* Supported the legalization of marijuana
* Supported Ralph Nader and the Green Party
* Anti-Iraq War activist
* Opposed U.S. aid to Israel
* Supported the Occupy Wall Street movement
* Died on September 6, 2020
Born in New York City on October 28, 1955, Kevin Zeese was active in the anti-war and civil-rights movements during his high-school years. He earned a BS degree in political science from SUNY Buffalo in 1977, and a JD from George Washington University Law School three years later.
In 1980 Zeese took a job as chief counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), and from 1983-86 he served as NORML’s national director. From 1986-1989, he was an attorney with the Virginia-based law firm of Zwerling, Mark, Ginsberg and Lieberman. And from 1987-90 he was an adjunct professor at American University.
Drug policy was a major focus of Zeese’s work throughout his professional career. He served a stint as president of Common Sense for Drug Policy, an organization that advocated decriminalizing the use of hard drugs and making them available through prescription. Moreover:
- He spoke at legal seminars and testified before Congress on drug-related issues.
- He authored and edited numerous books about drug policy as well as manuals on criminal defense.
- In 1995 he served as a consultant to Walter Cronkite in the production of the Discovery Channel special, The Drug Dilemma: War or Peace?
- He litigated cases involving the medical use of marijuana, the use of the military and national guard in domestic drug enforcement, the spraying of herbicides on marijuana, drug testing of government workers, and the right to privacy as it related to the use of marijuana in one’s home.
- He was a legal adviser to needle-exchange workers and medical marijuana patients who had been prosecuted.
- He served on the executive committee of the Harm Reduction Coalition, a working group of drug users, needle-exchange providers, and advocates.
- He was a board-of-directors member of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, which claimed that the War on Drugs had caused “a great deal of unintended damage to society.”
- He was a board member of DrugSense, a group committed to ending drug prohibition.
- He co-founded the Drug Policy Foundation—later renamed the Drug Policy Alliance—which sought to do away with drug prohibition; he was the organization’s vice president and founding counsel from 1986-94.
- He served on the Mayor’s Working Group on Drug Policy Reform during the tenure (1987-99) of Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke.
- He served on the Harm Reduction Council, a panel that sought to implement a model urban drug policy in San Francisco when Terence Hallinan was the city’s district attorney (1996-2004).
In 2003 Zeese worked on the California gubernatorial recall campaign of Green Party candidate Peter Camejo. A year later, he was the press secretary and chief spokesman for Ralph Nader‘s presidential run.
In 2006 Zeese ran on the Green Party ticket for a U.S. Senate seat in Maryland. He finished a distant third in the race, capturing just 1.5% of the total vote.
In the mid-2000s, Zeese served as executive director of Democracy Rising, a now-defunct activist group that agitated for an end to the Iraq War.
Highly critical of what he termed “the hawkish Israeli Lobby” that “wants to go to war” against Iran, Zeese in 2006 demanded that the “lopsided U.S. [economic and military aid] policy in favor of Israel” be changed.
In 2009 Zeese was livid when President Barack Obama‘s Department of Justice (DOJ) elected not to impose sanctions against Bush-era DOJers who had approved of enhanced interrogation methods like the waterboarding of suspected terrorists. Thus he filed a series of bar complaints against a number of those predecessors—including Attorneys General John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales—in an effort “to see them disbarred and shamed.”
In 2011 Zeese was a leader of the Washington, D.C. contingent of the anti-capitalist Occupy Wall Street movement. By Zeese’s telling, the Occupy phenomenon was about “transforming a system dominated by wealthy interests” and “putting the wealth divide and unfair economy in the political dialogue.” Zeese was also an organizer of October2011.org, the website of the Occupy movement.
In 2016, Zeese was an adviser to Green Party candidate Jill Stein‘s presidential campaign.
Over the years, Zeese also served variously as:
- a co-director of ItsOurEconomy.us, which sought to replace capitalism with “a more just, modern, and restorative economy” that could “reduce the wealth divide” by “put[ting] people and the planet before profits.”
- a steering committee member of ComeHomeAmerica.us, which impugned “the destructive consequences of our country’s runaway militarism”;
- an advisory board/steering committee member of the Chelsea Manning Support Network, which was established to defend a former U.S. Army soldier who in 2013 was convicted and incarcerated for violating the Espionage Act, but who, according to Zeese, embodied “the true meaning of patriotism”;
- a board member (starting in 2005) of Velvet Revolution, a network of more than 100 leftist organizations demanding “progressive change”;
- director (starting in January 2007) of Voters For Peace, which Zeese initiated in 2006 along with Dick Mazess, Linda Schade, and Bill Scheurer;
- a founding member of the Maryland-based Montgomery County Coalition Against the War;
- a director of Prosperity Agenda, a Baltimore advocacy group trying to narrow the economic gap between rich and poor;
- a facilitator of the Alliance of Reform Organizations, a network of activist groups across the United States; and
- a contributor to Popular Resistance (PR), a resource and information clearinghouse that aimed to use “nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience … to empower local communities—as opposed to working within the corrupt government dominated by a two-corporate party system and within an unfair, big finance, capitalist economy.” (Another noteworthy contributor to PR was Cindy Sheehan.)
Zeese wrote many articles for CounterPunch. He also was published on web outlets like AlterNet, CommonDreams, Dissident Voice, LewRockwell.com, The Raw Story, and Z Magazine.
Zeese died on September 6, 2020, in Baltimore, Maryland
Further Reading: “Kevin Zeese” (AmericansWhoTellTheTruth.org, GP.org, Keywiki.org, ItsOurEconomy.us, & Come Home America); “Kevin B. Zeese’s Curriculum Vitae” (CSDP.org); “Biographical Sketch [of Kevin Zeese]” (CSDP.org); “Kevin Zeese: ‘Hawkish Israeli Lobby Wants War with Iran!’” (MediaMonitors.net, 4-25-2006); “Washington Sketch: Kevin Zeese Is Mad as Heck About the Whole Torture Thing” (by Dana Milbank, 5-19-2009).