A brief history of how the Fast and Vigil came to be:
June 29 is the anniversary of the 1972 Furman v. Georgia decision in
the U.S. Supreme Court found the death penalty to be applied in an
arbitrary and capricious manner. At that time, more then 600
inmates had their death sentences reduced to terms of life
and all states were forced to rewrite their death penalty laws. July
the anniversary of the 1976 Gregg v. Georgia decision, which allowed
executions to resume in the United States. The four days between
historic anniversaries provide a natural opportunity for a
conscience on the issue of judicially-sanctioned state-sponsored
The Abolitionist Action Committee (AAC) is an ad-hoc group of
committed to highly visible and effective public education for
to the death penalty through nonviolent direct action. The Annual
Vigil was started by the AAC in 1994 and was attended by a handful of
abolitionists from across the United States. This annual event has
steadily, and by 1998 more than 150 people attended part or all of
event, including at least 30 individuals who fasted at the Court or
solidarity with those at the Court.
In 2001, more than 300 people attended the
Steve Earle concert
incredibly inhospitable weather and close to 40 people broke fast at
court at the end of the vigil.
The Fast & Vigil takes place on the sidewalk in front of the U.S.
Court, considered by many to be the heart of the legalized killing
in this country. In addition to the strong public witness, this is an
excellent opportunity to meet other abolitionists and to "recharge
batteries" while engaging in public outreach and maintaining a
presence at the Court. ***FASTING IS OPTIONAL***
Prisoners, activists from other countries, and abolitionists who
unable to come to Washington, D.C. have fasted or held events in
with the action at the Court. This tradition continues to grow as
We invite you to view our photo and video
archive to find out more about
our history an presence at the Supreme Court.
More about the two historical Court rulings:
June 29th is the anniversary of the Furman v. Georgia decision in
U.S. Supreme Court found the death penalty to be arbitrary and
capricious. More than 600 condemned inmates had their death
reduced to life. All states were required to re-write their death
laws. July 2nd is the anniversary of the Gregg v. Georgia decision,
allowed the resumption of executions in the U.S.
People have called this period of time a "moratorium" on executions,
that is not accurate. No body ever said "we're putting a halt to
executions." In fact, no judicial executions had taken place in the
United States since 1966. It could be said that there was a "de
moratorium, because it just happened to be that no executions were
place. But the Furman decision changed all of that.
On June 29, 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Furman v. Georgia
the death penalty as it was then practiced was unconstitutional
was random in its application. It was "arbitrary and capricious."
Court did not say that the death penalty was "cruel and unusual," and
therefore a violation of the 8th amendment. So states were free to
new death penalty laws, and many states did so as quickly as
possible. Florida was the first to write a new law, calling a
session of the legislature in November, 1972. Within a year Florida
its first death row prisoner. Other states wrote new laws, and by
those new laws were being tested at the U.S. Supreme Court. On July
1976, the Court upheld the new laws with its decision in Gregg v.
On January 17, 1977, Gary Gilmore voluntarily waived his appeals and
the first person executed in the current death penalty era. He was
by firing squad by the State of Utah in revenge for his murders of
Bushnell and Max Jensen. On May 25, 1979, John Spenkelink became the
unwilling prisoner to be executed in the current death penalty era,
was burned to death in Florida's electric chair in revenge for his
of Joseph Szymankiewicz.