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Project HOPE to Abolish the Death Penalty

An anti-death penalty groups teams up with a political cabaret in Alabama

By Esther Brown

Esther Brown is the Executive Director of Project HOPE to Abolish the Death Penalty.

For small nonprofit organizations like Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, grassroots networking is what it is all about. Fundraising is important, but for those of us who are trying to bring about change through education of the public, getting the word out to new audiences in unique ways is invaluable. Linking with very different organizations can make that happen.

Earlier this year, one of our great friends from the Birmingham Peace Project, Chair Diane McNaron, a singer/producer, activist and stage director of the Politically Incorrect Cabaret, decided that the Cabaret should take on the issue of the death penalty in Alabama. The Politically Incorrect Cabaret is a troupe of around a dozen singers and actors, dancers, writers and instrumentalists who create satirical, political cabaret.

The Cabaret performance focused on jury override, the reason Alabama sentences more people to death than any other state. Twelve jurors can vote for life and the judge, looking to be reelected, can sentence the individual to death. One would think that this not a topic that lends itself to humor, but it did and does under the skillful handling by the Politically Incorrect Cabaret of Birmingham.

The day after the first performance, I wrote a note to our supporters:

You should have been there last night when the Politically Incorrect Cabaret played to a full house at the University of Montevallo! Sophisticated, smart, talented are just a few words that come to mind, and of course: funny! The audience roared and laughed its approval at segments, which took on national as well as state issues. I haven't laughed that much in years, I think.

The program for the show read, in part:

The Politically Incorrect Cabaret is grateful for the presence of, tonight and at all times, Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty. Esther Brown was enormously helpful in writing the P.I.C.'s version of Razzle Dazzle, which was created for this performance and which will become part of our permanent repertoire. This text in our version is factually accurate in describing the state of capital punishment in Alabama.

The performance of this piece, tonight and in future performances, is dedicated to the memory of Darrell B. Grayson, former Chair of Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty-a poet and a fighter for social justice within the prison system-who was executed in 2007 by the State of Alabama, having been denied post-conviction DNA testing.

And finally, on a personal note, Darrel was born in Montevallo and his mother worked in housekeeping at the University of Montevallo. Sitting at the performance with Darrell's sister Betty Grayson, all I could think of was how much he would have loved it all and how grateful we of PHADP are to the Politically Incorrect Cabaret and our friend Diane McNaron for their extraordinary caring about things that matter.

I cannot imagine how we on our own could possibly have reached and continue to reach so varied an audience. Grassroots networking? Absolutely! And fun at the same time!

Esther Brown is the Executive Director of Project HOPE to Abolish the Death Penalty.

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