November Coalition Journey for Justice Roars through Michigan
10/18/02 - From the Week Online with DRCnet
- Website: http://www.drcnet.org
Author: Phil Smith
The November Coalition's
Journey for Justice got off to a rousing start in Michigan
last weekend, according to press and personal accounts. The journey,
designed to expand and energize the grassroots base of the November
Coalition, a national group working to free federal drug war
prisoners, kept group leaders Nora Callahan and Chuck Armsbury
and Kevin Zeese of the Washington, DC-based Common Sense for Drug Policy busy all weekend,
but it also pushed the movement forward in a variety of ways.
The journey's Michigan weekend encompassed seven events, ranging
from a march against the drug war with student activists in Ann
Arbor to lectures before Unitarians and law students to a forum
on the drug war attended by Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat
on the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick
(who also happens to be the mother of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick).
Oh, and then there was the vigil at the federal prison in nearby
Milan, MI. And let's not forget the Friday meeting that resulted
in the formation of a new, predominantly African-American November
Coalition chapter in Detroit.
"If the victims of the drug war stand united, they will
form a political constituency that could end the drug war,"
Conyers told an audience of more than one hundred people at the
University of Detroit on Saturday.
The November Coalition found victims aplenty in Michigan,
and some of them are becoming active for the first time, but
the Journey for Justice is also providing an opportunity for
drug reformers of various stripes to rub shoulders. In Ann Arbor,
for instance, Students
for Sensible Drug Policy and the Drug Policy Forum of Michigan organized the
University of Michigan events. In Detroit, Unitarian drug reform activists agreed to
provide a meeting place for the new Detroit chapter. And the
journey also took time out for an informal strategy session with
Tim Beck, leader of the thwarted effort to put medical marijuana
on the Detroit city ballot. Drug reformers also had the opportunity
to hear from retired Detroit policeman Dan Solano, who formed
Police Officers for Drug Law Reform in 2001.
But for Armsbury and Callahan, organizing to fight drug war
injustice is a highly personal affair, where the frustrations
of the slow work of reaching out to people one at a time are
exceeded by the satisfaction of bringing some hope and meaning
to others. From Callahan's journey journal:
"At the vigil near Milan, an African American man slowed
down and in response to our banner message, "There is no
justice in the war on drugs," he shouted out to us, 'I hope
you didn't just figure that out!' Chuck drummed up contacts for
informal 'camp meetings' by asking the kids in the hotel pool
if they were visiting their daddies at the prison. 'We are here
to talk with people about ending drug war injustice.'
"One boy jumped out of the pool and said, 'What do we
gotta do? We're here with our auntie.' We met with her late in
the evening; elderly with a bad cold, she brought children of
the family from Chicago to visit her son, 'Doing 20 years for
2 grams of crack. Had we known you were going to be here, we'd
have been outside at that vigil with you,' she promised. "At
breakfast next morning, the cashier asked where we were from.
We told her, and added why we'd come to Milan, Michigan. Chuck
went to the men's room and the cashier whispered, 'I was a junkie
and they sent me to prison. I got this job, and a few of us gals
that work here have done time on drugs. I'm a criminal, I know,
"'You have a treatable medical condition -- the law made
you a criminal,' I told her.
"She grabbed my hand for a moment, and said, 'Thanks
for telling me that-I'll tell the others. Do you have any information
you could give us?' We do! We left it with her to share with
others; and I took with me the look in her eyes when I explained
to her that sometimes laws are more culprit than those who break
it. There was a look of relief in her eyes that will stay with
DRCNet spoke briefly with Callahan on Thursday as she and Armsbury
drove through the federal prison gulag in upstate New York. "They
have prisons everywhere up here," she said. "You don't
see them unless you're looking for them, but they're there. We're
driving past FCI Ray Brook. It was built to house athletes for
the 1980 Winter Olympics. Now it's a federal prison. How weird."
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're there.