If you're reading The Razor Wire for the first time, this Membership Report - including detailed discussion of activities in 2004 for longtime members - highlights the educational mission and history of November Coalition. Since its 1997 founding as a nonprofit organization, the Coalition has been publishing stories, analysis and commentary exposing the failed drug war - online for Internet-users at www.november.org and in the hard-copy Razor Wire - sharing and teaching the essentials of grassroots community activism.
From 1997 to the present, the Coalition first grew moderately, then exponentially, as the graph below shows. Leading the reasons for continued growth are the heartfelt Wall stories, providing continuous exposure and a media resource - proof there's steady, sincere interest in the histories of imprisoned people.
As membership increased, so did calls for reform, as well as public campaigns to protest drug war policies. By February 2000, the Coalition's 'Two Million, Too Many' national-vigil-project aroused international support and major media coverage of the two million prisoners held in the U.S. - a fact due primarily to drug-law enforcement.
Coalition members coordinated special events in the 2000 Philadelphia and Los Angeles Shadow Conventions, and by October 2000 the entire membership was recognized and awarded the Letelier/Moffitt Human Rights Award, honoring significant contributions in community organizing against the war on drugs. In addition to other awards, Coalition Director Nora Callahan shared the Robert C. Randall Award in 2001, recognizing special achievements in grassroots activism.
Over the last three years, thousands of Coalition volunteers have held uncounted meetings, passed out reams of literature, rallied vigorously, and gathered signatures patiently on its Petition for Relief from Drug War Injustice, a call for return to parole for federal prisoners. Over 99,900 names have been filed to date, and early signs suggest some in Congress may respond in 2005 with proposed legislation on behalf of prisoners' issues; early release in particular.
Coalition staff traveled almost 30,000 miles in 2002-3, a project called Journey for Justice, a series of scheduled events throughout the Northeast, East Coast and South. Face-to-face meetings in homes, churches, colleges and community centers was followed by recording the experience in the Coalition's online guidebook to community activism, Bottoms Up.
As indicated by the graph - www.november.org is an often-used resource. Online, anyone can begin to learn about drug war injustice, and what can be done to abolish laws that produce more harm than good.
Bottom's Up can guide a prisoner's elderly grandmother through steps of setting up an information table at local churches or public community meetings. A father may learn how to lead a meeting for the first time - and bring together friends and family to oppose harsh drug sentencing.
From September 2003 to October 2004, website traffic to www.november.org increased by 154%! Coalition headquarters moved to a spacious historic building with room to grow, and local volunteers helped beat back a county jail ballot-proposal. Nationally, numerous sentencing-reform bills at federal and state levels were introduced, and rehabilitation models in corrections are being dusted off for replacement of discredited determinate-sentencing schemes.
Projects are prominent in the website, and people are invited to participate in numerous ways. Stories from prisoners' lives are always appreciated, and especially those about their loved one's struggles to survive - the letters and art of people in anguish, including the children.
Some of these stories gain special attention nationally when they're featured in film documentaries and news reports. In 2004, members' stories appeared in the August Cosmo Girl magazine.
In 2003, the Coalition's Colville (WA) home office began making public-display items available online. People could electronically bring files (color photos, graphs & messages) from our server to their printers, assembling their own personalized public display. In the first eleven months of 2004, over 2,300 people downloaded a set of drug war graphs; over 6,000 downloaded "Petitions for Relief."
Large displays were assembled early 2004, and loaned out by request. Groups shared materials, keeping a dozen 4 That Got Away Displays in circulation. If you want to 'table' for the November Coalition, and do not have skills or equipment to make your own display, staff and volunteers will build them, and will provide one for your group or family.
These are some of the activities that money-donations support. Even more vital, your donated, volunteer-help in spreading the word day by day, one by one, keeps November Coalition's mission in public view and its financial base expanding. Thank you - thank each other.
Looking at change around the country, starting in year 2002 there was almost no discussion about returning the federal prison system's method of parole abolished in the mid 1980's - not in organized advocacy groups - much less Congress. In last year alone, the following new bills were filed during the 108th Congressional Session:
S 2923: Enhanced Second Chance Act of 2004; S 2789: The Second Chance Act of 2004; HR 5103: Justice in Sentencing Act of 2004; HR 4676 funding reentry programs; HR 4752, The Literacy, Education, and Rehabilitation Act; HR 1433, the Ex-Offenders Voting Rights Act of 2003; HR 3575: The Federal Prison Bureau Nonviolent Offender Relief Act of 2003, and HR 4036: To Revive the System of Parole for Federal Prisoners.
Then came Blakely v. Washington in June 2004 - not unexpected. The earlier Singleton ruling, and others, morphed into Apprendi, and then to Blakely. A Supreme Court reaffirmation of Sixth Amendment constitutional protections will mean changes in drug war prosecution at the federal level, and as many as 16 states will be drafting reforms due to this recent case.
November Coalition responded by preparing an online guide to Blakely and, mostly through volunteer efforts, develops links to credible legal resources, as well as posting 'breaking' news articles and editorials of note. Copies print from the Internet and reach a broad audience of prisoners, loved ones and others.
In late-2003, local volunteers began organizing a campaign to defeat the jail bond proposal that was, months afterward, rejected 2-to-1 by voters in the 2004 September Primary election. While continuing to work on the 'fail the jail' project into summer 2004, Coalition staff and volunteers hosted a conference that brought 20 leaders from around the country to meet each other, the board of directors, and discuss strategies and projects for the coming year.
Across Washington State, urban activists know it's important for their rural counterparts to establish themselves solidly in rural areas. Fashioning effective messages for rural, generally conservative, voters is a persistent challenge for the progressive, reform movement. With new prisons often built in impoverished, rural areas, it is now clear to prison moratorium activists, especially, why rural voters are key, and an important reason why the Coalition's home office is in a small town.
Early spring 2004 brought revelations of abuse in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. Coalition staff responded by creating the special website section that both national and international press used for pertinent and timely information. Members wrote editorials and linked abuse, high incarceration rates and the drug war, using the terrible moment for good advantage.
Experimenting with messages in music, staff and volunteer Katana Christen, and Josh Spiegel recorded "Our Own Kind," written and performed by Nora Callahan, and available as a free 'musical download' from www.november.org.
Individuals and groups are activating themselves nationwide in response to multiple crises in law enforcement. Barbara Fair traveled from New Haven to meet and address new volunteer leaders in Chicago. Elaine Lynch of North Carolina attended scores of regional and local meetings, tabling and speaking to the public. Dorothy Gaines of Mobile, Alabama was featured in People Magazine in the spring of 2004, as well as numerous small newspapers, TV news shows and periodicals.
Over the past year, staffers Nora Callahan and Chuck Armsbury traveled to Kalamazoo, MI, Seattle WA and Detroit, MI. College lectures and small meetings with organizers took place, plus public debates and many opportunities to share heartfelt concerns about over-reliance on law enforcement solutions to fix our country's drug problem.
Thank you, again, for supporting the work accomplished last year. In spite of a major election, war on 'terror' and in Iraq, the issue of drug war imprisonment continues to be hotly debated in communities and state legislatures.
We are poised to create a flurry of support for a congressional session likely to re-visit sentencing laws in 2005. We must demand retroactive, early release!
Your volunteer and financial support makes it all possible. If you haven't already become a member of November Coalition, don't hesitate to join now and help end drug war injustice today.