I am happy to report that the Washington, DC vigil went very well. We learned a lot and reached many people with our message. The vigil lasted from 12 to 5 p.m. and attracted over 30 drug policy reformers throughout the day. At the vigil Karen Garrison spoke about her twin sons, Lamont and Lawrence, who are serving, respectively, twenty and fifteen years in prison for "conspiracy" to distribute crack cocaine. Eric Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, also spoke.
Sterling said that reaching the two million mark was not an indictment of those in prison, but of all Americans. He spoke of the families destroyed by mandatory minimum sentencing, highlighting the case of Dorothy Gaines who is serving 20 years for a drug trafficking offense.
Our location in front of the U.S. Capitol
was good in that it allowed us to hand out literature to hundreds
of people. However, we may consider alternative locations in
the future. As Kevin Zeese pointed out to us, we would need thousands
of protesters in that location to make a visible impact. Also
in the future we will have the vigils last one hour so that people
can make it out during lunch and not feel obligated to stay all
day. Even the most dedicated reformers had to get back to work!
I think our press strategy was good, and since
we were part of a national vigil effort, we were able to get
coverage. In the future I think we should definitely collaborate
again on this kind of scale. I know Tom is already talking about
national vigils on or near Mother's Day. I think that's a great
idea. Especially in DC, getting media to cover vigils and protests
is hard without a good hook.
With regards to the 'No More Prisons' hip-hop show that SSDP and the Prison Moratorium Project had organized at American University, Sodexho Marriot Food Services - the largest investor in Corrections Corporation of America - canceled us at the last minute. The justification Marriot offered was that proper paperwork wasn't submitted in time to adequately staff the venue.
We don't have real evidence they canceled us because our 'message' conflicts with their connections to the private prison industry, but we do know that in the past, groups have submitted paperwork late and had no objections from Marriot.
Luckily, the hip-hop artists and organizers were able to salvage the event by moving it to a private house, buying PA equipment, providing refreshments, and shuttling students from American University to the party. The bands El Battalion, Lyric and Apani each performed to a full house. Thanks to everyone who helped make both events a success.
Kristy Gomes, Students for Sensible Drug Policy