Director's message

By Nora Callahan, Executive Director, November Coalition

As you read through this issue, you will quickly see that growing numbers of people are committed to ending the drug war. That commitment has never been greater. Momentum is growing.
You'll read the Newsweek report, and the instant, excited reports via email from our vigil leaders around the country.

We are full-of-it this issue. To toot our "horns" so to speak? No, to share with you our progress so that deep within, hope will make a spark, and you will work with us. We really do want you home with your loved-ones, or off to new and good adventures in the world. The free world. You have much work to do. In the coming months we will be more specific, but start thinking about some things now. Why should your community want you home? And share those thoughts with me, please.

The following is what I shared with dozens of vigil leaders and coordinators who stood in public to demand your release. Next issue we will share your thoughts to these same people. Send them in and we will publish as many as we can.

February 20, 2000
Dear Vigilizers:
We held simultaneous vigils across the country on or around February 15th, the date marking the infamous milestone of 2,000,000 prisoners in U.S. jails and prisons. Over 50 organizations joined with us in over 30 states and 43 communities. From large cities to small towns the media covered the issue well.

There was local press, national press and international press. Just think about it: television news, newspapers, magazines and radio! We 'went global on a relative dime' - ONLY because of people like you.

As we go to print the Mar/Apr Razor Wire this week, most of you haven't seen Tom Murlowski's interview by Newsweek or Kevin Zeese's interview by The Nation. We expect the press inquiries to continue beyond last week, and we will be referring questions to as many local vigil leaders as possible.

So many of us were quoted; it showed the growing "winter of our discontent". For two days our November Coalition website 'hits' doubled, Internet 'sign-ons' increased ten-fold! Citizens are joining our ranks in greater numbers than ever before.

We can do it again after a period of serious recruitment and rational, honest evaluations. That shouldn't take us very long. If you were not involved in a vigil, please consider it carefully now. The most effective way to increase legislative awareness is by building public outrage into a force legislators can't ignore.

Increase awareness by getting some literature from our office and targeting your friends, family and colleagues. Arm yourself with these recent press articles. It's a major election year, and we have a window of opportunity open. We cannot let it close, and a lot of work is demanded. We never know when our efforts may bring a wave of legislative change. We do know that there will be no change without such effort.

We all gave it our best shot last week - for that, we are collectively grateful. This is where words of appreciation fail me. I came into this struggle as so many of you have, with a heart full of grief and a measure of despair lending itself to a wild, last ditch fight. The fight gave me back the strength that injustice had almost swallowed. Then it went beyond any strength that I ever knew I had.

Prisoners began to experience this phenomenon too. They started getting stronger. Together, we were healing from our terrible process of grief. One by one, while gathering momentum, we crafted a common sense of purpose in this terrible quagmire of social destruction. We found our voices and some muscle too. I know without a doubt - as we got to know each other - we helped the weak get strong again, finding strengths they never knew existed.

Just look at all the living proof in the dozens of vigil reports!

This is the energy Kevin Zeese feels in the following message, that Robert Field reminds us of often: "We need to go from strength to strength." And so we certainly will continue to do so. It just plain feels better than the grief and despair. Can we all say, "Amen?"

Look what we just pulled off!

We can shed our tears with each other when needed, but muster up quickly and dry those eyes because we must march through the open door before us. Through the combined efforts of HR 95, FAMM, November Coalition, Prison Legal News and other peace, social justice and drug reform organizations, mass-imprisonment issues are now one of the hottest topics around. Drug war prisoners have become "people next door" - not the monsters or crybabies our government wants the taxpayers to believe are behind bars.

Now the presidential candidates must talk about it, too. That is partly our job. [Ed: Note that candidate Bill Bradley scored points recently in a televised political debate with Al Gore by bringing up our issues. One panelist at Harlem's Apollo Theater that evening did ask the two candidates about the social significance of the 2,000,000 prisoners now in jails and prisons. Before the end of the debate, Bradley had said he would support sentencing reform; we still aren't sure what Al Gore's answer was.]

Volunteer to become a November Coalition Regional Leader, or if you are already active in another reform group, we can and will help your organization, too. Our services and literature are always available to you. When you need our help, please do not hesitate to ask.

The unity of purpose displayed this past week was our ultimate success. That unity soared far beyond the November Coalition to the other drug reform and social justice organizations that joined us, or allowed us to join them for a day of expressing solidarity. It didn't matter that some vigils were small in numbers of people turning out

Our first, coordinated national vigil was presented very much in our favor by the media - a collective effort involving hundreds in harmony though scattered in numerous cities. Two Million Too Many! Our message came through loud and clear.

I am also very proud to be associated and working with each one of you. Please pass these messages to our VIGILizers throughout the country. If you are the loved one of a prisoner, please print and send it on for circulation throughout our nation's prisons.

A special note of thanks to Tom Murlowski and Chris Lotze who worked frantically for the last couple of weeks. They were developing materials, then shipping, faxing, and providing hours and hours of telephone support and more. You guys were great!

Chris was left alone here on vigil day (the 15th), and through a baptism of fire routed press information to people available for interviews. We didn't skip a beat thanks to his quick wit and dedication, AND when Chuck Armsbury and I returned from Seattle/Olympia demonstrations, the Razor Wire was 'layed up' except for vigil coverage. I still haven't figured out how he managed it.
Vigil leaders and participants - you were really something. I know it was cold, windy and for many of you, rainy and snowy, but when duty called you were there. The world saw you.

In closing this director's message, I want to say that Newsweek may be right about the "rag-tag" group, but they are also right about the mass movement poised to act. And our "rag-tag" group, some of the walking wounded in this war, were out in front and out there first.
I've never been prouder in all my life!


P.S. I stood at the Seattle vigil with former prisoner of the drug war, Greg. When I got home from the west side of the state, there was an e-mail for me from former prisoner Henry Schwan. His name now is "owlswan" When I see his email come up on my screen I first think, Henry Schwan is free, then I read it. I want to share this email with everyone-it certainly says a lot!

Hi Nora,
I am just back from the vigil at Powell and Market streets. I talked to people and held a candle and handed out leaflets and Razor Wires. Glad to do that and keep a copy since I didn't get a Jan/Feb issue in the mail. Being there caused me to think for a while.
One thing that seemed missing was a simple handout:
"10 Things You Can Do to Help End the Drug War".
1. Care - The drug war goes on because too many good people don't do something to stop it.
2. Realize - You are important, and you have the power to do something and cause things to change.
3. Communicate - If you can communicate that caring, hope and power to your family, friends and neighbors and encourage them to do the same, pretty soon we have a critical mass to cause major change.
4. Write - write letters to newspapers, Congress, governors, people you read about who are doing both good and bad things. Cultivate the feeling that we can win.
5. Study - Know the facts so that you can communicate them clearly.
6. Connect - Find the people in your area who think similarly and spend some time talking, planning and giving each other hope.
7. Be visible - So many people are afraid to even think about what is happening, so when they see some people not afraid, it allows possibilities to grow in their hearts and minds.
8. Be reasonable - The other side is often shrill and robotic, and we generally win just by our calm and reasoned demeanor.
9. Stay clean - The other side has a lot of political power and is just waiting for a chance to squash us.
10. Be in contact - We must never let our elected officials forget that what they are doing is hideously wrong and immoral and that the day is coming when they are going to be out of office because of their mean, hypocritical behavior.
Just some thoughts off the top of my head.

Love and peace, owlswan
186,282 miles per second. It isn't just a good idea, it's the law.