Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Daily Texan: This spring break, fight the death penalty

"This spring break, fight the death penalty," is the title of Rachel Fuerst's guest op-ed in Monday's Daily Texan about the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break. Rachel is a graduate student at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and an intern with Witness to Innocence.

Students Against the Death Penalty will host the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break on the UT campus from March 14-18. The program is designed to give students an opportunity to participate in something meaningful during their week off.
The alternative spring break — which is co-sponsored by Texas Moratorium Network, Witness to Innocence, UT Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Amnesty International and numerous other organizations — is a unique opportunity for people interested in human rights and the death penalty to spend their spring break learning from and working with experts on the death penalty as well as with six exonerees who each spent years on death row for crimes they did not commit.
The specific purpose of this alternative spring break is to bring students to Austin for five days of anti-death-penalty activism and education in a social environment. You will learn how to put your knowledge and passion into play and use your influence to push the public discourse to challenge injustice.
Students will gain valuable training and experience in grassroots organizing, lobbying, managing a rally at the Texas Capitol and conducting media relations. During the week, students will be able to immediately put what they learn into action during activities such as a “Day of Innocence” on the statewide Lobby Day Against the Death Penalty on Wednesday, March 16 at the Capitol. Participants will come away with firsthand knowledge of the anti-death-penalty movement and a new understanding of how they can affect public policy.
Now is an important time in the effort to end the death penalty. After an 11-year moratorium, Illinois may soon abolish the death penalty if its governor signs an abolition bill proposed by Illinois legislators. Students who attend the alternative spring break will train to join both the national effort against the death penalty and to help stop executions in Texas — the leading execution state in the country. Since 1982, Texas has executed 466 men and women, and currently, 314 people await their executions in Texas prisons.
Activists, attorneys, victims’ families and individuals exonerated from death row will all join together at the spring break event to fight to end the death penalty. You can be a part of this movement.
If you attend the alternative spring break, you will have the opportunity to speak with Anthony Graves, who was exonerated in October 2010 after spending 18 years on death row as an innocent man. Sam Millsap, who served as an elected district attorney in Bexar County, will also speak. Millsap opposes the death penalty because he believes he might have prosecuted an innocent man, Ruben Cantu, who was executed in 1993.
You will also have the opportunity to speak with Judge Charlie Baird, a former judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In 2010, Judge Baird heard testimony in a case brought up by Cameron Todd Willingham’s family, who were seeking a ruling on whether the Texas justice system wrongfully executed Willingham. A higher court stopped the hearing, preventing Judge Baird from issuing a decision. Interacting with these individuals will provide you with the knowledge necessary to effectively lobby politicians who have the power to impose a moratorium on the death penalty in Texas.
This spring break, join fellow students from around the nation in fighting the death penalty. This is not a symbolic fight for your beliefs. It is a fight for each and every life on death row. It is time to break the machinery of death in Texas. It is time for students around the nation to take part in the fight to save individual men and women from the execution chamber.
Register online at
Fuerst is a student at the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

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