November Coalition Roadshow Hits East Coast, 11/01/02 - From the Week Online with DRCnet
Reports from Wesleyan University and New Haven, CT
From Cliff Thornton - 10/24/02
Mark Kinzley, an outstanding outreach harm reducitionist, who works for Dr. Robert Hymer of Yale University said, "the forum last night was the best ever for New Haven, bar none". October 22nd marked the second stop for The Journey for Justice in New Haven, CT, with a march that stopped at three locations, police headquarters, the main courthouse and the local jail. The marchers, some seventy strong, were a mix of young, old, students, teachers, preachers, and politicians that were filmed at every location. I did not attend the march so I will let Nora and Chuck give their impression. The eleven o'clock news showed the marches at the three locations.
A forum was held after the march which featured a Columbian activist (John Lugo), a community activist (Barbara Fair), Nora and Chuck. A hundred and three people attended. The eleven o'clock news had a five minute segment featuring Barbara Fair (People Against Injustice), one of the organizers plus Chuck and Nora. Five groups helped organize the two-hour forum that started with everyone giving their name and a brief description of how the drug war has affected them. With the energy level at a fever pitch, Nora blew the roof off with her presentation. During the Q&A Chuck talked about his experience with the Black Panthers and you could see the Black people rally to his side. This event will really push the activists groups in the New Haven area to produce other forums. I have had three calls this morning wanting to have four such events in the coming year.
The Brad Davis talk radio show started the first leg, which has a listener audience of over one million. Interesting note: four major newspapers in the state have or are presently running a four or five part series on drug war issues, which have appeared over the last two months. The latest series is in the Hartford paper entitled "Heroin Town". Nora, Chuck and I were walking into the studio and we found a syringe on the ground. We brought it into the studio; what a perfect lead in, because the host immediately brought up "Heroin Town". Brad Davis is going to sponsor four hour long public TV shows featuring Efficacy and the Drug War next year.
I will let Chuck and Nora give their impressions of the forum at Wesleyan University; they were just great. The next time I will not go easy on scheduling. I will say that there were "runners" from some of the politicians at both events. Let me close by saying that I would love to help sponsor another Journey for Justice tour.
From Nora Callahan - 10-24-02
The march in New Haven?
It was big, noisy, orderly and got bigger as we went along, gathering people to the forum later. That was a first for us, I'd easily say.
It began at the police station, made it's way to the courthouse, and then to the jail, where we vigiled for a time before ending at St. Luke's Church, where we had a public forum.
This "Path of Injustice" the march took through New Haven illustrated what that means: Police target minorities, courtrooms are full of lies, and prisons are warehouses of misery. All along we chanted, teaching them our chants, and learning theirs. Our favorite new chant?
What do we do when communities fail? Build schools, not jails!
Neighbors filled their porches, TV cameras followed along, set up at the next stop where speeches were given; lines of cars honked long and loud; young black men led the chanting, and led the way through busy intersections. Participants gave out informational leaflets through the streets - then into the residential area where the large local gulag is located. Literally - in the back yards of New Haven's poor!
Later the forum was 100+ people, and everyone got their turn to tell us why they came. So people were 'fired up' and involved, long before I spoke my mind as to why I was there. And up until this time, only a few knew who in the hell Chuck and I were, anyway! And there were refreshments for all! Women were scurrying to the store and back again, when the crowd in the church grew past expectations. We were not the 'cause' of enthusiasm - but surely were there to experience it collectively.
Mark Kinzley's remarks are very encouraging. We sensed the moment of 'community resolve' that night, too. There have been many groups coalescing for some time, leadership in this state working together on various projects; and it is evident that diverse groups have grasped the commonality of the war on drugs - as the direct cause of most of their concerns.
At one point, a young black men asked, "What exactly should we do?"
In short, I could only answer, "Meet every two weeks, not to simply talk - you have to do things. Change your community!" Chuck talked about service and education - making it real. Another young man urged the younger not to 'sell the man's drugs' - and told how he lost much of his intestines, liver and colon to gun fire in the streets, about serving time, and his struggle today, post 9/11, losing employment because he is a Muslim. He sells sandwiches now; the young black men spoke about legal enterprises, about being brave and working hard, creating community based businesses -- of the hope they have in changing a system that sends them to prison in droves.
Mostly African American people - but including Hispanics, Asians; I told them how I came to discover the racism of the drug war the first time I visited my brother. We were the only white family in the visiting room. I shared with them what I had learned from history, regarding struggle, race and class. That social convention first frowned upon social alliances of race; that didn't keep us apart. Laws were made - that didn't keep us apart - especially with regard to coming together in struggle. When class division came in - the idea that white people, though poor, could attain more things, more stuff, more material goods - that worked to keep us apart. See, when a person has more stuff, here in this country - and most places, that means you must be better. Thinking we are better than one another, based on the stuff we have - that keeps us apart.
To end the drug war, we all have to come together. Just as we concluded the small neighborhood meeting in Detroit, the large neighborhood meeting concluded in New Haven. It's time for us all to come together to end the injustice of the war on drugs.
Ron Scott, the gentleman who hosted us on Detroit's "For My People" TV show - is donating a video camera so that special moments of these Journeys for Justice can be shared more effectively in the future. Chuck has taken some great photos of this March and forum; be sure to visit our Photo and Press archive - the still photos are worth a thousand of my words.
A young black girl about 15 years old stood up and said, "My brother is in prison for drugs; I was isolated and ashamed, but neither anymore," and it went like that this most interesting and exciting evening. That's my line! Hearing it from her? Good to hear!
The beginning of Connecticut's visit began for Chuck and I at Danbury Federal Correctional facility, where for the first time, we 'faced off the feds' outside a prison complex - alone. On a busy highway, in the rain, we were glad that no one joined us, it was dangerous. Shortly after the prison sent their observers down the grand entrance driveway; the owner of the 'closed-on-Saturday' shop appeared to tell us he didn't want us on his grassy strip by the highway, "Not because I don't support your right to protest, but because if there is an accident, I might be responsible." I wondered if that is what the feds told him to say, first as a threat to him or something. He didn't like having to ask us to leave - everything in his words and body language told me that. We moved down the highway to a grassy spot, 'near the prison' you don't see at all - only the stately grounds - acres of it - like something out of Gone with the Wind.
Danbury from the highway looks like the plantation ground it is today. Built to house just under 600 - there are almost 1,100 women crammed inside; and more have been added to a 'camp' that is overcrowded as well. More on Danbury at the end of this report...
Next appointment was a radio talk show, the most popular one in Connecticut - but the host was more intent to talk with Cliff; apparent immediately upon our arrival, just after he'd read the second installment of the newspaper series "Heroin Town"; punctuated dramatically with the used-syringe in hand entrance we made into the studio.
Chuck jokes that he was 'looking for money', when he saw the needle syringe. The radio host, a self-described conservative, tells us about his long and stormy relationship with Cliff, then avows that he is beginning to see the light, and he's 'taking some heat' for it. The show goes on, then afterward, at least three times he promises Cliff that he will bring together a large and influential forum to 'get to the bottom of this drug war mess,' then emphatically adding, "Once and for all!"
Sharing Cliff's 'pay-dirt' moment was sweet and savory. He's been working to educate this man for a long time! We were an 'excuse' for them to get-together again - it worked!
Weslyan College was an intimate group of about 40 students. A memorable moment for me was early on, when Booth Haley, the SSDPer that organized the event introduced himself by saying, "Hi, I'm Jeff Haley's son, you've worked with my dad in Seattle."
I saw his father in the son, and it is such a comfort to work with the students, a reminder that forces now push from the growing ranks of them on more and more campuses - how these efforts must be a large priority of every reform leader; such a no-brainer. We saw students greet Cliff, "Hey Cliff, thanks for coming," "Hi Cliff," etc... thinking it real cool that Cliff remembered their name, or last place they saw each other. Good to see that we are real important to them as well, they are so pleased that the 'old folks' have come to share time with them.
I sighed with relief. This journey is about relief from the injustice of the drug war. I'm relieved to see so many activists working, experiencing directly the fruit of their labors. I'm relieved to see the 'broad and diverse movement' is more 'broad and diverse' than I thought it was! Very active, too!
We began our presentation at Weslyan the first night, with a short video clip featuring drug war prisoner Hamedah Hassan, watched a couple young men struggle to deal with tears falling of their jaws, one young woman crying openly. When completed and aired in 2004, this full length film promises to bring hope and inspiration as well as the tears the short 'trailer' does today. Melissa Mummert, a UU seminarian, is heading up this project-we are early preparing people to anxiously await it!
Quickly canvassing the group after intros to the November Coalition and Journey for Justice, all were of the opinion the war on drugs should end. Mark Braunstein presented his story and struggle as a paraplegic; his hopes for the decimalization of marijuana, and then Cliff moderated questions and comments. We spent most of this time talking about organizing; committing to the diverse and growing movement to end the war on drugs. "This is your Vietnam," I told them - hoping none would be drafted into the ranks of the Bureau of Prisons.
One of our purposes for the Journey for Justice was to establish working relationships with more drug reform leaders. At the urban visit of Ann Arbor/ Detroit, we worked with colleagues we had never met before. Connecticut was unique in that we worked with Cliff and Margaret - face to face - for the first time; having known each other for over 5 years. Now we can work together more effectively, understanding who our respective constituencies are; how we 'do what we do' more clearly. Much of our time was spent in small groups, 'head banging', sharing the concerns leaders have, strategizing, and encouraging each other, too.
We left Connecticut with the promise to return; and from them, and all the activists we met, we take with us the promise that next time we won't be alone down Danbury Gulags Grand way... Cliff Thornton and friends have promised to negotiate with us for a strip of that Plantation land - or we'll have to take to the streets of their once "Hattery" town to declare that there is no justice in the war on drugs!
Thank you to all the Connecticut organizers and participants! We had a wonderful time with you all.