Events and Vigils!

Laguna Beach vigil well attended

By Rachel Morton, November Coalition Vigil Leader

Our August 11th Drug War Vigil was great. More people attended, and so we were around 30-40 participants (40 was the peak, about 30 stayed for the entire 2 hours). We had member of the Orange County Hemp Council, medical marijuana groups, Green Party, Unitarian Universalistic Fellowship, passersbys. Even students from my anatomy class attended! High Times magazine took photos.

We sent a letter notifying the police department, and they sent two cars to park right by us for the entire demonstration. Two young juveniles on bikes were very supportive of the protest and borrowed signs that read "KEEP YOUR LAWS OUT OF MY URINE". They rode around the boardwalk with the signs. When they brought the signs back, they said the police stopped them for bike law violations. The police asked them about the signs, and when the youngsters feigned ignorance, the police let them go. Since we were on the beach, people requested Razor Wires to take to their towels to read. We left feeling that we had made a positive impact.

500 rally against drug war in San Francisco

By Ellen Komp with Patty Neilson

Over 500 people representing a cross-section of San Francisco packed the First Unitarian Universalist Church in San Francisco on an August Saturday night for the program entitled WANTED: End To the U.S. Drug War. Sponsored by 12 different prisoner' rights and drug policy reform groups, the event featured Angela Davis, Dorothy Gaines, Kemba Smith and Ruthie Gilmore.

It was a bittersweet night - sweet to see Gaines and Smith freed; bitter to hear of the many, deserving women they had left behind. Still more bitter news came that the day marked the death of Charisse Shumate, a woman with sickle cell anemia who was serving time in a California prison. According to Joyce Miller of California Coalition for Women Prisoners, groups had collected money to pay for a hematologist for Shumate, and a compassionate release parole was granted weeks ago but went unsigned by Governor Davis.

Vigil leader Patty Neilson of November Coalition was there to help, "I assisted with setting up the speaker area in the church and placed a November Coalition table outside with various issues of the Razor Wire - they flew off the table into peoples' hands. Dorothy and Kemba did a fantastic job speaking, and they were dignified and strong. I spoke with Kemba briefly, and the first thing she said was that she and the women (inside prison) read every Razor Wire, and it was a great source of hope to really help them cope.

It was refreshing and empowering to see four African American women making up the dais, not just appearing as tokens on yet another white male-dominated panel. Gilmore, an assistant Professor at the University of California and author of the forthcoming book "Golden Gulag", urged the crowd to start thinking about shifting the model of leadership. Gilmore urged a cultural shift away from a government whose function is to wage war, with George W. Bush as the central figure, to one that serves its people with Charise and the other victims and their families as the object of focus. Gilmore charged that the war on drugs is not just an internal militaristic operation, but "organized abandonment" of the poor and communities of color.

Dorothy Gaines, a 43-year-old from Mobile, Alabama spoke calmly and plainly, with a hint of her southern dialect, and brought the crowd to its feet with her talk. Gaines received her sentence solely on testimony of others testifing in exchange for sentence reductions. She did not cooperate with the government and had no information to trade. Those who testified against her shared a jail cell and were overheard fabricating their stories, a situation not uncommon in Mobile, where Gaines says only blacks are tried on crack charges despite a high rate of usage by whites.

Gaines thanked former President Bill Clinton for granting her clemency last December after she served 6 years of her 20-year sentence for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine, saying, "I left many behind that deserve to be out." She mentioned an 83-year-old woman incarcerated along with her daughter and granddaughter for answering her son's phone. Speaking of Charisse Shumate, Gaines said that she and Kemba "might not have made it out that door we walked into" without the support they received on the outside. She also spoke of the impact on her family. Six months after Gaines was imprisoned her mother died and her 19-year-old daughter had to leave school to care for younger siblings; her son tried to commit suicide three times during her imprisonment. She cannot return to nursing because of her prison record, so "the prison continues for me."

Gaines called for an end to the drug war, and to mandatory minimum sentences, a call that was met with applause from the audience. She asked African Americans in particular to take a stand. In answer to a question later in the program, Gaines called prisons "legalized slavery" and said she earned between 12 cents and $1.15 an hour while inside. Unable to work much because she suffers from hypertension, Gaines earned only $5.00 a month, not enough to buy a box of $6 tampons.

Virginia Resner of Families Against Mandatory Minimums and Human Rights and the Drug War introduced Kemba Smith, calling it "a miracle" to see she and Gaines freed. Smith was given a 24-year sentence for unknowingly assisting her boyfriend in distributing cocaine. She served seven years before being granted clemency by Clinton along with Gaines.

Her 6-year-old son and her parents, who got a standing ovation when she recognized them, accompanied Smith. They had advocated long and hard for her. Smith noted that, had she served her full sentence, her son would have been 24 years old before she was released. She gave birth in prison and was thankful that she was merely shackled to a bed after giving birth, not during as others have been. "God brought me out for a purpose-this voice," she said. Smith said she saw women die in prison for lack of medical care. She said both she and Gaines are on probation, and she is forbidden to contact her fellow prisoners. "I would sit in prison and think, are we worthless? When will there be a change? That's what the brothers and sisters inside are thinking now," she said. "We need a movement to help prisoners. It is time for us to value human life."

Smith is enrolled at Virginia Union University and will graduate with a degree in social work in 2002. She works part time at a law firm and hopes to enroll in law school. She noted that she was able to get financial assistance despite her drug conviction, and that many who were convicted after her would no longer qualify for help with education.

Dorsey Nunn of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children introduced Angela Davis, crediting her with a large share of informing the world about the prison industrial complex. Davis said she was grateful to President Clinton for freeing Gaines and Smith, and wondered to loud applause why he did not also free Leonard Peltier. Davis focused the group on analyzing who benefits/profits directly and indirectly from the global prison industrial complex. Not just the corporations directly involved in the prison industry but those like Dial soap with contracts for the prisons, and the pharmaceutical industry that supplies prisons. "We have to courageously make the connections that are beneath the surface," she said. "Kendra and Dorothy have helped us make those connections. We welcome them home and to the struggle on this side of the walls."

Speaking of Charisse Shumate, Davis remembered that when nine women died in a California prison last year, their deaths were attributed to drug use in prison. "Women of color are stereotyped as drug addicts. It's absurd that these people who accuse us of that have contracts with pharmaceutical companies to give women prisoners drugs for emotional/mental problems. I've been to enough jails to tell you almost anyone in prison will have emotional/mental problems." Davis noted that drugs advertised on TV as panaceas often have chemistries similar to street drugs, "but if you don't have a doctor for a drug connection, and you go out on the street instead to buy your drugs, you are demonized."

Davis said she has visited women's prisons around the world and seen vast numbers of young women imprisoned. She mentioned in particular aboriginal women in Australia, African women in France, and South American women in the Netherlands, all victims of the U.S.-instigated war on drugs. "The global prison industrial complex, like vultures, feeds upon the bodies of these young women to reap profits," she said. "So many prisoners are illiterate, or have mental or emotional problems. What we need is education, health care, and drug rehabilitation not connected to the criminal justice system"

Davis wondered if, on the eve of the first worldwide conference against racism to be held in South Africa at the end of August, the world community would see the U.S. as barbarous, as they had at the conference on the death penalty she recently attended in France. She said that "our so-called president" Bush was balking at sending an official delegation to the racism conference, and drew whoops from the crowd when she speculated that Colin Powell and Condaleeza Rice would be likely candidates.

The evening ended with comments and questions from the audience and calls to action. Actions recommended:

  • Support HR 1978 (Waters) to eliminate mandatory sentences. Contact your representative to support the bill as a co-sponsor.
  • Contact the agencies that implement Proposition 36 and demand open public forums with communities of color to discuss its implementation.
  • Host a house party with the PBS video Snitch.
  • Sign up with an organization actively campaigning to end the drug war.

A big thanks to the Unitarian Church for opening their hearts and their home - it was beautiful and there was nothing lacking.

Olympia to Seattle vigils! See you there!

From Olympia to Seattle we are holding drug war vigils regularly in western Washington state.
Why? Because with all that has transpired in the past month, it's business as usual in the drug war. Deadly no knock raids; helicopter fly-overs; people receiving mind-boggling sentences while others are paroled on a regular basis.

I've heard it voiced that maybe we should wait awhile, let things cool down after the tragedies of 9/11. I doubt I could disagree much more. Ridiculous amounts of money are flying around all over the place to make us safe, and the drug-war maintains it's multi-million dollar budget.
I ask all who read this to try and attend one or more of our vigils. We are an official, permitted event and have never been "harrassed" in Olympia for as long as we've conducted vigils here. But in order to be effective, we need to show strength in numbers. We are in a high profile location, on two of the busier streets in Olympia, and people DO take the time to stop and find out what we're about.

This vigil is in a series with regular vigils in Olympia and Seattle. We are serious about ending the drug war- are you?

Kevin J. Black ·, The November Coalition, W.H.E.N./ NORML of South Puget Sound, WA NORML/ The Hemp Coalition, Seattle Hempfest

Richmond Virginia vigil

The September vigil for victims of the Drug War went pretty well. We were delighted with the presence of Gary Reams, Libertarian candidate for Lieutenant-Governor.

Attendance had been down, but is climbing again. We had about a dozen people, as well as some who showed up late. A jail guard tried to tell us that we needed someone's permission to be there, so we explained that we did had permission - from James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and others. Eventually, he understood.

A number of people had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Gary. As you should know, his campaign is built on the single issue that the marijuana laws have gone too far and must be reformed. Since our legislature has repeatedly refused to trust the people with the powers of initiative and referendum that citizens of some other states have, this campaign is being billed as "The Reams Referendum".

Hope to see you for an hour if you live in the Richmond area - send me an email for details on upcoming events.

Roy B. Scherer Richmond, VA

Albuquerque drug war vigil on September 11

Alan Bean and other Friends of Justice from Tulia, Texas were standing in the parking lot of the Comfort Inn in Albuquerque when they got the news. "A plane has just crashed into the World Trade Center in New York," Patricia Kiker murmured ominously; "it's on television." So it was. Right there on the screen - a huge, ugly smoking hole, like something out of a cheesy disaster flick, only real.

Six Friends of Justice (from Tulia) had made the trek to Albuquerque on September 11th for the Great Debate: Asa Hutchinson, Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration vs. Gary Johnson, the legalizin' governor of New Mexico. "We had come to join forces with Veterans for Peace, the November Coalition and other anti-drug war organizations. These groups had earlier come to Tulia for our Never Again Rally, and it only seemed fair that we support their vigil across the street from Asa and Gary. Besides, I have always been a fan of Worlds in Collision scenarios-and this seemed to fit the bill," wrote Bean of the intent to join us in Albuquerque.

Seeing the smoke billowing from the nasty gash in a mammoth office building, Bean soon thought, "who gives a damn what Johnson and Hutchinson think about drugs? Who gives a damn about anything?" All that mattered now was that smoking hole.

That smoking hole, weeks after September 11th, has now ushered our nation into war, into new restrictions on communications and constitutional rights, and brought us a 'clear message' that our federal leaders are determined to prolong the drug war as a key element in the greater fight against terror. November Coalition remains determined to oppose this failed and destructive war on drugs, and work steadfastly for freedom and justice.