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|Born||October 28, 1955|
New York, New York, U.S.
|Alma mater||SUNY Buffalo, (BS)|
George Washington University Law School, (JD)
Kevin Zeese (born October 28, 1955) is an American lawyer and political activist who has worked on a wide range of issues beginning with ending the war on drugs and mass incarceration, including helping to organize the 2011 Occupy encampment in Washington, D.C. at Freedom Plaza. He currently serves as co-director of Popular Resistance.
Zeese was born in New York City in 1955. He grew up in Queens, New York where he attended public schools. He received a bachelor's degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He graduated from the George Washington University Law School in 1980.
Zeese began his advocacy career as chief counsel for National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in 1980 and served as NORML's Executive Director from 1983 to 1986. During his time at NORML he helped stop the spraying of herbicides on marijuana in Mexico and the United States, and he became a leading advocate of the medical use of marijuana.
Zeese co-founded the Drug Policy Foundation (DPF) with Professor Arnold S. Trebach, JD in 1987 which merged with the Lindesmith Center in 2000 and is now the Drug Policy Alliance. Zeese served as Vice President and Counsel to DPF from 1986 to 1994. Drug Policy Foundation was the largest drug policy reform advocacy group until it merged with Drug Policy Alliance, now the largest reform group in U.S. history. Zeese was one of the founders in 1993 of Harm Reduction Coalition, which advocates for a public health approach to drug policy that reduces the harms from drug use and abuse. Harm Reduction Coalition is "driven by a commitment to drug user rights and social inclusion of marginalized communities" and has advocated for and helped put in place policies like needle exchange programs, treatment on request, overdose prevention strategies and low threshold access to methadone treatment among other issues.
In 1994 he co-founded with businessman and philanthropist Robert E. Field and attorney Melvin R. Allen, Ph.D. Common Sense for Drug Policy. Zeese continues to serve as president of Common Sense. The organization ran 152 public service advertisements in Reason, The American Prospect, The National Review, The Nation, The New Republic, and The Progressive from 1999 to 2007. Common Sense has published Drug War Facts since 1998, providing facts and citations covering 47 issue-areas related to drug policy.
In 2002 he worked with Washington, D.C. area peace groups in opposing the war in Iraq including the Montgomery County Coalition Against War. In 2004 he joined with Ralph Nader's Democracy Rising to make opposition to war a focus of the organization. In 2006 Zeese founded a national antiwar group, Voters for Peace, serving as its director until 2011.
In January 2018, Zeese outlined his anti-interventionist position in a column, stating: "The United States cannot be a moral or ethical country until it faces up to the realities of US empire and the destruction it causes around the world. The US undermines governments (including democracies), kills millions of people, causes mass migrations of people fleeing their homes, communities and countries and produces vast environmental damage." He also criticized humanitarian intervention saying that it is "based on the dubious claim that the US has a 'responsibility to protect.'"
Since 2003 Zeese has worked on a broad range of issues and third-party and independent electoral campaigns.
Zeese has been active in progressive third-party politics working with Green Party and independent candidates as well as running for office himself. His first involvement was in the campaign for Linda Schade who was running for the Maryland House of Delegates in 2002 where he was an advisor to the campaign. In 2003, Zeese went to California to work on the gubernatorial campaign of Peter Camejo in the election that followed the recall of Governor Gray Davis. Zeese was involved in writing position papers and organizing grass roots support for Camejo.
In 2004, Zeese joined the presidential campaign of Ralph Nader. His initial responsibility was developing a strategy for ballot access. He went on to become press secretary and spokesperson for Nader and in addition worked with Nader in drafting position statements.
Zeese ran for the US Senate for Maryland in 2006 against Democrat Ben Cardin and Republican Michael Steele. After months of campaigning, Zeese received the senate nomination of the Maryland Green Party was also nominated by the Libertarian Party of Maryland in April 2006 and the Populist Party of Maryland in June. This is the only time the Greens and Libertarians nominated the same person for a statewide office. It is also the only time all three parties had nominated the same candidate. However, in early April 2006, the Maryland legislature passed SB 129, which held a candidate can be nominated by only a party with which he is registered. Therefore, Zeese ran on the Maryland Green Party ticket with the Libertarians and Populists endorsing the nomination.
Zeese called his campaign the "Unity Campaign" and ran on a reform platform that advocated the withdrawal of U.S. troops and corporate interests from Iraq, economic justice and end to corporate welfare (which he calls "big business socialism") and electronic voting reform. He also was a vocal critic of the "hawkish" Israel lobby in the United States and Israel's 2006 bombing campaign against Lebanon. He challenged incumbent U.S. congressman Ben Cardin, who has close ties to the lobby, to break his silence on Israeli wrongdoing.
Zeese was the first third-party candidate included in three-way debate; only one debate was publicly televised, the final Senatorial debate on Friday, November 3, 2006. In it he urged the audience to reject the major parties, saying: "Change has not come from status quo parties, it's come from the outside." Zeese finished third in the voting, receiving 27,564 votes for 1.5% of the total vote.