West Memphis 3
Witchvox Chapter: The West Memphis Three
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Article ID: 6354
Posted: June 15th. 2003
Days Up: 3,633
News: 2003 Update
by Peg Aloi
It has always intrigued me that political activism in communities is referred to as "grassroots." This allows us to also think of terms like "common ground" as having layers of meaning. Think about it: by fighting social injustice, lobbying for a cleaner environment, working for affordable healthcare, or volunteering in a soup kitchen, we affect the world around us in a direct way. The places we live are made better because of our direct, often hands-on, efforts. Email petitions are all well and good, but really getting in their and getting your hands dirty (so to speak) is a very satisfying way to get involved in working for social change.
Look at the efforts to help free the West Memphis Three. Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. were teenagers when they were arrested and convicted for the murder of three children in their conservative, mostly-Christian community. These guys have been in prison for more then TEN YEARS now. If not for the effect of various media, and efforts by supporters to make sure the media continued to cover their case, their plight would not be known to the world at large. In 1996, a documentary film called Paradise Lost was released that had a significant impact on their plight, and people far beyond the small Arkansas town where this happened were now learning about what has come to be seen as a travesty of American justice. Interviews and articles in various news media followed, including The Witches' Voice . It's an important issue for us, since Damien was involved with Wicca at the time of his arrest, and it was his supposed "dabbling in the occult" which made the local police (who were obsessed with "satanic cults" at the time) finger him as a suspect in the first place.
People all over the world have been fighting since then to help get them a new trial and, hopefully, exonerated from the crimes they've been convicted of (and open the way for the actual perpetrators to be apprehended). Through web-based support groups, discussion boards and newsgroups, supporters have raised awareness about the case. A follow-up documentary appeared in 1999, and a benefit CD in 2000 from artists like Eddie Vedder, Steve Earle and Eddie Spaghetti. Henry Rollins' (yes, the former singer of proto-punk band Black Flag) album Rise Above: 24 Black Songs to Benefit the West Memphis Three came out last year.
Now, I am happy to report two very exciting developments which should help create an even larger support base for these incarcerated young men. First, Henry Rollins (is on tour now, performing songs from his Black Flag days, and ALL the proceeds from EVERY show will be donated to the West Memphis Three Defense Fund, for which Henry has already raised over $10,000, from audiences attending his shows. A guitar was raffled, and the winner donated it back to the tour, so that funds can keep being raised. The wheels of justice turn slowly, and the appeals process for these young men is no exception, so money is needed to help fund the legal efforts to free them, even though the attorneys involved have already given a great deal of time and effort pro bono. So check out Henry Rollins' website to read his thoughts and see which cities will be hosting stops on the tour. The tour will also have information tables about the West Memphis Three set up in performing venues wherever possible, to be run by local volunteers; I will be working a table at the Boston show.
Second, something is happening which West Memphis Three support groups have discussed for a long time, but always thought it was only a fantasy: there will be a feature film made about the West Memphis Three! Going by the caliber of artists already involved, I have very high hopes this will be a smart and sensitive production which will help further this cause by bringing it to the attention of a more mainstream film audience. I remember impassioned discussions years ago where supporters would debate the suitability of various actors for roles (the big contender for Damien Echols at the time was Johnny Depp! And Giovanni Ribisi was my pick for Jason Baldwin. But these actors, however great, are now too old to play the parts - an ironic reminder that, in real life, time has passed both very quickly and, I am sure for the imprisoned Three, very slowly at times, too.)
Independent filmmaker Curt Johnson (whose film Thoth won awards and critical acclaim on the festival circuit last year) is developing the script, and after talks with various high-profile directors like Todd Haynes and Gus Van Sant, Alex Steyermark is now going to helm the project. He has worked as executive music producer on Hedwig and the Angry Inch and The Ice Storm, and has a feature film with Gina Gershon due out this fall. Actors who have already signed on include Michael Pitt (the gorgeous Tommy Gnosis in Hedwig) to play Damien Echols, and Jacob Reynolds (who played Solomon in one of my favorite films, Harmony Korine's Gummo) who will play Jessie Misskelley, Jr. Other actors who may be signed to the project include Edie Falco (of The Sopranos and many indie films), William H. Macy (Fargo, ER, and too many other TV shows and films to count) and Jason Lee (the hunky lead singer of Stillwater in Almost Famous). Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, who co-directed the two documentaries which brought this case into the public view, will serve as Executive Producers. Stephen Trask, who compose d the music for Hedwig and the Angry Inch will compose the soundtrack.
More information can be found in the News and Events section of the West Memphis Three Support Fund website. The Internet Movie Database website is also a good place to get updates on the project, which supporters are all VERY excited about! Something to look forward to in 2004.
In other West Memphis Three news, a new anthology of fiction and non-fiction will be coming out in Autumn 2004 from Arsenal Pulp Press. Fiction writers Brett Savory and M. W. Anderson heard about the case and decided immediately they wanted to put out an anthology and donate the proceeds to the Defense Fund. They have approached a number of writers (myself included) to donate short stories or essays. Other featured writers will include Mara Leveritt (the Arkansas journalist whose book Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three is a must-read), Burk Sauls (one of the founders of the Support Fund), fantasy fiction writers Caitlin R. Kiernan and Peter Crowther, and filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. More on this when the publication date is closer.
Media Coordinator, The Witches' Voice
Sunday, June 15, 2003
Email: [Staff Page Link]
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