November Coalition Roadshow Hits East Coast
11/01/02 - From the Week Online with DRCnet
- Website: http://www.drcnet.org
Author: Phil Smith
The Journey for
Justice, the November Coalition's cross-country journey to
organize around ending drug war injustice, has roared out of
the Midwest, hit the prisons of upstate New York and the mean
streets of New Haven, barreled into New York City and Philadelphia,
and by the time the Week Online hits your mailbox today will
be in front of the White House, sending the message direct to
the man who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Co-sponsored by Common
Sense for Drug Policy and aided and abetted by a panoply
of local and national groups along the way, the Journey has been
an organizer's eye-opener, said November Coalition leader Nora
Callahan. "This has been a real learning experience,"
she told DRCNet, "and what we've been learning is that the
best way to organize these communities is to shut up and listen
and let the people stand and lead."
That's what happened at a forum in New Haven, where more than
100 people turned out for a Journey forum and dozens of young
people spontaneously joined a march between three of the city's
prisons. "I'm seeing tremendous changes with the people,"
said Clifford Thornton of the drug reform group Efficacy, who played a key role in organizing
New Haven events for the Journey. "They're sick and tired
of this mess."
One of the people involved was Sally Joughin of the Connecticut
Against Injustice. "We've been working on a number of
different criminal justice reform projects," said Joughin,
"we knew the November Coalition was coming, and it just
made sense to work together," she told DRCNet. "We
don't want any more prisons in Connecticut and we know that the
drug war is causing prison overcrowding. Drug possessors and
low level sellers don't need to be there," she said.
People Against Injustice is attempting to work with other,
public health-oriented groups on the drug war issue, said Joughin.
"We'll see how we can connect," she said. "And
the Journey provided us with new connections and renewed old
ones. We haven't done a project specific to the drug war for
awhile and now we're talking about it again."
Thornton agreed that the Journey events had been a catalyst.
"The next day I got three calls from different people wanting
to do more forums," he said. "We're trying to set up
one with a group of middle and high school students and let them
run it. We'll advise, that's all."
"That's the idea", said The November Coalition's
Chuck Armsbury. "We've noticed in our travels how quick
people are to bemoan their circumstances and say 'look what they're
doing to us,'" he noted. "It is difficult to empower
people, but we have to tell them it is time to stop begging and
start demanding that these injustices stop."
And the Journey is allowing Callahan and Armsbury, along with
frequent guest Kevin Zeese of Common Sense for Drug Policy, to
learn from successful groups and pass on that knowledge as the
Journey continues. "We went from New Haven to Brooklyn,"
said Callahan, "and with each stop we acquire more things
that we can pass on. The things people have done to get New Haven
active can be applied in Brooklyn, or Wilmington, or anywhere,"
It hasn't been all roses, though, Callahan said. She and Armsbury
spent some lonely hours all by themselves at prison vigils in
upstate New York and Pennsylvania. "The black people from
the city are afraid of these small, all-white towns," she
said. "They come to visit and then they leave. They don't
stay here overnight. They've heard stories." And prison
officials haven't been particularly accommodating, she added.
"At some of these prisons, there is no place to stand and
vigil, and if we move onto private property, the Bureau of Prisons
calls the owner and has him run us off." They might have
to negotiate with the BOP in the future, she said.
But she stays fresh, Callahan said. "I meet with these
people and it revives me," she said.
"I was listening to a group of women in Brooklyn led
by November Coalition member Teresa Aviles and it struck me how
the people most left behind are the women. As a movement, we
haven't really grasped the impact of taking away these women's
husbands, brothers, fathers, sons," she said. "But
we had a banquet of delicious homemade food, a time of sharing,
and we'll probably see more workshops come out of it. This keeps
She probably needed some of that warm glow of solidarity in
Philadelphia Wednesday evening as she and Armsbury and a handful
of others stood in the freezing rain outside the Philadelphia
House of Detention. Maybe the prisoners inside pounding on the
windows in gratitude helped. But that was only one of the Philadelphia
events, which were largely organized by the Tri-State Drug Policy Forum's Diane Fornbacher
along with assistance from the Temple University National Lawyers Guild. Fornbacher, Zeese,
Callahan, and Armsbury also appeared at a forum at Temple's Beasley
And today (Friday) it's Washington, DC, where the Journey
will join forces with District drug policy reformers in a White
House demonstration decrying the differential treatment accorded
to the drug-using children of the politically powerful and calling
for an end to drug war injustice in any form. After that, the
Journey turns West, rolling into the prison country of Appalachia,
Michigan, and the Dakotas before Callahan and Armsbury return
to their home north of Spokane to plot the next phase of the
Journey for Justice. "We're heading south next time,"
said Callahan. "If you live in Georgia, Florida, or the
Carolinas, give us a call. It's time to put your town on the
(To contact The November Coalition's Journey for Justice about
volunteering for or sponsoring an event, register at http://www.journeyforjustice.org/register.html,
or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org