or Bust” but when we organize people we need to know what our ask of them is. Is it a ride down the highway, a donation to our organization, a signature, a moratorium resolution, or what?
2) Presentation matters- when I hitch, I do not dress in my ripped jeans and t-shirt and forget to shave. In fact, I was wearing a nice sweatshirt and kackis, as well as being cleanly shaved and clean cut. Every person who picked me up explained that they usually wouldn’t but I looked nice and unthreatening. So when we go to speak to people, dress respectfully and make sure that you are demonstrating that you’re ask is attractive.
3) Be nice- I always smile at cars and wave if they smile back, even if they don’t pick me up. Why? There are a lot of reasons- one it will help keep you in a good mood. Two, the car behind might notice and be more likely to pick me up. So always be nice, even when people don’t respond to your ask. It isn’t necessarily because they are bad people, they may be busy, or not going your way, or they might have friends that might help you if you’re polite.
4) Be patient- It took me an hour and a half to get my first ride out of Nashville, and it was getting hot and discouraging. But that ride took me an hour out of his way and bought me dinner just to be nice, then I got three rides in a row with hardly any waiting. Things won’t always happen at the pace we’d like, but we to work with the opportunities and people that we have, so just keep plugging and we will get there. I’ve never failed to reach a destination that I’ve set out to hitch to, and organizing works the same way. That being said. . .
5) Be strategic- Find good exits with long on ramps and a lot of traffic. In other words, to reach our goals, go where the people are to maximize your chances of success.
6) Have fun. Never take yourself to seriously. Remember to laugh at the fact that you’re standing on the side of the road with your thumb in the air or that you’re trying to abolish the death penalty in the South. Remember that the lady who said that it’s OK to execute innocent people, because “they shouldn’t get themselves in the position to get in trouble to begin with” is funny, and be prepared to laugh. It’ll make the next people more likely to pick you up because you’re having fun and the work looks fun too.
So, (just for Amy) I’ll stop short of encouraging everyone to hitch hike somewhere, but I hope that my little analogy was a fun one and may help. It may also say something that this is what I was thinking about on my trip. In any case, let’s all get out on the road (to abolition).
we were talking with a parish council president the other about moving our office into their parish center … he was, i believe, trying to figure out whether or not the space was suitable for our work when he asked, “do you do most of your work in the office,” or maybe it was, “do a lot of people come to your office?”
either way the answer is no — most of our work, now, is done “out there” or at least the important work of organizing is done “in the trenches” all across the state…
why??? … two things — people will rarely come to you unless you’re giving away cash and you have to “meet” people where they’re at … figuratively and literally …
to, as the lil’ jesuit dude might say, git ‘er done, you have to find people who have at least a nominal interest in the issue, and sell them on the idea that you have a plan on how to impact that issue, and that they can play an important part in making change happen on the issue…
and we have to do that on their turf not on ours … we have to meet in their faith communities, their shoney’s restaurants, their libraries, even their living rooms but it has to be theirs … they need to feel comfortable getting to know us as people, learning where the issue is at in the public arena and why, and seeing tcask as the vehicle that we can drive to victory …
so that’s why we set goals for numbers of presentations, numbers of addresses (e-mail and snail mail) added, numbers of calls made, and numbers of new members — so that we consistently remind ourselves that it’s about gettin’ out there in carroll, giles, bradley, overton, jefferson, and all the counties of the state to do the hard but fascinating work of meeting new people, learning what their lives and communities are like, and empowering them to teach their neighbors, friends, family members, co-workers, and sometimes their clergy about how wasteful, random, and futile the use of the death penalty is…
water won’t find you when you’re thirsty and the people who will eventually flex their collective political muscle and bring down the archaic tool of capital punishment won’t come to us if we’re always hanging out in the office…
I’ve been called (most often by our board chair) the speech nazi. Part of this is because I conduct the effective speaking sections of our TCASK Speaker’s Bureau training, and partly because she always asks me to listen to her speeches before she gives them and I yell whenever she starts rocking back and forth or saying “ummm” etc. I can’t imagine where she gets these nicknames from.
But in all seriousness, oratory and rhetoric are often overlooked as important parts of our abolition arsenal. We may make the best points in the world, but if we don’t communicate them effectively, we won’t convince our audience. Which brings us to this entry’s title. Any Shakespeare fans in the house?
You see Mark Anthony’s speech (“Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears!”) Is a great example of oratorical rhetoric. How do we get our points across? Anthony has a repeated phrase that he comes back to over and over again, “but Brutus says he was ambitious, and Brutus is an honorable man.” Over the last few days I’ve been privileged to speak with Hector Black (a MVFHR member) and Stacy Rector (a Presbyterian minister). Consequently, my presentation was no longer the moral one, moving people’s hearts. Instead I had to retool my presentation to focus on the nuts and bolts facts. So I decided to rip a sheet out of good ole Willy Shakespeare.
“Does it work?” I’ve been asking my audiences. Before we answer that question, we have to know what “work” means. Is it always getting the right person? Well, with over 120 exonerees in the last 30 years, no it doesn’t. So does it work? Well maybe if it protects us, but with LWOP we don’t need it and with no serious study showing any deterrent effect, it doesn’t so, does it work?
I’ve had pretty good results with this rhetorical question being used as a refrain to get the point across. We all know that the death penalty, as a public policy, is a failure, but we need to find the best ways of communicating that message. When we’re putting together a presentation, ask yourself, does it work?
unless you hang around the tcask office (lessee, that’s 6 billion of you i’m excluding off the top of my head) you probably don’t know that alex’s petname around here is buttercup…
why??? beats the heck out of me xactly’ but that’s alex and i’m muffin … but i digress…
but buttercup came thru today and i want YOU to know about it – ya see, he got our bill “dropped” today and well, the poor lil’ jesuit dude was feelin’ a little harried ya might say, wonderin’ if we would have an actual bill to support for both our letterwriting day on march 1st and out first ever justice day on the hill (to direct lobby our elected officials)…
he actually got representative beverly marrero (d-memphis) to drop the bill … and then she called our office with some advice and kind words – what a gem!
now i’m told that the lyrics to build me up buttercup actually talk about someone who pumps you up only to let you down but our buttercup never let’s us down — so while the song may not reflect his actual value and the fondness we have for him it won’t stop us from raving about our own buttercup – the lil jesuit dude from nyc…
On one hand, last night, I had an easy job. On the another, I had to do the impossible. You see I was on a panel at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, TN, and I was speaking following Hector Black (below right).
Now Hector is, by the account of basically every person who has ever met him, the sweetest and gentlest man in the world. I exaggerate not. Ask anyone. He is also the father of a murder victim. I’m not sure that I could do this, but Hector spoke at the trial of his daughter’s killer against the death penalty and continues to do so today. His story is one that I hope that every person gets to hear at some point. We have more to learn from this man about the true nature of love, compassion, and forgiveness then we probably could given a life time. It was truly an honor to share a podium with him.
And it makes the rest of our lives easier. Once Hector had spoken, the audience was mesmerized. His story and the wonderful gentleness of his personality carries over incredibly to everyone who hears him. They were hooked.
On the other hand, I had to follow that act. I could have given the “I Have a Dream Speech” and people might not have noticed. Trying to bring it home after Hector speaks is like trying to perform after John Coltrane (or some band that’s hip nowadays). I should have just recited the alphabet and sat down.
So why have me speak at all? We never should underestimate the power of stories, and Hector’s is a great one, and the messenger who carries it could not be better selected. But we need to let him tell his story. That story has all the power to move people. But we all don’t have those personal stories and once we’ve moved people’s hearts, we need to move them to action. That’s where this kind of pairing can be so effective. Tell the story and let people be moved. Then have someone else tell them what they can do with that movement. How to strategically act on the incredibly call we receive from messengers like Hector and all the men and women who work with MVFHR, MVFR, and the Journey of Hope. Let their stories provide the engine to move people, all we need to do is make sure that the most effective track.
The following piece came across the AP news wire today. Sadly, many states still refuse to apologize and/or acknowledge when they make mistakes and convict innocent people- even when those people are sentenced to death. Fortunately, Arizona has taken a bold step and offered an apology to Ray Crone (pictured right) the 100th death row exoneree.
Even though the state of Arizona has finally done the right thing (at least to a small extent) by Krone, we should remember two things: there are over 120 other exonerees out there, many of whom have not been treated nearly so decently, and the presence of so many exonerees clearly indicates the very serious problem with the death penalty system, i.e. that it pulls in the innocent as well as the guilty. There can hardly be a better reason that we need a moratorium NOW.
The York, Pa., man had spent 10 years in prison in Arizona before DNA evidence cleared him.By Paul DavenportAssociated Press
PHOENIX – Arizona legislators apologized yesterday to Ray Krone, the York man who spent a decade in prison, including time on death row, before DNA evidence exonerated him of a 1991 killing in Phoenix.
Members of the House and Senate stood and applauded Krone as he was introduced in each chamber’s visitors’ gallery during floor sessions. Seven of the 90 state legislators also individually apologized to him during a news conference organized by the Coalition of Arizonans to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Rep. Phil Lopes, leader of the House’s Democratic minority, said the apologies represented an attempt to make amends to Krone.
“Ray Krone’s case exemplifies why we should abolish the death penalty,” Lopes said. “Now is the time.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Huppenthal told the Associated Press that he still supports the death penalty but believes Krone’s case shows that corrections are needed to protect the innocent.
“This is happening more frequently than we would like to admit,” Huppenthal said.
Krone, 49, said before the news conference that he welcomed the apologies. “It’s a recognition from actual elected officials of the wrong that was done in the name of the State of Arizona,” he said.
Krone was wrongfully convicted twice of killing Phoenix bartender Kim Ancona based largely on expert testimony that purportedly matched his teeth with bite marks found on the victim.
In 2002, DNA testing proved Krone wasn’t the killer. Crime-scene DNA was linked to a man already in prison for another crime, and Krone was freed that year after 10 years in prison, including two on death row.
The man now implicated in Ancona’s killing, Kenneth Phillips, awaits trial in Maricopa County Superior Court.
After his release, Krone filed a wrongful-conviction lawsuit, winning settlements of $3 million from Phoenix and $1.4 million from Maricopa County.
Krone has traveled extensively to speak against the death penalty and advocate DNA testing.
“Those 10 years must have been for a purpose,” he said. “No system is 100 percent accurate.”
It has been a pleasure to share so many joys and little triumphs on this blog since we began it four months ago. We at TCASK, and me personally, have had a lot of great moments and have a lot of momentum building. But there is no getting around the fact that, as in any movement, we also have to cope with some failures, and last week I had a fairly significant one.
Thursday was the last day for unlimited bill introductions in the Tennessee State Senate. From now until the end of session, each Senator can introduce only nine bills, so if we wanted a moratorium and study bill in the Senate this year, we needed it to be introduced before Thursday. Unfortunately, despite spending the better part of several days on the hill last week, and having some terrific meeting with legislators, I could not secure a Senate sponsor for our legislation this year. This may make it difficult for us to get the bill introduced in the House as well (the House deadline is this week).
Now, in the end, this is not the end of the world. We had never hoped to pass legislation this year, which is one reason that legislators are unlikely to pick up the bill. Why sponsor something that isn’t going anywhere? And he has done almost no work on the issue in the legislative field, so the ground had not been softened. With or without a bill, we’ll be spending significantly more time this year on the hill to begin educating our legislators about the moratorium, but it certainly would have been a great start to have sponsorship secured in both houses the session prior to our attempting to pass legislation.
So, we take the failures as they come. A new provincial of the New Orleans province of the Jesuits once spent a day meeting with all the groups doing work in his province, working for living wages, health care, just treatment for immigrants, care for the homeless, children’s services etc. At the end of the day, the provincial congratulated all of them on their hard work and informed the that it would all fail. Failing is a part of life, especially working for justice, swimming against the current of society. I believe very deeply and honestly that we will soon abolish the death penalty in Tennessee. I believe that we will see a moratorium enacted in a few short years, but we will fail many times along the way.
“Do you know what separates the winners from the losers, kid?” Gene Hackman asks Keanu Reeves in “The Replacements,” a movie I will grudgingly admit to enjoying.
“Yeah, the score.” Reeves replies. Hackman smiles and shakes his head.
“It’s getting back up on the horse after you’ve been kicked in the teeth,” he says.
I admit it, I’m from New York. Things are different there. Who would have thought that a few inches of snow could have caused such an uproar? I mean it takes a lot of snow to keep us down.
But, OK, things are a little different down here. Snow is a much bigger deal and we did have some snow this last weekend. Unfortunately, TCASK also had our quarterly state board meeting on Saturday. On Sunday morning, I was supposed to drive to Memphis to give a talk and a sermon, but on Saturday morning, I got a call saying that we weren’t going to have a quorum in attendance, so the board meeting was off.
Sigh. Well now, what am I going to do with myself today?
Enter the telephone again. And it’s my contact in Memphis saying that they expect a very small turnout for worship on Sunday, because of all the ice, and it probably isn’t worth my making the trip, so in the span of a couple of hours I went from having a nice full weekend with lots to do, to being completely free. WHAT’S GOING ON HERE!?
But, as I remarked a few days ago, even as the most conscientious organizers, we can’t possibly plan for everything (which includes, it turns out, the lack of travel through snow). On the upside, on Friday afternoon, we had a car break down here, so I wasn’t able to get a lot of the work done that had been sitting on my desk all week, and I suppose, since I have to on the road three days next week, having a weekend to relax and catch up on some work isn’t the worst thing ever.
So, I hope that everyone had a good weekend. I did my best to take it easy (I mean I didn’t come into the office until Sunday afternoon- that’s pretty good, right?)
Hope y’all come back re-energized for abolition work, because it’s a long road ahead of us (though not as long as we may think sometimes)
often when we hear the word “lobbyist” we think of the jack abramoffs, scandals, and insider deals cut with legislators … and this is, clearly, one side, the seamier side, of lobbying …
but i think that part of the blame rests with you and me – the regular gals, guys, and whatnot out on the streets here in tennessee … you see, we have too often accepted this particular vision of what lobbying is and fail to accept that we – you and me – are just as capable, and arguably essential, lobbyists in a democratic society …
i witnessed and was part of an alternative model last monday (february 13th) … in nashville, at the friends meeting house in mostly segregated north nashville, some 60 regular work-a-day people gathered to learn about and prepare to be lobbyists…
the 60 people gathered looked like a real cross section of the city – anglos, african and caribbean americans, latinos, the physically challenged, lgbt members, english and spanish speakers – and we had the nashville peace and justice center to thank for bringing us together …
we heard from a now and afl-cio lobbyist on the general principles and from people like myself on specific issues and the key points to make … on the 14th and 15th us regular josephines met with state senators and reps, always with an issue coach, and made our views and our presence known…
140 miles away the little jesuit dude was training people in chattanooga on these same principles, taking the awe and mystery out of the process and act of lobbying and prepared tcask members and supporters to be more comfortable with the process and develop some self confidence (legislators put on their hanes our way the same way we do)…
abolitionists have to know that simply being issue activists isn’t enough to change public policy – we also have to be issue advocates … and to change public policy we need legislators to know that their voting constituents will back them up and even reward them for taking sensible, principled steps including, eventually, doing away with capital punishment altogether …
towards that end tcask will host its first ever lobby day (justice day on the hill) march 29th — and we aren’t gonna be perfect or build rome in a day … butcha know what??? who cares – we’re gonna wade right on in, get our feet wet, take in the experience, process the good and the bad, and use that to help us in 2007 and 2008 as we push towards moratorium and study legislation passing in tennessee…
ya heard it here first…
peace out – <3