On Monday, October 16, the Institute for Policy Studies (http://www.ips-dc.org) will present its domestic Letelier-Moffitt Award to the November Coalition, the Colville, Washington-based prison advocacy group that has for more than three years now waged an increasingly broad-based and effective campaign to make the nation face the damage done in the name of the drug war. The award is presented annually to individuals or organizations that have made significant achievements in human rights, justice, and democracy.
Its foreign award will go to Bolivian unionist Oscar Olivera, leader of a coalition that successfully fought off Bolivian government attempts to impose huge water price increases on the population after the industry was privatized in 1999. The coalition has also been active in the recent protests that have shaken that Andean nation.
In its press release announcing the domestic award, the Institute of Policy Studies said:
"The November Coalition, founded in Colville, Washington in 1997, has exploded into a national organization with a membership of thousands of prisoners, their loved ones and other concerned citizens dedicated to ending the racist and failed policies of the U.S. "War on Drugs."
Director Nora Callahan founded the Coalition along with her brother (currently serving a 27 1/2-year sentence in a federal penitentiary) and a few other prisoners to raise public awareness about the injustices of the Drug War. The Coalition's "Razor Wire" newspaper and web site publicize shocking personal stories of many of the millions of individuals convicted of nonviolent drug offenses who are now serving draconian mandatory sentences with no hope for earned release.
In 1999, the November Coalition initiated the National Vigil Project to bring Drug War victims face to face with the public. Regional volunteers have organized public vigils to denounce the impact of current drug policies in their own communities and to present plans of action for distraught family members angered by loss and government indifference. The November Coalition's ultimate goal is to turn that rage and sorrow into dignified, effective civic resistance.
According to Sanho Tree, Director of the IPS Drug Policy Project, "As with political prisoners the world over, the thought that keeps many other prisoners going is the knowledge that they have not been forgotten by the world they were forced to leave behind. The November Coalition reminds us of our war against our fellow citizens and our common obligation to seek their freedom."
Nora Callahan was characteristically modest, but enthusiastic about the award.
"It's a little bit embarrassing," she told DRCNet, "but I was thrilled. It's exciting to be recognized and to know that your work is being seen by others."
"We are so honored because we know this is an important award," Callahan continued. "With the November Coalition being such a broad array of people -- because that is who is being arrested -- I think we reminded the country of our prisoners here at home. We will use this occasion to ask the human rights community, which has done such good work all over the world, to speak up more clearly about the terrible situation this war on drugs has created right here in America."
Among other November Coalition members who will attend the award ceremony are Chuck Armsbury and Callahan's nephew, Tyree Callahan, from Washington state, and Teresa Aviles, the New York regional director whose son, Isidro, died in prison. Former drug war POWs Mary Sibley, from New Jersey, and Steve Gotzler, who served 8 1/2 years and went on to get a law degree, will also be there.
The November Coalition members will be carrying Jubilee Justice 2000 petitions bearing some 20,000 signatures asking President Clinton to pardon, grant clemency, or otherwise free or reduce the sentences of the more than 450,000 drug offenders behind bars in the United States.
"We thought we'd take advantage of this occasion to turn in the ones we've gathered so far," said Callahan, "but there are more coming in every day, sometimes by the hundreds."
(Visit http://www.jubileejustice.org for complete information on the Jubilee Justice 2000 campaign and to download your own copies of the petition.)
And, says Callahan, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee has agreed to discuss the petition effort with President Clinton. Conyers legislative assistant Joanne Warwick confirmed to DRCNet that Conyers plans to meet with the president on the issue "before Monday."
Conyers has become an increasingly interested ally to the drug reform movement, and will introduce the November Coalition at the awards ceremony. He is also working on Omnibus Drug Reform Bill, although Warwick said it is doubtful it will see action in this year as Congress rushes to finish its session.