Cannabis Culture Magazine # 65, March / April 2007
November Coalition Marks Decade Of Struggle In 2007
By Chuck Armsbury, Senior Editor of the Razor Wire
In early 1997 a handful of daring folks from the remote mountains of northeastern Washington State called for peace in the war on drugs. Nora Callahan and some local friends with loved ones in prison began publicly demanding an end to a war on people.
"Out of a Colville kitchen comes a national organization," said Congressman John Conyers at a Washington DC ceremony recognizing November Coalition three years later. On behalf of the Coalition, Callahan accepted the 2000 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rghts Award sponsored by the Institute for Policy Studies and presented by Mr. Conyers.
The general mission of November Coalition is to educate, arouse and activate people to demand a halt to the government's use of drug law enforcement to increase prison populations. Our mission statement calls for trashing drug prohibition/zero tolerance ideology because it only increases gangland violence, profiteering and corrupt institutions.
From the earliest 1997 speeches, writings and public vigils, "Novemberistas" have been anti-prohibitionists, defenders of Constitutional law, and anchored by anguished families with a loved one in prison. Concerned, dedicated citizens stand with them in growing numbers, too.
It was incarcerated brother G. Patrick Callahan who asked his sister to organize public opposition to this bogus, yet deadly, war on drugs in all its facets. After the website (www.november.org) was launched in early 1997, and the first Razor Wire newspapers began circulating nationally, the Coalition's Colville office was flooded with mail and phone calls from drug war prisoners and their loved ones, each one eager to tell us about drug war injustice.
After reading hundreds of such stories, a pattern emerged of prosecutors who coerce testimony, of friends and family members who became snitches, others who do the time, and judges who go along with it all, everyone whining bitterly.
Tyrone wrote the Coalition in July 2004 with a tale we could hardly believe. He said he got a life sentence at age 17 for smoking marijuana while on probation for an armed robbery where no one was hurt. He had already served 14 years when he contacted our office.
After verifying and obtaining written consent, Tyrone's words were posted on The WALL in March 2005. In the fall we heard from reporter Brooks Egerton of the Dallas Morning News, who said that while browsing The WALL he read Brown's unbelievable story about getting life in prison for smoking pot.
On April 23, 2006, the Morning News published Egerton's investigation into Tyrone Brown. Egerton found that Judge Keith Dean did order Brown, a black teenager, to serve life in prison for testing positive in a urinalysis for marijuana use in violation of Dean's earlier 10-year probation. Yet, Egerton also found that the Judge handled a white murderer and cocaine addict much differently, excusing the man's numerous probation violations.
After Egerton's story broke, the Coalition began hearing from Texans at first, people outraged by the unequal justice, stupefied by judicial bias against marijuana, and stunned by the favoritism for a white defendant with connections to power and influence. Tyrone's plainly told story and poems first sent to our office in mid-2004 were about to get even more public exposure.
Just before the elections in early November, an ABC 20/20 Special featured Ty's story, including interviews with Egerton and Tyrone, and a clip of ABC's futile attempt to talk with a stonewalling Judge Dean, then actively campaigning for re-election. Dean lost his reelection bid. Public support and demands for Tyrone's immediate release exploded.
Today, Texas officials are listening -- notably Judge Dean and prosecutor Bill Hill. Both men have joined in a plea to the Parole Board and Governor Rick Perry to release Tyrone.
Much of the Coalition's educational thrust in 2007 is aimed at exposing the social fracturing of communities caused by the government's widespread use of informants. The secrecy generated by massive drug war informing is fully documented by the United States Sentencing Commission in its 2005 15-Year study.
The Commission bemoans the hidden deals made by prosecutors who manage intricate webs of snitches, especially in large urban communities. After all, ask Commissioners, how can we assess evidence we're barred from reviewing? The chief result is that the USSC cannot do the job required of it by Congress.
Drug police units rely heavily on confidential informants. We don't know how many are in any community because prosecutors and police forces keep this information secret. The estimated numbers are growing, and the numbers also tell us that "98 per cent of the time police don't have any goods on anyone, just a confidential informant," as Nora Callahan told college students recently. Many of our WALL stories reflect this reality of convicting the accused by words alone.
Coalition volunteers have unearthed once-hidden truths about prosecutorial abuse of power at all phases of the criminal justice procedure. Both in Razor Wire articles and in direct communications with affected communities, "Novemberistas" continue to call for public review of snitching's negative impact on working class brown and black communities - and specially targeted communities of hippies of all colors as well.
A grassroots' "Stop Snitchin" movement presents its message on a large billboard in Kansas City, Missouri. Sponsored by a local family, the billboard has generated considerable talk and media attention, including from the City's Mayor, initially enraged by the message.
After meeting with the family and a local news reporter under the billboard, the Mayor absorbed the heartfelt words of a father of a drug war prisoner and offered to help create a less-divisive message of snitching's ugly downside. We wish the Mayor luck, and 2007 starts hot!
Over the past three years November Coalition volunteers across the country have collected signatures of support for legislation to bring back federal parole. More than 120,000 people have signed our Petition for Relief from Drug War Injustice, and congressional leaders have responded by introducing bills. It is expected that the Second Chance Act and a bill to return federal parole will be introduced early in the 110th Congress.
"What we need most is an Omnibus Crime Bill," said Nora Callahan in a recent interview with Drug War Chronicle's Phil Smith. "Otherwise we'll be picking this thing (a laundry list of drug reform issues) apart for the next five decades. An omnibus bill would open the door to broad hearings where we could address the myriad, negative effects of the drug war - from imprisoning huge numbers of people to depriving students of loans and poor people of housing and other federal benefits, and from political corruption to police violence. If we try to deal with all these problems one by one, the prison population will have doubled again by the time we get it done," Callahan said.
November Coalition is spearheading a campaign called "No New Prisons" in 2007. Focusing first on Washington State and the Pacific Northwest, we plan to publish details of the struggle of prison oppositionists - those who do the work of preventing more prison expansion.
The Razor Wire continues to be published and made available to grassroots' activists for public distribution, and we've established a business called November's Natural Soap, made with hemp and other fine oils. Profits supplement the tireless generosity of loyal donors who support the Coalition's work.
November staff and volunteers have renovated an historic 1920s Colville church, later a natural food co-op, into offices and meeting space. Called Our House, the 4500 square foot building has a large kitchen, guest accommodations, and a Great Room where private meetings, special workshops and public events take place.
We see 2007 as a year of thickening grassroots' networks and organizing nationally. It's right to expect good things to happen. What better time than now for increasing mutual respect and aid within the drug reform movement, and its diverse interests?
For further information on all our projects and how you can participate, contact us at 509-684-1550 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For online information about some of the above:
Report: 10 Year Anniversary Benefit & Auction
On March 31, 2007, November Coalition celebrated 10 years of "Working to end drug war injustice" at 'Our House', the former 1920s church now occupied by the Coalition in Colville, WA.
The evening began with a tasty (and healthy) dinner, followed by the auction events. Auction items included handmade jewelry and crafts, classic record albums and tapes, underground comics, and even a 1-hour massage certificate. Afterwards, local band The Planetary Refugees provided a lively reggae beat, as a benefit card game took place on the second story catwalk.
Special thanks go to Sonia Christen and Mellow Rose, our local volunteers who did a phenomenal job of organizing the event; engaging volunteers, collecting auction donations and preparing a marvelous feast. We raised over $2000.00 to support the varied efforts of the November Coalition, including the news magazine you are now reading!
Thanks also to the following donors to the benefit:
Milt Spiedel, Pam Wagner, Hilary Ohm, R. E. Lee Shoestore, Peter & Laurie Quinn, Shelly Erickson, Ursula & Eric, Tom Benedict, Jack Cabe, Indigo, Gibby, Jonah Ohm Campbell, Deanna Draney, Curtis Pitts, Bev Spidel, Janelle Sunshine, Colville Veterans For Peace, Jean Christen, Chris Curley, Ruth Campbell, and everyone who attended and made our 10th Anniversary Auction / Benefit a huge success!