By Victoria Thorpe, co-chair of PJALS Inland Northwest Death Penalty Abolition Group
Honor Life: Abolish the Death Penalty was a very successful event presented to the Spokane community July 21st, 2012. Our special guest speaker was Jason Baldwin, of the West Memphis Three, who echoed our goals beautifully in his own words, “There are those of us who will not give up until the death penalty has ended, until this country is about saving lives and not killing people and throwing them away for making mistakes.” The audience of nearly 150 people were drawn in by Mr. Baldwin’s personal experience and genuine compassion for those on Death Rows. After sharing his story, Jason was joined by Holly Ballard and together they took on the tough questions the assembly was invited to put to them. Our listeners were overwhelmingly newcomers to the subject and showed great respect in their queries along with paying close attention to the answers.
This event was preceded by a free showing of Paradise Lost I, open to the public and posted in the local papers. Forty-five viewers took time to watch the 2 Â½ hr documentary chronicling the trials of Jason Baldwin, Jessie Misskelley, and Damien Echols, in 1993.
Half way through a year of abolition campaigning, we felt some new angles to attract the public’s attention were in order. Putting a casual atmosphere together as a back-drop for this grim life-and-death subject was nearly as important as the presentation: after all, if no one showed up what ground did we gain? Summer particularly is a tough time to attract folks to make time for serious contemplation; out of doors was a must and the Rooftop garden was perfect. The live music performed by The Terrible Buttons was a wonderful touch; they played acoustic folk music as the guests were filing onto the patio. The personal invitations, outreach to organizations, churches, and politicians, and posters displayed throughout town, along with the event announcement in the local press of our rooftop garden party, produced amazing results. KYRS’s Praxis aired a live hour long telephone interview with Jason the Monday before the event, and their daily news played back an excerpt later in the week.
Our group includes three members with relatives on Death Rows, in 3 different states. We decided to put faces on The Row by displaying framed collages of these families, identifying their loved ones and the prisons they are living in. I am one of those members; my sister has been surviving on Death Row in CCWF for 17 years. I had the privilege of introducing Jason Baldwin and sharing some of my story and my sister’s case. I also introduced my newly published book covering the trial and life of my sister, titled CAGES. The spectators were visibly touched by the humanity all of us brought to the Death Row dilemma.
Two tables were covered with information to take, signup sheets for getting involved, the S&JA postcards, and resource flyers were available. We learned a few things for the next event, but overall planning ahead and having many hands to delegate the necessary tasks brought together fabulous results.