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Thursday, August 31, 2006


Taking Initiative

This morning's post is a shout out to Harry Simpson! If folks have been involved with Nashville TCASK, they probably already know Harry and his wife Karan. They've been some of our most consistent volunteers over the past year. They've done speakers training and lobby training, they joined us for vigils and our memorial service for Sedley Alley, and they came to Justice Day on the Hill. Harry also volunteered to work on our Nashville Resolution Team, and gather those all important moratorium resolutions from small businesses in the area (We need resolutions, people, so start asking your mechanic).

But Harry recently had foot surgery and therefore hasn't been able to hoof it around the streets of Nashville soliciting resolutions from business owners. Now, if he'd called me and just said that, I probably would have said something like, "Wow, Harry. I'm so sorry to hear that. Please get well soon and let me know if there is anything that I can do for you," and left it at that. But not Harry!

Nope, instead Harry drafted a letter on his own company's letter head basically laying out the moratorium pitch and is going to send it, along with a blank moratorium resolution, a TME fact sheet, and a return envelope, to businesses that he's been in contact with. Then he'll follow up with phone calls a week or so later. The man is down, but he certainly isn't out!

So, a shout out to Harry Simpson, and to all the Harry Simpsons out there! It's volunteers like you, taking initiative, that move us toward abolition! From your mouths, all across Tennessee, we hear our rallying cry:


Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Happy Labor Day Weekend

I know that a lot of people look forward to the Labor Day weekend, a nice extended weekend. I know some people like to take Friday off as well and go out to the lake with their families. Sounds like a nice day. Or you could work for the federal public defender.

Because Stephen Ferrell will certainly not be relaxing this weekend, because the state of Tennessee is trying to kill Daryl Holton. Holton, as you probably know, is a severely mentally ill man on Tennessee's death row, who has refused to continue his appeals. But that's not what I came here to talk about.

Instead I want to talk about a ruined labor day weekend.

You see, U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips has ordered that an independent expert, Dr. Bruce Seidner, evaluate Holton. Sounds reasonable enough, right? Judge Phillips has ordered that Seidner present his findings at a hearing on Tuesday September 5th. Still not too bad right? Wrong! Because guess when Dr. Seidner will have completed his evaluation. Friday September 1st!

That's right, the federal defenders (and the state counsel for that matter) will have only Labor Day weekend to examine Dr. Seidner's evaluation, have it examined by their own experts to ensure that the conclusions are valid, and prepare arguments for a hearing on the 5th with a man's life hanging in the balance.

With 4 in 5 death row inmates suffering from some form of mental illness, our legal system needs to take the issue of competency seriously. The competency standards in our current laws have barely changed in a century, while our understanding of mental illness has advanced considerably in the same time. When we add to this the fact that our legal system still refuses to take challenges, even under the ridiculous current threshold seriously (by, say, giving appellate attorneys only a holiday weekend to respond to an evaluation) we target the mentally ill for execution. Daryl Holton's case is just the latest sad example of a tragic system at work.


A Letter from TCASK's New Interim Executive Director

As most of you now know, Randy Tatel has resigned from TCASK as of August 17th. The TCASK board has named Reverend Stacy Rector, long-time TCASK activist, organizer, and board member, to a one year term as TCASK's interim Executive Director.

Here is what Stacy has to say to the TCASK community:

Author Frederick Buechner, in describing his understanding of “vocation,” says that “vocation is that place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” As a Presbyterian pastor serving Second Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, for the past nine years, I have known the deep gladness that comes from serving God and passionately sharing one’s gifts and convictions in ways that encourage, challenge and foster life in a community. In my tenure as a parish minister, I have felt a deep sense of calling to create opportunities for church members to engage with the world around them—sharing breakfast and worship with the homeless; developing a program for young people to serve the city of Nashville through a young adult volunteer program; providing teen-age youth with service experiences all over the country and within their own communities.

Another important aspect of my ministry has been my on-going participation in TCASK. For almost nine years now, I have been actively involved in the work of TCASK—serving as a board member for the past three years, speaking to church groups all over the state, planning worship services on the eve of executions, speaking to legislators concerning the death penalty, giving interviews to various media outlets, attending NCADP conferences, and visiting on death row. As our state continues to carry out and plan more executions, my sense of vocation has experienced a shift, leading me to embrace the opportunity to serve as the Interim Executive Director of TCASK. In this role, I believe that my gifts and passion can now best serve the deep need of our state to end the cruel and dehumanizing use of the death penalty.

I am deeply grateful to Randy Tatel, to the board, and to the many people who have worked tirelessly on this issue through the years, building and supporting this organization. My sincere hope is that together we can continue to grow and mature into an organization whose roots are deep and whose reach is wide. The death penalty is a failed public policy, which is antithetical to our faith traditions and our humanity, and with your help, I am dedicated and determined to work for its end.

As a minister, I hope to bring an understanding of Scripture, theology, as well as the concerns of many people in the pews when addressing the issue of the death penalty. Sadly, many Christians see no conflict between their support of the death penalty and the Christian faith. This painful reality is a sad reflection of the power of fear in our lives and the deep need of our communities to understand that the use of the death penalty does not make us safer. As members of the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing, our vocation is to offer an alternative to the use of violence in our society by witnessing with our words and our actions to the power of nonviolence and its ability to heal and reconcile.

As the Interim Executive Director of TCASK, I hope to be a unifying, healing force for the organization as we strengthen our connections to one another across the state; as we learn from those whose commitment and work in the past has brought us this far; as we support those who are on death row and their families; as we reach out to the legal community to work together on the same team; and as together, we empower each other to be the change that we want to see. I look forward to serving with you as I begin work on October 16th. Thank you for your commitment and your support.


Stacy Rector
* * *
I will miss Randy (my muffin) and all that he brought to TCASK, but I am thrilled to be working with someone as committed, talented, and qualified as Stacy as we move towards abolition.

Monday, August 28, 2006


Some Monday Inspiration

There's a lot going on in the TCASK office today, but, rather than bore people with a lot details right now (I'll do that later), I wanted to send y'all over to the NCADP blog to read an essay by Sean O'Brien, a capital defense attorney based in Missouri. It's one of the kind of testimonials that reminds me why I do this work. So check it out and get your dose of inspiration for the week.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


It's the Constituents, Stupid!

So, here I am, live from Knoxville, thanks to the kind hospitality of TCASK board member Katie Blackburn and her parents. I spent yesterday evening in Chattanooga and then drove to Knoxville where I have meeting with the bishop, Daryl Holton's defense attorney, and the Knoxville chapter of TCASK as well as a talk to give at St. John Neumann church.

But that's not what I came here to tell you about. I came to talk to folks that we've been working with about the elections and what we are going to do in regards to our new elected officials. You see, new legislators are crucial for us, and we're going to have some new ones, particularly here in East Tennessee. It seems that almost the whole legislative contingent from Chattanooga is going to be new, with two of the three Senate seats open and no incumbent running. So how do we capitalize on these elections?

To answer that question, we have the TCASK legislative committee. This committee will be focused on our legislative efforts and so we need folks from all around the state to be involved.


Well, when a new legislator is elected, the first thing that they'll want to hear from is their constituents. There are two months between their election and the first time that they show up in Nashville. Which makes that prime season for us to bring our very serious concerns regarding the death penalty to their attention. And that's where you come in!

I'm here recruiting members from each of our East Tennessee chapters to serve on the legislative committee. No travel is required, because this is all work to do in your own community. All we'll ask for is once every moth to six weeks, we'll have a conference call to work out strategy and coordinate our efforts. Then members work in their own communities setting up legislative visits and getting the word out to our state representatives that the death penalty is a broken system and a failed public policy!

Now when I go and talk to those legislators, they may or may not listen. But they will absolutely listen to their constituents, since you are the ones that give them their jobs. So give us a call in the office and offer to serve on the legislative committee. We need legislators' constituents making contact with them where they live, and the staff simply can't do that; only you can.

Monday, August 21, 2006


The Board Steps Up

What do you do if you're a small non-profits organization with a tiny staff, fighting an uphill battle against an immoral and unjust public policy and you face a budget shortfall?

Well, the tiny and overworked staff could stretch itself even more thinly and focus its efforts on fundraising, making calls and holding events, sending out grant proposal after grant proposal, but then we aren't able to do the actual work of the organization. Traveling around and meeting folks, starting conversations about the death penalty, and doing the organizing that is going to bring about an end to the death penalty.

So what does TCASK do? Well, TCASK is not just the staff. TCASK is the members, all of you out there that get our email alerts and our newsletter, contribute money, write to your state legislators, show up for vigils, lobby days, and NWFA events, and bring your friends and neighbors into the movement. And TCASK is the Board of Directors, the people responsible for TCASK's mission.

On Saturday, the board stepped up big time into its role as fundraisers. The board met and each member committed to a number of vital tasks to place TCASK on sound financial footing. A lot of these tasks are things that any board can do, so I wanted to share some of them:

One thing a lot of donors ask is, what percent of your board contribute to the organization. On Saturday our board committed to making the answer, in TCASK's case, 100%.

The board can be an extremely useful tool in building and maintaining relationships with large donors and the members of the organization. TCASK's board, as a first step in this regard, will write personal thank you letters to donors to express our appreciation for their support.

And finally, boards raise money. Some organizations have a "give or get" policy for their boards - board members must giver or get x dollars a year. We don't have such a policy at TCASK, especially because part of our work is reaching out to students and disadvantaged communities and we don't want to make board leadership out of reach for those folks, but at the meeting, each board member did commit to organizing at least one (and sometimes as many as 3) fundraising events for TCASK is the coming three months. These events include house parties, poker nights, collections, yard sales, bake sales, popcorn and politics nights, poetry readings, and benefit concerts.

Now there are a couple of points I'd like to stress here.
  • These events are fun - fundraising doesn't have to be a big scary ordeal. Parties, concerts, and poker nights are a fun time for folks.
  • These events are small and manageable - We don't have to make $10,000 in a night. Small events bringing in $250, $500, or $1000 all start to add up. We expect that from our individual board events, we will raise around $7,000 in the next three months, and that aint chump change.
  • These events do not involve the staff - So we can still work on some of our bigger events, including speaking events for Juan Melendez and Bud Welch as well as non-board member events and donor cultivation.

So think about getting your board involved (if they're not already) because almost anyone can hold a yard sale or poker night. Lots of college students know local bands to approach for a benefit concert. Everyday folks have churches that might be able to take up a second collection. And as the board gets used to the idea of fundraising, their skills will grow and we may be able to move from events that raise $250 to events that raise $1000. But, when it comes to money, every little bit counts. To put it into perspective, the $7000 that these small events should raise will pay TCASK's rent for a year and almost 3 months of my salary.

Yep, the board is ready to show me da money!

Friday, August 18, 2006


Wisconsin Gets Online

As we've already mentioned on this blog, there is a current push, sponsored by the NRA and other groups, in Wisconsin to pass a referendum calling for the return of the death penalty in a state which has not had it on the books since the 1850s. Obviously, this threatens to break the momentum of victory after victory (moratoria in Illinois and New Jersey, abolition in New York, and the exclusion of the mentally retarded and juveniles) which the abolition movement has enjoyed over the last five or six years.

No Death Penalty for Wisconsin now has its website up and running. Check it out:

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Finding Clues

We try to stay pretty sharp on current events here in the TCASK office. We read the news, talk to people across the state, make contacts, send emails, and basically just try to figure out as much as we can about decision-makers and influential citizens in Tennessee. So when we saw that the National Convention of State Legislators was being held here in Nashville, our ears perked up. When we saw that one panel at the conference was entitled "Capturing DNA's Crime Potential," we started to scent a lead, and when we learned that State Senator Ron Ramsey, the majority leader, was one of the featured speakers on that panel, we were dead on the track.

Ramsey, a Republican from Blountville, is the current majority leader and might be the Lieutenant Governor by January, so clearly, getting a sense of his position and understanding of problems surrounding wrongful convictions could be extremely helpful for us. And I have to say that I'd like to commend Senator Ramsey on his clear understanding of the need for DNA testing. The Senator mentioned, several times, that "DNA also proves people's innocence" and mentioned that discovering that evidence is a "step in the right direction."

We entrust public officials with sometimes life and death decisions, so when they make decisions, we want them to have the best information available. Clearly Senator Ramsey is aware that DNA evidence, even of crimes long thought to have been solved, can prove the innocence of the wrongfully convicted. In fact, Senator Ramsey's district borders the district in which Paul house was convicted of the murder of Carolyn Muncey in 1985. We now have DNA evidence which points to House's innocence, but he still sits on death row. Why? Maybe because enough legislators are not as informed on the issues as Senator Ramsey.

So if you reside in Senate district number two, write to Senator Ramsey and thank him for his concern for the wrongfully convicted, but also remind him that, while DNA evidence is a wonderful tool, it is not always available; of the 124 death row exonerations, only 13 have been due to DNA evidence. Which is why we need a full moratorium on executions to ensure that we eliminate any chance of executing an innocent person.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Drawing the Line

In Tennessee we spend a lot of time on offense. We fight and fight to end the death penalty, because we are on of 37 states in the U.S. that still employ capital punishment. But there's a flip side to that coin. There are 13 states that don't use the death penalty, and sometimes we need to play defense to stop the expansion on the death penalty.

We had to do that here in Tennessee during the last legislative section when we had to defeat a bill to expand the use of our own death penalty (click here and here to read about it). But between now and November, abolitionists and people of conscience in Wisconsin will be fighting back an effort to reinstate the death penalty all together.

Read NCADP's call for help below:

As you know, NCADP campaigns against capital punishment in all 37 states that still retain death penalty statutes. We bring you monthly execution alerts and urge you to take action to oppose every execution.

Just as important, though, is opposing efforts to reinstate the death penalty wherever and whenever they occur. We therefore are asking you today to take action to help our friends in Wisconsin - a death penalty-free state - during their time of need.

Help Us Say "No" to Bringing Back the Death Penalty in Wisconsin

Pro-death penalty forces are on the move in Wisconsin, a state that hasn't had the death penalty since 1853. They have succeeded in putting a referendum on the November ballot. Wisconsin's voters will be asked this fall if the death penalty should be enacted for cases involving a person who is convicted of first-degree intentional homicide, if the conviction is supported by DNA evidence. The referendum question was obviously designed to get a large victory in favor of death. That result would be devastating for Wisconsin, neighboring states and the whole reform and abolitionist movement. Wisconsinites are stunned that this could be happening. We need your help now. The NO Death Penalty Wisconsin campaign is underway, but it is short on time, resources and money. Please helps us by doing all of the following:

1). Make a generous cash donation of $500, $250, $100 or even $50. If you're ready to donate, click here.

2). Tell your friends, family and colleagues that they can help, by appropriately forwarding this message.

3). Let the NO Death Penalty Wisconsin team know who you know in Wisconsin. If you send us their emails, we will respect their privacy.

We're working hard so that we will never have to send you an Execution Alert from Wisconsin. Help us today. For more information or to send details about your contacts in Wisconsin and elsewhere, e-mail us at: or

* * *
We need to end the death penalty everywhere. If we eliminate it in some states, while allowing it to return in others, we haven't made much progress. So please help if you can.


Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Apparently, according to some people, graduating from college is important. I suppose that there is some merit to this point of view. I mean, in Tennessee, we're 46th in the country in education, so I guess that we can't oppose young people going to school. Still, in individual cases, it does seem to be a loss. For example, today is Kate Adcock's last day in the TCASK office as she returns to finish her degree at Rhodes College. As some of our readers may know, Kate has been working in our office this summer, for neither pay nor course credit, and, honestly, I'm not sure what we would have done without her.

This summer, a major project for TCASK has been planning the Tennessee Student Conference Against the Death Penalty. As a student herself, Kate has taken on the lion's share of the organizing for the conference. She's been making phone calls, planning workshops, doing research, and supporting all kinds of work around our efforts. In addition to which she's been a terrific addition to the atmosphere here in the office (what with two cranky men here all the time).

Last night, the working group of students who have been working on the conference, joined by TCASK Executive Director Randy Tatel and a number of Kate's friends and family, joined her for a farewell dinner to express our thanks and appreciation for all that Kate has done.

So, while we are sure that Kate is going to do terrific things at Rhodes (she'll still be working as a TCASK volunteer), and that she will go on to do unbelievable things after she graduates, we will certainly miss her in here in the office.

For us, it has been a learning summer. Primarily we've learned just how useful meaningful volunteers and interns can be. I'm suggesting that every group look hard into developing internship opportunities for college and high school students in their organizations. I know that we will, especially with all of the colleges in Nashville. So if you are in any college in Tennessee, particularly in the Nashville area, think about interning with TCASK in the coming year, perhaps in the Spring semester. In the meantime, all our best wishes and thanks go out to Kate Adcock, as she finishes up an incredibly productive summer here with TCASK.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006



It is finally up! The information and registration for the TCASK Student Conference Against the Death Penalty is now up on our website. Check it out here.

Our student working group has been working hard on their outreach and now they can refer people to the TCASK website where, thanks to the wonderful James Staub (our board vice-chair, legislative committee chair, and webmaster), they can read all about the conference, check out the schedule, and send their registration information which will then go straight to me as an email.

Today I'll be putting together our registration database to keep track of the students that we'll have coming, and we hope to have a bunch of them. So it's time for everyone to contact any students that you know, and tell them to check out the TCASK website and register for the student conference. They will be glad that they did!

Monday, August 14, 2006


Into the Deep End

Wow. My first day at work! This is so exciting!

Now, granted, this is not really very new. I've been working this job for a year now, but, up until this point, I had been working it as a Jesuit Volunteer. Today, after a quick trip back home to New York to put affairs in order, I am back as a full-time TCASK employee. Although I keep saying that I'm a Jesuit Volunteer out of habit.

I'll admit that I don't feel particularly different - maybe the magic JV dust hasn't worn off yet, or maybe there is some first day of work aura hanging around, or maybe there never was any magic JV dust to begin with, but I think that this day is important for reasons beyond my own feelings.

So, as any organization that has a history professor for the chair of its board would do, we should embark on a little history lesson. You see TCASK came into being in 1992, though there were several precursor abolitionist organizations in Tennessee going all the way back to before the death penalty's reinstatement in 1977. Until 2000, TCASK was a completely volunteer organization, but in December of that year, our Executive Director, Randy Tatel was hired. Randy, who is currently battling a deadline for a very large grant proposal, held the fort all by himself for five years, until the lil' Jesuit dude, as I have resigned myself to being called, appeared on the scene a year ago.

Now TCASK is stuck with me, and, as unfortunate as this may seem to those who know me well, it indicates a great time of growth for our organization. A year ago the idea of hiring a second full-time staff person was simply not a viable one. Today, there are two of us and, as anyone who has been following the blog knows, we are looking to add a third. And there are not, sadly, many state abolitionist organizations that can boast that large a staff. When you add the potential for an intern or two and the possibility of a new JV, or possibly a Young Adult Volunteer (from the Presbyterian faith tradition), in the coming years, we are looking at an organization that is seriously ready to challenge the use of capital punishment in our state. So buckle up, Tennessee, because TCASK is on the move. We'll be doing even more traveling and speaking, more training and empowering all over the state, including some places where the light of abolition has never shone before. It's going to be a great year!

Saturday, August 12, 2006


huge opportunity in chattanooga...

it's the measure of an organization's development and maturity to see what it can do when an opportunity presents such moment is arriving for tcask in chattanooga...

a headline in today's reads. "Civil Rights Leader Dr. Joseph Lowery Speaks Here Aug. 27," and embedded in the story is the following... "As convenor of the Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda (GCPA), he is active in ... criminal justice reform, including alternative sentencing and a moratorium on the death penalty."

the entire story with history and bio on rev. lowery can be read by clicking here ...

so here's an opportunity to contact rev. lowery and facilitate legitimate introductions to a few key african-american church leaders or laypeople in chattanooga and deepen our legislative campaign work for a moratorium and study...

so the question is how will tcask do??? what will tcask do???

stay tuned...peace out <3

Friday, August 11, 2006


what's in your wallet???

it has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery ... i'm suggesting this morning that we broaden the scope of this sentiment to include the notion that parody is the sincerest form of flattery...

the nashville scene is the mid-state's weekly newspaper that covers politics, culture, and the arts in an edgier way than you see in daily papers...and that includes having a sense of humor embodied in its longstanding news-that-isn't-the-news column the fabricator...and it was in this week story that tcask was parodied...

the article entitled Gangsta Rap Blamed for Elephant Violence...recounts the sad story of the death of a volunteer caregiver at the elephant sanctuary in hohenwald, tn ... the death of 36 year old joanna burke was a tragic accident that involved winkie, an elephant with whom joanna had regularly worked...

it could be said that the scene did not do the memory of joanna burke justice in the parody they created...and it could be said that the framing of the parody in which they blamed the actions of winkie on her predilection towards listening to gangsta rap on her elephant-sized i-pod was at best racially insensitive...

what was humorous was the depiction at the end that read thusly... In a related item, the Elephant Sanctuary's decision not to euthanize the elephant was greeted by cheers from members of the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish Killing of Elephants (T-CAKE), who were staging a candlelight vigil and singing a hastily written anti-pachyderm-death-penalty anthem, "Winkie Shall Overcome," at the time the decision was announced.

while the parody is humorous (out of the larger context mentioned above) it is embedded in a stereotype about death penalty abolitionists that requires public challenging -- that death penalty opponents only gather at vigils the night of executions to sing kumbaya and we shall overcome solely as an existential exercise of public opposition...

what the scene ignores, and their parody would have had all the humor wrung out of it otherwise, is that the vigils while solemn and necessary exercises are the least of what tcask does to oppose the death need only read the 3 previous blog entries to understand that tcask is organizing a serious, professional challenge to the death penalty as a public policy tool of the state of tennessee and, that it is doing so by demonstrating factually that the state death penalty system is inaccurate, unfair, unreliable, and a HUGE diversion of taxpayer $$$ away from law enforcement, crime prevention, and crime victim's compensation funding while offering nothing in return to tennessee taxpayers and citizens...

so while there is definitely humor in the scene's parody of the ritual of the execution night vigil it misses the bigger picture when it fails to make the headline, "this is not your mother's anti-death penalty movement..."

peace out <3

Thursday, August 10, 2006


how to act upon returning home...

so what does an organizer do after 2 solid days on the road - driving, meeting with, and listening to people???

write up reports - what else!!! if you're going to engage in systematic outreach you must keep accurate, detailed records ... if you don't then you're doomed to be inefficient, doing things you've already done, forgetting your follow-ups ... that my friends would be BAAAAD organizing...

so even though i have a pressing grant deadline approaching monday, and even though i have a 7:45 flight to columbus, ohio this evening and an all weekend leadership training summit to participate in, what am i doing right after i post this???

summarizing each of my meetings in jackson and chattanooga, identifying follow-up tasks, and (do not forget this step) writing thank you notes to those people who took the time to meet with me over the past 2 days...



peace out <3

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


east of eden...

yesterday was an organizing road trip out west across the tennessee river .... this morning the tcaskmobile gets pointed the other way winding up in knoxville for the day and then, perhaps, it's a return for home sweet home...

yesterday's focus was on meeting with and listening to key african-american constituents in jackson - today's focus is the legal community in knox county...

both trips - and audiences - hold strategic importance...

and alas there's no rest for the weary...thursday night it's a southwest flight to columbus, ohio for a weekend of professional training and finishing that pesky grant due monday...

vacation anyone???

peace out <3

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


on the road again...

i'm sittin' in the parking lot of a laundromat in jackson, tn that has wireless internet available for free so i thought i'd throw out an update...

while the lil' jesuit dude is taking a week off in nyc to get his life in order before returning for another year i am on the road again...i just finished an hour long radio interview that will air this sunday on jackson's big am newstalk radio was hosted by professor gene davenport of lambuth university and was quite a good discussion - can't wait to get a cd of the show for our archives...

but that's the appetizer for the trip ... organizing has 2 key questions: what do we want to do and who do we need to work with to get er' done...

so today i'm in jackson to work on the second half of that equation...we need to work with the local chapter of the naacp to pass a municipal resolution and we need to know insiders who have connections and understand how to unlock the doors that make local politics a mystery to an i'm having lunch with reverend willie ozier of the naacp and carol estes who sits on the school board and is a former councilperson ... and hopefully another meting or two before i shift gears and head back to nashville along i-40 east...

oh, and the bonus for me??? i get to drive past my favorite named town in the state - BUCKSNORT!!!

peace out <3

Sunday, August 06, 2006


some urges should be heeded...

tcask is supporting the effort in tennessee to pass legislation enacting a moratorium (i.e. a "time out") on executions while a comprehensive and non-partisan study is undertaken to identify the what and whys of tennessee's death penalty system failures - e.g. ineffective, unreliable, wrongful convictions of the innocent, huge diversion of taxpayer $$$ from law enforcement and victim's services, failure to give victims family members the opportunity to heal at the earliest possible moment, etc...

people ask us why? - we believe that the current discourse on the death penalty needs to be moved to new terrain if we are ever going to have a reasonable and rational conversation about capital punishment as a public policy response to murder... and the fact is you can't have conversations with people who currently claim to support the death penalty if they shut their ears (and minds) from the get go (which they do when the first sentence out of your mouth is "abolish the death penalty")...

we ask you to click here and make a tax-deductible donation to tcask on-line right now...

you can agree or disagree -- here's more support for this effort...

U.N. Human Rights Committee Urges U.S to Place Moratorium on Death Penalty

Citing the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a United Nations panel recommended that the United States impose a moratorium on executions. The report, issued on July 28 by the U.N. Human Rights Committee, stated the panel was "concerned by studies according to which the death penalty may be imposed disproportionately on ethnic minorities as well as on low-income groups, a problem which does not seem to be fully acknowledged."

The panel, made up of 18 independent experts who review the practices of 156 countries who have ratified the covenant, urged the U.S. to limit the number of crimes that carry a penalty of death to the most serious crimes. It also requested that the federal government assess the extent that death sentences are handed down disproportionately on minorities and poor people.

The U.S. mission issued a statement in response to the report, but did not specifically mention the committee's proposals relating to capital punishment.

Criticism by the panel brings no penalties beyond international scrutiny. The U.S. ratified the treaty in 1992 with a number of reservations, including provisions on the death penalty.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


whassup with white men and tennessee retention votes???

i mean, as a white male burrowing in on a half century of life experience i believe i have a right to ask the question...

a portion of thursday's election was devoted to the retention votes for the top 27 sitting judges in tennessee ... the self-named tennessee plan is supposed to remove judges from the politics of if...all sitting state judges face a retention vote every 8 years - the terms are not staggered...

of particular interest this year was the effort put up to unseat supreme court justice janice holder... sen. david fowler (r - signal mountain) who is not running for re-election himself, targeted holder for ouster from her seat...

the knoxvillenews on-line reported that, "Fowler, a lawyer who is retiring from his Senate seat to devote more time to leading a new conservative organization called Family Action Council of Tennessee, is joined in opposing Holder by prominent members of his political party, including House Republican Leader Bill Dunn of Knoxville and state Sen. Jim Bryson, (winner of) the GOP's gubernatorial nomination...

now holder has been no friend of those of us who believe that tennessee's death penalty system (and statute) is ineffective, inaccurate, and unreliable - ultimately leading to the probability of executing innocent persons - she has written or concurred on strongly conservative - strict "constructionist" opinions on tennessee death penalty cases...

but that doesn't stop me from calling out fowler for increasing the polemical tensions and exacerbating the shrillness of the partisan political discourse here in tennessee...

holder's crime"??? a single vote cast in 2000 in which she sided with the majority opinion issued by the court... sound familiar??? well it should - it was 1996 when the tennessee conservative union led a movement that resulted in a "no" retention vote for justice penny white... and white's "crime"??? - her concurrence with a majority opinion upholding a lower court that overturned a death sentence while upholding the murder conviction... jeez!

fowler predicted that judges' victory totals will at least be lower than in the past and that the narrow margins "will signal the judges that, next time around, they need to be more respectful and give voters more information,"...

WRONG - the 77-79% yes votes on retention may have sent a message but hardly the one fowler alluded to...

which leads me back to my original question - what is up with powerful middle aged white men and their desire to oust women justices from this state's high court...and why do i seem to be immune to the bug that bit them???

i'm just one middle aged white guy who's wonderin'...

peace out <3

Friday, August 04, 2006


Election Results

I admit it. I love election nights. Watching the results come in, even when they don't go as you mght hope, is an exciting thing. We had us some elections here in Tennessee yesterday. Now the big ones that all the news has focused on are the unsurprising results in the primaries for U.S. Senate and Governor, although there really wasn't much question as to the outcome in either of those. But there were some local elections that were certainly of interest to us here in TCASK (mostly to me, since I'm the poor shlub who has to meet all of these folks up on the hill). And the good news is that the primaries turned out well for us.

I was particularly disturbed by the fact that two of our closest allies in the house, Larry Turner (Memphis), sponsor of the abolition legislation, and Beverly Marrero (Memphis), sponsor of the moratorium legislation, were both being challenged in the primary. These are two of the most moral leaders, and nicest people, I have ever encountered, and I am glad to say that both soundly defeated their challengers. We look forward to continuing to work with them in the future.

Another House race that was of interest was the race for the seat representing district 54, right here in Nashville. This seat was held by Edith Langster, a supporter of the moratorium legislation, but she was challenged by Nashville City Council woman Brenda Gilmore. With no Republican contesting the seat in November, the winner of the primary becomes the representative. Well, as many of you probably know, Edith Langster was defeated by a wide margin yesterday. This might seem disheartening to some, but, after doing a little research, you would discover that Brenda Gilmore sponsored the moratorium resolution that the Metro Council passed in 2002. So really, for us abolitionists, this race was a win-win.

The final race that I've been watching with interest is that for the 15th Senate district, currently represented by Charlotte Burks. Burks replaced her husband Tommy Burks after he was murdered by his election opponent, and was being challenged in the Democratic primary with no Republican challenger that I know of. Senator Burks has championed victims' rights legislation and understands the pain that the death penalty process can cause to victims' families. We hope to work more closely with her in the future and are glad to have the opportunity.

Now obviously, there were a lot of elections yesterday, 116 legislative seat, plus the Gubernatorial primaries and judicial elections, and I won't do you all the disservice of reviewing each and every one of them. I simply wanted to outline a few races that we've been watching with interest and let you know that they came out pretty well. Now for us, it's time to start planning out our work for 2007 when the new session starts, because it's in this session that we aim to actually pass moratorium and study legislation and give our state policy-makers this information that they need to move away from an immoral, costly, and ineffective public policy.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


the passion o' abolition...

lemme say right out that this is not about the dedicated volunteer, or going the extra mile, or stretching resources to "git 'er done" as the lil' jesuit dude likes to say...

nope - this is about honest to goodness passion, the personal connection, yeah - i'm talkin' about love...

here's the scoop - two people might never have met, fell in love, and gotten engaged if it hadn't been for tcask and their mutual opposition to the death penalty...

he had been volunteering his graphic design work to tcask for over a year -- she was the vice president of the mtsu tcask chapter in murfreesboro .... both made major contributions to our work and mission...they had never met...

then came justice day on the hill in late march ... he came to shoot pictures for tcask -- she came to lobby as part of the contingent organized by board chair amy staples...

they both knew me and went with me to pick up our 60 sack lunches from kijiji coffeehouse on jefferson street...she asked him if she could buy him lunch and handed him a brown paper sack lunch with a water (which tcask had paid for, of course!)...

they had their first date the next night and have been seeing each other since ... she moved to knoxville for the summer due to being smitten with adoration for him and he proposed to her on july 16th, 2006 at which point she belted out a very loud "yes!"

she has a beautiful ring and their plans are for her to finish a degree in criminal justice at mtsu and for him to move closer to her ... he will study photography, continue doing his fine art and
curating d/a 73 gallery + imprint online....

congratulations to ginger and wright!!!! and that's the true story of the passion o' abolition...

peace out <3

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


A Time to Heal

Just over a month ago, the state of Tennessee murdered Sedley Alley to show that the murder of Suzanne Marie Collins, some twenty years before, had been wrong. The state's return to executions wounded many of us, as our tax dollars, and our tacit approval (as citizens of Tennessee) made the execution possible. And so, last Friday, on the one month anniversary of Alley's execution, we held a community healing service on the grounds of Holy Name Catholic Church (where the TCASK office is located). We came together, sang songs, read prayers, and shared our own experiences and emotions since the event.

We also planted a survivor tree, a sapling grown from the seed of the tree outside the Federal Building in Oklahoma City that survived the bombing in 1994. The Oklahoma tree was blown sideways and lost many of its limbs to the blast, but survived and still stands as a tribute to life. Our tree is planted in that same spirit, in the wake of tragedy, recognizing our commitment to the power of love, reconciliation, and life over death.

The first reading shared on Friday was an excerpt of Bud Welch (whose daughter Julie was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing and who now speaks out nationally against the death penalty). We also heard the words of Pope John Paul II, the Koran, Mahatma Ghandi, and a number of other leaders and faith traditions. The words of Ghandi spoke to me very powerfully:

When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it - always.
But, for the most part, Friday was about our own words and feelings, about us being with one another as a community of support and understanding. With 102 people still awaiting execution on Tennessee's death row, we will all need to support one another as we move away from violence and death.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


sneak preview ... wanna join a winning team???

capacity building is a core concept that any advocacy non-profit must grapple with if it is to succeed in fulfilling its mission and tcask is no exception...

and capacity building is a broad concept that may include board development, financial resources, strategic planning, physical infrastructure, and that which this blog is about - human resources...

tcask, as a non-profit organization, has gone through 3 distinct developmental stages to date:

  • initially there was an all volunteer organization, with minimal budget, when a network was attempting to forge itself into an organization...
  • an initial infusion of $$$ interacting with the 1999 journey of hope left in its wake a set of chapter affiliates, and a state office with a single staff person...
  • a process of organizational professionalization led to an ever growing communication network, revenue diversification, and long-term strategic planning - still with a single staff person to process these changes...

the current developmental stage focuses on the capacity to enact and carry out a campaign that supports the goals of the organizational strategic plan...specifically building a staff capable of doing the day-to-day work that will result in a victory that moves tcask closer to achieving its end game goal...

to that end alex wiesendanger (aka the lil' jesuit dude) came on board last august as the associate director and as a capable field organizer and strategist...alex will continue his work with tcask for another year after his jesuit volunteer year ends a couple of weeks from now...

and now for the sneak preview i alluded to - the 3rd tcask staff position has now been defined ... my role will become more development/administrative while my organizing activities become more strategic and laserlike...

here's the job description in advance of our public rollout just for you loyal readers...if you or someone you know is interested in the position have them send a cover letter, their resume, references, letters of recommendation, and a writing sample (3-5 pages) to randy tatel or fax it to's the job description (including capital letters!) ... peace out <3

Job Title: Field Organizer
Position Type: Full-time
Reports To: Executive Director

Position Description
The Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing (TCASK) is engaged in a legislative campaign to pass a moratorium and study bill during the 2007-08 Tennessee legislative session. The field organizer is responsible for traveling to, and conducting a grassroots organizing campaign in, targeted legislative districts in coordination with the associate director, and under the guidance of the executive director. The primary campaign vehicle is systematic outreach whose goal is to build sustainable network units (e.g. chapters, affiliates) empowered to act locally in conjunction with the TCASK strategic plan. Essential duties and responsibilities include but are not limited to:

· Collaborating with and mobilizing strategic constituency groups
· Recruiting new activists and organizations to the movement through systematic outreach
· Building coalitions and networks within targeted legislative districts
· Working closely with the Associate Director to ensure organizational efforts support legislative goals
· Identifying ways to develop new leadership from among members and supporters
· Planning and executing educational events and trainings in targeted areas of the state
· Preparing written materials to support the overall grassroots campaign
· Speaking on behalf of TCASK at meetings, events, and other venues
· Recruiting organizational resolutions urging a moratorium from new and currently allied organizations
· Working with other staff, interns, and volunteers to ensure that the statewide database remains updated
· Communicating with other staff and offering them support when needed
· Creating, revising, and producing all educational materials, including fact sheets, faith statements, case flyers, brochures, and promotional flyers
· Compiling and Editing Tennessee Lifelines, TCASK's quarterly newsletter

Qualifications /Requirements
· BA/BS (preferred) or equivalent experience
· Experience with public speaking, effectively developing and delivering messages, and successfully motivating and mobilizing constituents
· Experience writing and editing materials
· Experience with community organizing, event planning, and project management
· Experience working with disadvantaged communities and the anti-death penalty movement a plus
· Strong verbal, written, and interpersonal skills that facilitates effective interaction with the public, public officials, policy makers, and small funders
· Time and information management skills
· Self-starter but respectful of team goals and processes
· PC literacy, including electronic communications, desktop publishing programs; experience in producing and doing power point presentations; web based production skills all a big plus
· Ability to work with and support volunteers in various projects
· Ability to work evenings and weekends
· Have a valid driver's license and be an insurable driver (extensive in-state travel required)

The Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing is an Equal Opportunity Employer. Women and people of color are strongly encouraged to apply.