The November Coalition Hits the Road
10/04/02 - From the Week Online with DRCnet
- Website: http://www.drcnet.org
Author: Phil Smith
Journey For Justice Aims to Mobilize Support for Freeing
Drug War prisoners
Frustrated by the lack of progress in Congress on undoing
drug war sentencing policies that have left nearly half a million
Americans behind bars, a hundred thousand of them in the federal
prison system alone, the prison activist group, November Coalition
is hitting the road this weekend to energize the group's membership,
seek new support, and add thousands of signatures to its ongoing
petition campaign asking Congress to "redress drug war injustice."
November Coalition leader Nora Callahan and her husband and
fellow activist Chuck Armsbury are departing from their home
headquarters in Colville, WA, on a low budget, high energy journey
that will take them across the Rockies and the Northern Plains,
into Michigan, and on to the East Coast, where they will join
in an as yet unspecified action with other drug reform leaders
in Washington, DC, on November 1 before turning around and heading
"This is the first of a series of journeys for justice,"
said Armsbury. "In the Gandhian tradition, we are going
from town to town, prison to prison, camp meeting to camp meeting
to fortify our membership and strengthen our movement."
"Our members live all over the country," said Callahan.
"Not only the prisoners scattered across the land, but their
families trying to raise children for them, the elderly couples
whose sons and daughters are locked up, they are all devastated
by the burdens this mad rush to incarceration has imposed on
them. These people are forced to use precious money and vacation
time to visit their loved ones," she explained. "So
we are traveling to those communities and to those prisons to
meet the people. We should be planning for freedom together,
not standing alone in motels wondering if that other person is
also there to visit a prisoner."
If Callahan and Armsbury are hoping to energize the grassroots,
early indications are that they are succeeding. Iowa resident
Larry Schulenberg, whose son Martin is serving a 9-year sentence
on drug charges at a federal prison camp in Yankton, SD, told
DRCNet he couldn't wait for the journey to come to his area.
"This is a great opportunity to educate the public and the
media about what's going on," said Schulenberg. "There
will be a vigil at the prison, then a meeting at a local motel
with families and friends of prisoners," he said. For Schulenberg,
the journey is about ending an injustice that has hit home. "My
son deserves to be punished," he said, "but not for
110 months in jail. There's a two-time loser in the same bust;
he should have been serving more time than Martin, but he had
names to give the feds."
Another November Coalition member, Debra Wright of Ann Arbor,
MI, shares the enthusiasm and the desire for justice. "We're
very excited here," she told DRCNet. "The journey is
officially starting here in the Detroit area, and we are honored.
We've got all kinds of events lined up, including a meeting with
Congressman John Conyers, and we will hopefully get people talking
about these issues," she said.
Common Sense for Drug Policy's Kevin Zeese is going to Detroit
for the Journey, he told DRCNet. "The Journey for Justice
is a big step," he said, "and we'll give it a good
kickoff in Detroit. This is building the grassroots, and the
Journey will be doing that at events across the Midwest, the
Northeast, and the Mid-Atlantic area. This tour will build, educate,
and activate people, and it has a great mix of public events,
private meetings with family members, media appearances, demonstrations
Debra Wright is an example of what the Journey hopes to stir
up. Acting on her own, she contacted Zeese last year to help
form the Drug Policy Forum of Michigan. "I'm a former prisoner
and a former heroin addict clean now for 10 years," she
said. "My interest lies in reforming the prison system and
helping addicts." Now she is a regional coordinator for
the November Coalition.
"We seek to inspire popular resistance to drug war injustice
to help us empower people in the grassroots," said Callahan.
"We hope to find a hundred Debras."
How to measure the success of such an effort is a question
with which the November Coalition has been grappling. "When
we get back, we'll sit down and try to evaluate qualitatively
and quantitatively where we succeeded and where we need to rethink,"
said Armsbury. "We'll be looking at the number of signatures
we get on our petitions, the number of new regional leaders,
the number of new chapters formed to prepare for future journeys,"
he said. "We'll also look at the feedback we get. With this
journey, what we would ordinarily hear secondhand at a conference,
we will hear directly from the people and the communities involved,"
"We have to recognize that in any grassroots movement,
there are grass bottoms and grass tops," said Callahan.
"We have to learn from each other."
Although the November Coalition is seeking relief-any relief-
for the hundreds of thousands of drug war prisoners, Callahan
and Armsbury said their ultimate goal is much broader. "We
want to end the war on drugs," said Armsbury. "We take
a hard stand against this war waged on our people-everyone knows
this isn't about drugs. Of course we would accept some relief
for our people behind bars, but we need to start talking about
dismantling the whole drug war superstructure. This is a discussion
that needs to begin taking place among reform leaders, too, and
soon," Armsbury continued. "As our organizers in Michigan
wrote on their flyers, 'it's time for a change.'"
For information about Journey events in your area, visit the
November Coalition Journey for Justice web site at http://www.journeyforjustice.org
online. And don't forget to sign the petition to redress drug
war injustice while you are there!