During the past spring break season, students from high schools and colleges came to Austin March 13-17 for a week of activism and
education against the death penalty as part of the 2006 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break. The students were not only from
Texas, but from several other states, including as far away as Oregon and Kansas. Austin is an appropriate location for this annual alternative spring break program because Texas is the number one execution state in the United States. More than 365 people have been executed in Texas since 1982.
The 2006 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break, which was sponsored by Texas Students Against the Death Penalty and co-sponsored by other organizations such as Campus Progress, was designed to give students something more meaningful to do during their week off, rather than just spending time at the beach. The participants were provided with
workshops where they learned skills they could put to good use back home setting up new anti-death penalty student organizations or improving already existing ones. Activities included a death penalty issues lobby day and a trip to Huntsville to protest outside the prison during an
execution. The week was a great opportunity for students to gain valuable training and experience in grassroots organizing, lobbying, preparing a direct action and media relations.
This year’s alternative spring break was covered by many local and national media, including National Public Radio. MTVU sent a crew to Austin for the whole week to shoot the event for their program “mtvU Spring Break ’06.” Annie Gillies, MTVU-Spring Break Coordinator,
explained MTV’s interest in an email to TSADP, “When people think of Spring Break the vision of beaches, night clubs and drinking until you drop usually comes to mind. MTVU wants to put a
new spin on the typical Spring Break stereotypes by showcasing college students from around the country with alternative plans. The new Spring Break trend has students using their time away from school for more meaningful purposes — whether volunteering with Habitat for
Humanity, helping restore properties affected by Hurricane Katrina or protesting a cause they believe in.”
The bus trip to Huntsville to protest the execution of Tommie Hughes was probably the most memorable activity of the week for most of the students. During the trip to Huntsville, the students also visited the Texas Prison Museum and attended a lecture by Rev.Caroll Pickett, the former death house chaplain who is now an anti-death penalty activist. He is author of “Within these Walls: Memoirs of a Death House Chaplain”. During his 16 years as a death house chaplain, Rev. Pickett ministered to 95 people on the final day of their lives and was present in the chamber during their executions. By the end of the talk most of the students were in tears hearing the awful stories about the final minutes of many of the people Pickett had witnessed
After Rev. Pickett’s talk, the students headed to the Walls Unit, where they were joined by many other students that had driven on their own to Huntsville for the protest. This was the first protest of any kind for many of the students, including Angela Martellaro, a high
school student who drove from Shawnee, Kansas with two of her friends to attend. Many of these first-time protesters said the experience was one of the most emotional and haunting experiences of their lives so far.
at the Texas State Board of Education
Gloria Rubac of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement said, “the young folks energized everyone with their continuous chants and optimistic enthusiasm for the abolition of the death penalty. While other students were heading to South Padre and other beaches, these young people were showing all of us the best of their generation.” According to many of the local people this was one of the biggest protests in Huntsville in a long time. The student protesters were very respectful of the families who had come to witness the execution. During the bus trip, the students had decided they would end their chanting right before 6:00 PM with a request that
the crowd remain silent during the execution.
The Huntsville Item, which rarely covers execution protests, published a front page story on the anti-death penalty alternative spring break protest. Everybody felt satisfied knowing that people in Huntsville woke up and read about our group of young protesters in their morning papers. In 1964, students came down to the South during Freedom Summer to fight for civil and human rights and to build a more just nation. Now, the people of Huntsville could read in the morning papers that some of today’s generation of young people had come back to finish the
Back in Austin, one of the week’s events was a panel discussion with family members of murder victims that was held in the Texas capitol building. Audrey Lamm, a student from the University of Oregon, told the story of how she was two years old when her mother and her mother’s friend were murdered in Nebraska. Audrey had been in the building when the killing took place. The killer was sentenced to death. Several years ago, as the date of the execution of her mom’s killer approached, Audrey and her father, Gus, became involved in an effort to prevent the killer’s execution. Due to their efforts, the killer, Randy Reeves, had his life spared and is now serving life inprison instead of facing execution.
During the lobby day, students visited legislative offices at the Texas capitol (Ralph Nader style!) going door to door and lobbying for a moratorium on executions and other death penalty reforms. Our presence at the capitol made many of the pro-death penalty representatives and
Senators very uncomfortable. We heard reports that after hearing our plans on NPR some Republicans had sent instructions to their offices on how to respond to our questions in case we showed up.
The annual anti-death penalty alternative spring break is an important training ground for the next generation of human rights leaders. This year’s students made an enormous impact on the people of Huntsville and impressed the entire anti-death penalty community with their passionate commitment to human rights. Student engagement in contemporary movements for civil and human rights does not start at colleges, high school students are also participating. The 2006 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break and the national immigration protests are clear examples of students making a difference.
Texas Students Against the Death Penalty will hold next year’s Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break March 12-16, 2007. Everyone is welcome. Visit www.springbreakalternative.org or email
hooman(at)texasabolition.org if you would like to sponsor or attend next year’s event.
2006 ADP Spring Break News Articles:
Students take stand against death penalty (Item Online – Huntsville)
Unas vacaciones contra la pena de muerte (Rumbo Austin)
Students work against death penalty (News 8 Austin)
MtvU wants to turn Spring Breakers into action-makers (University Star News Reporter)
2006 Anti Death Penalty Spring Break – Murder Victim Families at the TX Capitol google videos
2005 Anti Death Penalty Spring Break Alternative – Austin, Texas google videos
Bus Trip to huntsville and Lecture by Rev. Carol Pickett google videos