Friday, December 17, 2004

Gov. Ryan, part one

Kristen Bell is a friend, a senior at Stanford University and a former NCADP intern. In fact, the few of you who followed this blog early last summer know that she was helping out back then, when we were struggling to get five or ten readers a day!

Now Kristen returns to us as a guest blogger. She heard Gov. Ryan speak recently at Stanford University and she files this two-part report:

It was the first night of finals week at Stanford University. Like a house on the night before Christmas, the campus was silent. Students do not go to class, athletes do not attend regular practices, clubs do not meet, the campus newspaper is not even published. Needless to say, it is not a good time for speakers to come if they want a decent audience.
But students, faculty, and staff filled one of the largest lecture halls in the Law School that night to hear Gov. George Ryan speak. With standing room only, the room was abuzz.
The attendance came as a welcome surprise to me, since a death penalty speech by lawyer and author Scott Turow was very poorly attended earlier this year. And now it was finals week.
“Wow,” I thought. “Maybe people really do care about the death penalty.”
I wondered how many people in the audience were like me—decided opponents of the death penalty who had come to see a real live hero of the abolitionist movement.
I wondered how many people in the audience were like my friend sitting next to me—genuinely undecided people who had come to hear a former government official give a balanced argument against the death penalty.
“I've heard all the arguments and such, but always from advocates,” said my friend before the speech. “It'd be interesting to hear a governmental or political stance.”
We both got what we came for.
I saw the man whose face in a newspaper covers the back of my binder. Hearing him speak filled my eyes with tears and my heart with a rejuvenated sense of purpose.
My friend saw an old, card-carrying GOP-member explain how he came to reject a corrupt system of punishment. Hearing him speak prompted her to write down some facts and questions. Perhaps she did not leave with a burning desire to abolish the death penalty, but—quite in the spirit of finals week—she left with some new things to think about.

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