Thursday, October 25, 2007

Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty

Probably not surprising to those of you out there beyond the Cornhusker state borders, Nebraska is one of 38 states that has the death penalty. But, what you might not realize is that Nebraska holds the dubious honor of being the ONLY state in the U.S. to still use the barbaric electric chair as the sole means to carry out its state sanctioned murders... er... uh, I mean... executions! (9 other states still have it as a secondary means to murder people; see relevant poster below) Yet, there is hope.
A few months back, the Unicameral (yeah, we are also the only state in the nation with only one house in the state legislature!) came just one vote shy of eliminating the death penalty altogether in our state. That ain't too shabby for a red state like Nebraska! That progress is due disproportionately to the work of a grassroots organization, Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty, and the lone African American member of the Unicameral, Ernie Chambers. You may have heard of Chambers recently in the national press when he sued God... seriously.

One of the cool things about the anti-death penalty movement out here in Nebraska is that it has stirred a number of creative folks to get involved. For instance, the recent-former poet laureate of the United States, Ted Kooser, lives here and he wrote a poem about our archaic and cruel form of execution:
Electric Chair

Ours in Nebraska is not as nice as some,
but Omaha is, of course, not Boston,
and most of the furniture here was made
heavy enough to endure a long ride
on the United Pacific. Ours is, I suppose,
Mission Oak, its blocky design straight out
of the Arts and Crafts movement, but not
as nice as a Stickley or even a Morris.
really, yet one that would comfortably fit
in a high-ceilinged Victorian parlor
somewhere in Bellevue, next to a window
creamy with lace, looking out over
the smooth Missouri; the kind of chair,
straight-backed and hard-seated, that a person
might choose to sit in to work on a speech
on the meaning of life, a chair that means
business. And yet, despite its blockiness,
it's a handsome thing, with its open arms
gleaming with oil and the black straps draped
like doilies. One can imagine a matching
smoking-stand with a rack for pipes,
a leather-bound volume of verse on one arm,
a few poems marked by red ribbons of silk.
It's a chair that belongs to the ages;
a chair, as we decorators say, that makes
a real Statement; a chair that should sit
in each Nebraskan's house, for it is a part
of our dark, oppressive furniture,
and does not have a drip-pan to clean
as those in some other states do.

Or, Pawl Tisdale, in conjunction with the First Menonite Church of Lincoln, has produced an ongoing series of propaganda pieces that are really great. They are up to number 12. Here they are (click on any poster to see it enlarged; makes the text easier to read):

Take 'em down and pass 'em around to your friends... that's what they're for!

NADP has a nice website that is worth checking out:
Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty

And, here is the First Menonite Church website that maintains Pawl's posters. If you get on their email list, they'll send you a new poster each time one comes out:
Pawl Tisdale posters


  1. Not to split hairs, but Nebraska is the only state where the electric chair is the sole means of carrying out state sanctioned murders.

    That key fact gives immense hope to throwing out the death penalty entirely rather than just eliminating one method. Nebraska isn't too keen on going through the process of converting to lethal injection.

    I'm not sure where it stands now, but the Nebraska Supreme Court is ruling on the legality of the chair via the case of Raymond Mata Junior (

    NADP has been making connections this fall among various groups on campuses and in communities throughout Nebraska pressuring state legislators early to abolish the chair. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the chair, NADP will be ready to hit the ground running in time for January's legislative session.

  2. You are right, Nic. I'm going back in to make that sentence clearer...