Gainesville vigil a good day

By John Chase, TNC regional leader

It started at noon on a cold overcast windy day and ended just after dark. My purpose to was to obtain as many signatures for the Jubilee Justice petition as I could. I got about 250, which I will copy and mail the originals to Colville.

There was a wide range of signers - from a young criminal defense attorney who had just moved back to Gainesville, to a middle-aged woman who motioned to the posters of the prisoners, saying "My husband never made it that far; he committed suicide on August 17th". One persistent visitor to my display was a young journalism student who was given a 'spot story' assignment on Friday PM, due Monday AM, and was reporting the hempfest. She told me she'd email me a copy of what she turns in.

Lots of people stopped to talk, but most just stood to read the stories on the posters. I had built a octagonal frame of PVC pipe which sat on a card table and held sixteen 11" x 17" posters. It was centrally located with room around the table to walk around and read the stories. Some pointed and talked to their friends about particular ones. After a few minutes they would pick up a pen and sign.

Most important is that without the persistence of Kevin Aplin and Scott Bledsoe, this hempfest would not have occurred. The Gainesville City Commission had first denied the permit, then lost on appeal, probably spending $200,000 of Gainesville taxpayers' money in the process. We had the usual number of undercover agents mixing with the crowd and many, mostly tight-lipped Gainesville police on its outskirts. Nothing happened.

Seemed like many of the signers hardly had two quarters to rub together. There were quite a few students and some middle-class, middle-aged people. Not as many Afro-Americans at the hempfest as I'd have liked, but there were some.

My son and two of his friends, all from Gainesville, helped me for a while. After they left, the posters just stood and sold themselves. I hardly had to do anything except keep the paper and pens organized. In a way it was amazing, but in another way, these people - the ones who signed - understood as well as any of us that the American Drug War has done nothing to reduce drug abuse and everything to abuse citizens.

I wrapped up about an hour after dark, took a nap at my son's place and left for home at midnight, flying alone along the empty highways of a part of old Florida most tourists never see. Sunday was a good day.

Kelly in Cleveland

My name is Kelly Ali. In July of 1998 my world fell apart. My husband was arrested two days before our daughter's 3rd birthday. When his bond was denied and I was told that he was possibly facing life in prison, I searched desperately for some help. That is when I came across The November Coalition on the Internet. I thought that my husband's case was rare. The only "evidence" was the testimony of a convicted felon. I went to "The Wall", only to read that there were hundreds of people that were telling the same exact story that I was living at the time. I was determined not to let my husband become another victim of the system.

I took on a night job so that I could be in trial with him during the day. Every spare second I was researching cases. I was going to save him. For a month I slept maybe 2-3 hours a night. The jury read the verdict not guilty, guilty, not guilty, guilty. I had failed! I worked so hard and I had failed. I went back to the website, I called Nora (director of The November Coalition), I cried. They had beat me, and I had nothing left to fight with. I was tired.

Nora told me what she had experienced, what she was trying to do and how she was trying to do it. Before long I began to feel like I could fight again. Working with a group of people gave me hope. Alone maybe I couldn't bring my husband home, but as a group perhaps we could change laws so that we could once again be a family. There is strength in numbers, and I began to feel strong again. I changed how I fought, but not what I was fighting for, and that was for justice.

Since my involvement with TNC, I have held vigils in an effort to raise awareness of the drug laws, I've set up display booths featuring prisoner laminates at community events to put a face to the victims of the drug war. Most recently I put together a 2001 calendar that is being distributed to Congress, a constant reminder that the drug war is a failure and that there are many people serving time that does not fit the crime.

I know that if people work together for a common cause, then changes can and will be made. On December 22,2000 President Clinton released 2 women serving mandatory federal time for drug offences. I knew then that things were changing and that all of the time, effort and tears have been worth it.

I wish everyone peace and freedom in 2001. Happy New Year. - Kelly Ali

Puget Sound vigil

Although it had rained for the prior two days, we were blessed with no rain and an abundance of sunshine. Around 20 people showed up, and two gentlemen, after seeing what we were doing, joined us. Because of the upcoming anniversary of the WTO fiasco, there were police everywhere, but they couldn't have been nicer to us. Two of them stood nearby for awhile and read the literature we were handing out and talked about the drug war. Off the record they both agreed with our position.

We were situated in a 'high traffic' area and were consequently able to talk to dozens of people. Unfortunately, few seemed to realize the toll the drug war is taking, but that's why we do what we do, isn't it?

This was my first vigil as coordinator, and I think it went off rather well. I saw some areas that we could improve on, but I'm very proud of having this awesome responsibility and fully intend on keeping this position as long as they'll have me.

Kevin Black, Vigil Coordinator, The Hemp Coalition Officer, NORML of South Puget Sound

Richmond, Virginia Vigil

The Saturday, December 30th 2000 Vigil to end the drug war in Richmond came off just fine.

There were nine of us in front of the Richmond City Jail for one hour last night in bone chilling conditions. We unsuccessfully tried to get a small flame to stay alive. Holding a banner (that says there is no justice in the war on drugs) and keeping literature from blowing around was challenging in the surprisingly stiff winds.

We passed literature out to people driving by and some folks visiting inmates.

Eight of us had been at previous vigils and there was one new person.
This Vigil has been held on the last Saturday of each month since September.

Lennice Werth
Virginians Against Drug Violence