Five USC students will head to Austin, Texas during spring break to learn about the death penalty and how to start their own anti-death penalty groups on campus.
The anti-death penalty alternative spring break was started by the Texas Moratorium Network in 2004 and was first held in 2005. Now entering its seventh spring session, the program is also sponsored by national organizations like Students Against the Death Penalty, Witness to Innocence and Amnesty International.
Approximately 30 students from around the country will attend the program, according to event organizers.
The event aims to not only increase political awareness specifically related to the death penalty, but also to encourage students to be politically active.
Students will hear from six exonerated people who spent a combined 50 years on death row for crimes they did not commit. The students will work together to organize a “Day of Innocence” rally to oppose the death penalty.
Quyen Nguyen Le, a freshman majoring in public policy and management, said she went on an alternative winter break trip to Nicaragua to research women’s rights and economics with USC’s Creating Just Communities, and enjoyed it so much that she decided to find an alternative spring break trip. Her goal was to find a trip focused on how to start and organize political movements.
“This workshop is very different from just learning about the issue,” Le said. “It’s more geared toward actual political organizing, and I know I’ll definitely do some kind of political organizing on campus in the future.”
Students will attend a showing of Incendiary, a documentary about the case of Todd Willingham who was executed in 2004 despite controversy surrounding the investigation, which will be shown at the 2011 SXSW Film Conference and Festival.
Le said she doesn’t know much about the death penalty and wants to learn more about how it could affect California’s prison spending.
“I felt compelled to go on several levels,” she said. “This offers the opportunity to learn about something and to take real action about it.”
Jennie Lee, a sophomore majoring in philosophy, politics and law, said she signed up after going on the same Nicaragua trip because she wanted her spring break trip to be meaningful.
“Other than wanting to know more about grassroots organizing and activism, I really wanted to do something more useful with my time during spring break,” Lee said.
USC hosted the “Lethal Injustice: Standing against the Death Penalty and Harsh Punishment” panel Wednesday, featuring Mark Clements, administrator for the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, and Paul Wright, editor and co-founder of Prison Legal News. The event was organized by the International Socialist campus organization and featured Mark Clements, who was tortured and forced to say things in court to guarantee his conviction, Cameron Sturdevant, a leader in the social movement against the death penalty and Paul Wright, the editor of Prison Legal News.
The panel discussed the effectiveness of the prison system, the issue of overcrowding in prisons and the fact that the United States is one of the only two remaining capitalist countries to use the death penalty.