The Journey for Justice (http://www.journeyforjustice.org), 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 inbox this morning or shortly thereafter, will be in front of the White House, sending the message direct to the man who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Cosponsored by Common Sense for Drug Policy (http://www.csdp.org) 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 Connecticut drug reform group Efficacy (http://www.efficacy-online.org), 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 group People 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 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 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," she said.
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 Avila, 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 me going."
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 (http://www.dpfts.org) 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 Law School.
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 map."