Drug War Vigils gather momentum

By Nora Callahan, Executive Director, the November coalition

On September 27th, members of The November Coalition, Drug Policy Forum of Texas, Texas Hemp Campaign, Common Sense for Drug Policy and Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) gathered at the Texas Capitol steps in Austin for a press conference. Late that afternoon, the demonstrators moved to Governor Bush's mansion for a three hour vigil.

The press conference on the steps of the Texas legislature featured family members of drug war prisoners seeking review of their cases and former drug offenders seeking pardon from their "adolescent mistakes". The event drew six television cameras and a variety of reporters including the Associated Press and Washington Post.

"If Governor Bush thinks he's good enough for the White House, then I think my husband is good enough for our house," said Debbie Helms, whose husband was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison for a marijuana law violation.

The monthly vigil in Austin is sponsored by the Texas Hemp Campaign and began one year ago with 10 people. In September there were over 100 people in attendance. Seven new vigils will begin in the coming months, bringing a total of 14 Drug War Vigils being held on a regular basis throughout the country. The University of Wisconsin-Madison chapter of the Students for a Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) has teamed with The November Coalition to hold Drug War Vigils in front of the Dane County Courthouse in Madison, Wisconsin each Thursday afternoon. Eric Hogens and Adam Hupp are the vigil organizers.

"We have held three vigils and are planning to continue them on a weekly basis," reported Adam Hupp. "There been quite a bit of interest in the vigils; many of the people that pass by us work for the courts or in corrections. The SSDP is made up entirely of college students who are active in fighting the injustices of the War on Drugs in any way possible. Madison has a strong tradition of student activism dating back to the protests of the Vietnam War; we hope to recapture that spirit to fight this generation's unjust war."

In New Haven, Connecticut, TNC regional leader Elaine Sabatino will coordinate the public display of Human Rights and The Drug War (HR 95) and November Coalition literature. On November 18th in the public library Community Room the general public can view a photograph essay that depicts our nation's wasteful and destructive drug policy.

Steven Duke, author of America's Longest War, and Nicolas Pastore, ex-police chief of New Haven will be guest speakers. The Community Room will be open from 9 AM to 3 PM.

On November 23rd Elaine Sabatino will again put up the display and State Senator Toni Harp will speak at 5:00 PM. People will be invited to organize a vigil in the New Haven area. In Tennessee, Nashville's first drug war vigil will take place the morning of January 17 at the Estes Kefauver Federal Building. In the afternoon participants will move to AI Gore's campaign headquarters for continued presence in the face of the leading Democratic contender.

"Vigils are something that can be done in every city," said Kevin Zeese, president of Common Sense for Drug Policy. Common Sense has been helping the November Coalition build a national vigil program. "We need to show that the injustice of the drug war is not only impacting those incarcerated but also their friends and families. People gathering in public to highlight the harms of drug war policies is a visible way to urge an end to the drug war."