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News and reports

April 21, 2006 | Page 11

Defend abortion rights
Abolish the death penalty

We demand a living wage
By Jim Ramey and John McDonald

BURLINGTON, Vt.--Students at the University of Vermont (UVW) have begun a multifaceted campaign to win a living wage for all university workers.

The campaign's kickoff was an April 7 rally of 200 people outside Waterman Hall, UVM's administration building. To protest the paltry wages and benefits for university staff, the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) presented a check for $9 made out to President Daniel Fogel.

On April 10, students who tried to protest inside Waterman were denied entry, prompting the president to hire an armed guard to sit outside his office. The next day, a tent city was erected on the campus green overlooking Waterman with signs demanding living wages and fair contracts.

The tent city, though permitted through the week, was a running embarrassment to Fogel and the administration, especially since a large number of recently admitted students were visiting campus. By week's end, the administration promised to send campus police to disassemble the camp.

SLAP then rallied some 300 students to the tent city and informed them of the administration's threats. Chants of "Livable wages now!" were taken up by the crowd, and the campus police didn't come until 8:30 p.m. when the rally had died down and the rain had driven most people away.

The tent city was finally evicted from the green by 10 police cruisers, and some of the organizers were given trespassing violations that barred them from the campus green for six months. An April 17 "Take Back the Green Teach-in" has been called in response to the administration's crackdown.

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Defend abortion rights
By Jon Wexler

ATLANTA--Chants of "Not the church! Not the state! Women must decide their fate!" rang through the streets near the Capitol as some 1,000 people rallied April 9 to defend reproductive rights at the Walk for Women's Lives.

This annual event, organized by Georgians for Choice, promotes reproductive freedom in Georgia. Recent attacks on women's right to abortion in the state include this year's passage of the "Unborn Victims of Violence Act," which qualifies a fetus as a person.

The state also made available a license plate reading "Choose Life," while rejecting one that said "Pro-Family, Pro-Choice." Proceeds for the plates will go to so-called "crisis pregnancy centers," fake health clinics run by anti-choice organizations.

Speaker Nija Dalal connected American women's struggles to those of women globally, such as the U.S. global gag rule on abortion--George W. Bush's first act as president.

A marcher named Alisa said she was there because she wanted her daughter to have the same rights as she has herself. Kay was protesting because she had heard stories of days when Planned Parenthood of Georgia hired buses to drive women to the highway en masse so they could hitchhike to another state to obtain a legal abortion. She refuses to let that happen again.

With the national attack on women's freedom, there was a sense of urgency among all who attended. We must step up now to defend Roe v. Wade and all women's rights!

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Abolish the death penalty
By Kurt Krueger

LOS ANGELES--One after the other, 17 exonerated prisoners walked across the stage, said their names and the amount of time they spent behind bars, and then hung a pair of handcuffs on a wall and 10 more pairs on behalf of exonerees unable to attend the two-day Faces of Wrongful Conviction conference at UCLA Law School April 7-9.

Former prisoners spoke about many issues, including how life behind bars breaks down a human being emotionally. Hearing the stories and experiences of the exonerated made many of the workshops very powerful.

Ken Marsh was wrongfully imprisoned for 21 years and since his release has developed separation anxiety, so that his wife must always remain at his side. Since he can't be apart from her, even for a few moments, he brought her up to the stage with him. He introduced her by saying that she has been in her own prison during his time behind bars.

Other exceptional speakers included Shujaa Graham, Larry Marshall, Stephen Bright, Brian Stevenson and Ken Starr. Each made the case, in their own way, for the need to fight against racism, end mass incarceration, challenge unjust sentences and abolish the death penalty immediately.

The conference did have some shortcomings. For example, the fight to stop the execution of Stan Tookie Williams last fall was scarcely mentioned. Though California executed Stan on December 13, the struggle around his case mobilized tens of thousands of people in California and garnered international attention.

The movement to save Stan helped to expose the injustices of the death penalty and helped to forge collaboration among gang prevention organizations, the NAACP and abolitionist groups. In addition, there was very limited discussion of the legal challenge to lethal injection that has ground California's death machine to a halt just as it appeared that the state was preparing to carry out a string of executions.

Nevertheless, Barbara Becnel--anti-death penalty activist and longtime advocate of Stan Tookie Williams--gave sharp political statements from the floor that injected an inspiring sense of urgency. And the conference exposed not only the injustices of the death penalty, but the fallibility of the entire criminal justice system.

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