Friday, March 10, 2006

MtvU wants to turn Spring Breakers into action-makers

By Ashley Richards
The University Star

The typical college Spring Break has been painted in the minds of young people for more than a decade based on documentaries from MTV’s Cancun getaways. Venturing from that stereotype, mtvU, the network’s university-affiliated station, will be following students next week as they spend their break time in Austin at workshops during the third annual Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break, hosted by Texas Students Against the Death Penalty.

“(MTV is) interested in the Spring Break alternative,” said Hooman Hedayati, TSADP president. “They were interested to come to see what other students are doing rather than spending their time at the beaches. It’s going to be kind of like a reality show.”

From March 13 through 17, high school and college students are welcome to participate in the anti-death penalty event for free, Hedayati said. However, to make organizing the event easier, he asked that participants pre-register online.

“I think a lot of students are interested in doing things that make a difference in the world,” said Scott Cobb, Texas Moratorium Network president. “They’d like to have that fun, like at the beach, but they’d like to use their time for something more meaningful. We’ve noticed there’s a demand for such opportunities.”

If students require housing for the week, they can register to pay $25 for five nights in a residence hall on Guadalupe Street, across from the University of Texas campus.

“It’s just five days where we have activities about the death penalty, workshops on media relations, resolutions, student government and how to organize direct action,” Hedayati said.

Hedayati said his organization started several months ago, so the Texas Moratorium Network, which put on the event the first two years, decided to transfer sponsorship of the alternative Spring Break to TSADP.

“It’s definitely been a successful event,” Cobb said. “We started out having just Rice University students, just as an experiment, and we’ll probably have about 50 participants this year.”

Cobb said Hedayati attended the event last year while he was a senior in high school, and shortly after he helped create TSADP, a statewide organization with about 20 local branches at various colleges.

For the first time, participants in the anti-death penalty Spring Break will take a bus trip on March 15 to Huntsville where the group will protest the execution of Tommie Hughes, Hedayati said. While in Huntsville, participants will also visit the Texas Prison Museum and listen to a talk from the Rev. Carroll Picket, a former death row chaplain who witnessed 95 executions between 1982 and 1995.

Cobb said the trip to Huntsville and the talk with Picket is going to be an important experience. He said Picket will tell stories about his experiences being in the chamber during nearly 100 executions, where he heard last minute confessions and pleas.

They will also have a panel of murder victims’ family members who oppose the death penalty.

Hedayati said the panel includes Audrey Lamm, University of Oregon senior, whose mother was murdered when she was young. The killer was sentenced to death but shortly before the scheduled execution Lamm and her father protested and stopped it. The killer is now serving a life sentence and does not face execution.

Also on the panel will be Christina Lawson, whose father was murdered when she was a child, and in July 2005 her husband was executed. Hedayati said the unrelated events that exposed Lawson to death from both angles give her a unique perspective.

After the panel discussion, participants in the alternative Spring Break will join in lobbying against the death penalty for the day.

“We hope people will go back to school to start their own anti-death penalty group,” Hedayati said. “We’re trying to grow student participation on the issue.”

Hedayati said the organization is thinking of coordinating a mock execution to take place during the alternative Spring Break as well.

“It’s to get a sense of how it feels and the process of the people that get executed,” Hedayati said.

The Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break is open to students of all ages and majors.

“They don’t have to be against the death penalty, if they want to come just see our point of view,” Hedayati said.

He said a misperception of the alternative Spring Break is that it is full of scheduled workshops and activities with no free time. Hedayati said participants will have plenty of free time to meet new friends and see the sights of Austin.

“At the same time they’re having fun, they’re doing something positive,” Hedayati said. “Take action on one of the issues that’s important in Texas.”

Cobb said while there are other noble alternative Spring Break options, such as helping clean disaster areas struck by Hurricane Katrina or building with Habitat for Humanity, the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break is the only human rights Spring Break event known to him.

“The historical parallel is what happened in the 1960s when people came down to the South during the Civil Rights Movement to help people register to vote, what they called freedom summers,” Cobb said. “I think this is very similar to what was going on back then, but here the issue is the death penalty.”

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