This blog post is written by Pamela Skjolsvik, a blogger and author currently finishing her first book, Death Becomes Us. A resident of Bedford, she earned a master's degree in 2010 from Goucher College in Maryland. Her writing has been included in Creative Nonfiction, the Durango Herald, and in the upcoming Ten Spurs literary journal from the University of North Texas.
What I personally learned from Day Two's training is that it's one thing to have an opinion about a social injustice, it is quite another to actually do something about it in an effective way. After lectures on media relations, lobbying and grassroots organizing, the alternative spring breakers and I were ready to test our newfound skills in the real world.
We divided into small groups, armed with clipboards and a sense of purpose. We fanned out into the streets of Austin to gather signatures for a moratorium on executions. I spent my time shadowing two students, Chelsea Leggett from UT Arlington and Michael Luke from Texas A&M. While Chelsea is a veteran alternative spring breaker, having attended last year's event, Michael is a newbie who wanted to learn more about the death penalty in Texas. He's originally from New York where the death penalty has been abolished.
When we parked the car, two alternative looking men with tattoos were smoking outside their apartment. I thought for sure they'd agree with us, sign their names and off we'd go. I was wrong. And it kind of stung.
The next young man we approached wouldn't even look at the three of us as he said no. Geez, this was going to be a lot more difficult than I imagined.
But then, as luck would have it, three was our lucky number. We came upon a man seated on a stoop wearing a Texas Longhorn T-Shirt with a matching lunchbox at his side. He was more than happy to sign our petition. "I was in for 15 years. I've been out for four and it's good to be out and earn a paycheck."
On our way towards 6th and Congress, we stopped at Wooldridge Square and encountered a large group of, for lack of a better description, bohemian vagrants. Some of them were for the death penalty and some were against.
One young man commented that execution is "kind of what makes Texas, Texas." (And here I was thinking that it was football and barbecue.) Another man, who was missing both of his arms wanted to sign our petition and he did so with his feet. Ironically, he had the best penmanship of all the people who signed our petition.
With a little practice, we eventually hit the jackpot with all of the SXSW attendees. At stop lights and in front of bars, we engaged people in conversations, we made human connections, and we invited those that were interested to stop by tomorrow's rally at the Capitol.
It's at 5:30 on the South Steps of the Texas Capitol.