Kevin Zeese

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Kevin Zeese
Kevin zeese 5243251.jpg
Personal details
Born(1955-10-28)October 28, 1955
New York, New York, U.S.
DiedSeptember 6, 2020(2020-09-06) (aged 64)
Baltimore City, Maryland, U.S.
Political partyGreen
Domestic partnerMargaret Flowers
ResidenceBaltimore, Maryland
Alma materSUNY Buffalo, (BS)
George Washington University Law School, (JD)
ProfessionActivist, Attorney

Kevin Bruce Zeese (October 28, 1955 – September 6, 2020) was an American lawyer, U.S. Senate candidate and political activist. He worked to end the war on drugs and mass incarceration,[1] and was instrumental in organizing the 2011 Occupy encampment in Washington, D.C. at Freedom Plaza and occupying the Venezuelan Embassy in the District of Columbia.[2] Zeese died of a heart attack on September 6, 2020.[3]

Early life[edit]

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.[4]


Advocacy for the end of the War on Drugs[edit]

Zeese in Dundalk, Maryland, 2006

Zeese began his career as an advocate working 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.[1]

Zeese co-founded the Drug Policy Foundation (DPF) with Professor Arnold S. Trebach 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.[5]

Zeese was a founder 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.[6]

In 1994 he co-founded the Common Sense for Drug Policy along with businessman and philanthropist Robert E. Field and attorney Melvin R. Allen.[7] Zeese continued to serve as president of Common Sense.[8] 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.[9] Common Sense has published Drug War Facts since 1998, providing facts and citations covering 47 issue-areas related to drug policy.[10]


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 and served as its director until 2011.[11]

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 U.S. empire and the destruction it causes around the world. The U.S. 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 U.S. has a 'responsibility to protect.'"[12]

Zeese is listed in the U.S. Peace Registry which also provides a summary of his work.[13]

Political activity[edit]

Zeese speaking in Washington, D.C. in 2006

Zeese had his first official campaign involvement serving as an advisor to Linda Schade, who was running for the Maryland House of Delegates in 2002.

From 2003 onward, Zeese worked on a broad range of progressive issues and third-party and independent electoral campaigns. He was primarily active with the Green Party and even ran for office himself.

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 grassroots support for Camejo.[14]

2004 Nader campaign[edit]

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 also worked with Nader in drafting position statements.

2006 U.S. Senate candidacy[edit]

Zeese ran for the U.S. Senate for Maryland in 2006 against Democrat Ben Cardin and Republican Michael Steele. After months of campaigning, Zeese received the Maryland Green Party's nomination for the U.S. Senate, and 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,[15] economic justice, an end to corporate welfare (which he termed "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 alleged Israeli wrongdoing.[citation needed]

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.

2016 Flowers campaign[edit]

In 2016, Zeese served as an advisor to the U.S. Senate Campaign of Margaret Flowers, his partner and a pediatrician.

2020 Hawkins campaign[edit]

In 2020, Zeese served as press secretary to the Presidential Campaign of Howie Hawkins until his death.[16]

Embassy Protection Collective[edit]

Zeese's position on Venezuela was that of an outspoken supporter of the Bolivarian Revolution and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela's policies. Zeese was also an ardent supporter of Nicolas Maduro and argued that Nicolas Maduro is the legitimate President of Venezuela, while asserting that Juan Guaidó's appointment as Interim President by the National Assembly is simply a coup by the U.S. government, led by the Trump administration.[1]

In response to the March 14, 2019 deadline for Maduro's diplomats to leave the U S., Zeese and former Senate candidate Margaret Flowers joined two other Green Party members participating in a pro-Maduro 'peace delegation' which traveled to Venezuela to meet with officials from the Maduro government, including Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza. On March 15, Nicolas Maduro personally met with the American delegation in Caracas, where the group spent an hour and a half discussing strategies for defending the Maduro government from the pro-Guaido uprising and U.S. foreign policy interests. In a video published on March 16 by the Black Alliance for Peace, Zeese and Flowers are seen standing in close proximity to Maduro, at the end of which the entire delegation chants "Hands off Venezuela! Hands off Venezuela!".[17] The video was shared by the Green Party in a news release celebrating the delegation's meeting with Maduro.[18] The page has since been deleted from the national Green Party's website, though there's still a live article about the delegation by the Green Party of Ohio.[19]

Maduro had recalled all Venezuelan diplomats serving in the US in January 2019 in response to the US government recognizing Juan Guaido as Interim President and the National Assembly of Venezuela as the legitimate government of Venezuela. The last U.S. diplomats had left Venezuela on March 14, according to statements by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.[20] All Venezuelan diplomats were ordered to leave the United States by April 24. In the weeks following Zeese and Flowers' meetings with officials from Maduro's government, members of the left-wing groups Codepink, Popular Resistance, and ANSWER Coalition formed the 'Embassy Protection Collective' (a.k.a. Colectivo para proteger).[21] The new group's name holds significance; in Venezuela, the Colectivos are armed civilian groups who act as paramilitaries and parapolice for the Maduro regime.[22]

Juan Guaidó's ambassador, Carlos Vecchio, announced his intention to enter the Venezuelan embassy in Washington D.C. once the last of Maduro's diplomats had left the U.S. on April 24. In a move against this, on April 10, the Embassy Protection Collective entered the Venezuelan embassy and began their occupation. Among the participating members were Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers. Dozens of American pro-Maduro activists lived in the embassy for over a month, with protests and presentations during the day and sleeping on floors and couches at night. Their strategy was to physically occupy the embassy on behalf of the Maduro government, which they viewed as the legitimate government of Venezuela, and to block Juan Guaidó's representatives from entering the building. They argued that invasion of Venezuelan diplomatic soil by U.S. authorities or by a 'U.S.-backed coup' would result in Maduro's government invading the U.S. embassy in Caracas, thus giving the Trump administration justification for a military invasion of Venezuela.

The Collective was officially led by Codepink founder Medea Benjamin, but Zeese was prominently visible as a spokesman for the Collective and for the policies and interests of the Maduro government. According to Benjamin, the Collective were guests of the Maduro government and they were given keys to the embassy by a member of the outgoing diplomatic staff, who she refused to name.[23] The exact chain of events between March 14 and April 10 is not yet known to the public. Given the departure of the diplomats from the US on March 14, and Zeese and Flowers' meeting with Maduro the next day, and with Jorge Arreaza that same week, the circumstantial evidence points to the strong likelihood that Maduro was personally involved in planning the Collective's embassy occupation.

As the weeks passed, Venezuelan immigrants who fled the Chavez and Maduro regimes began congregating outside the Venezuelan embassy to denounce Maduro and show their support for Guaidó's interim presidency. A small contingent of demonstrators gathered on the opposite side of the street to show support for the Collective. The scene quickly became polarized between Venezuelan exiles supporting Juan Guaidó and American leftists supporting Nicolas Maduro.[24] Zeese and Benjamin were outspoken in labeling Guaidó, his 'coup', and his supporters as fascists and right-wing puppets of imperialism, despite the fact that Guaidó's party, Popular Will (Voluntad Popular), is a member of the Socialist International.[25]

The Collective's numbers also dwindled as food supplies ran out and the living situation became more difficult. At the request of Guaidó's ambassador Carlos Vecchio, as owners of the building, electrical power to the embassy was shut off. Police also had the embassy surrounded and were preventing people from entering the embassy, effectively blocking relief efforts to get food to the Collective. On May 13, U.S. authorities posted a trespassing notice on the front doors of the embassy (which the Collective had locked) ordering the illegal occupants to leave the property. They defied the order and DC police entered through the front door, did not open the second set of doors. Flanked by Codepink attorney Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, the police attempted to get the occupants to come out willingly. The negotiations failed but the police stood down and did not attempt a second entry that night. [26]

DC Metropolitan Police, Department of State Diplomatic Security Service, and the Secret Service entered the embassy and arrested the last four members of the Embassy Protection Collective on May 16.[27] Kevin Zeese, Adrienne Pine, Margaret Flowers, and David Paul were charged in a federal court with a Class A misdemeanor; "interfering with a federal law enforcement agent engaged in protective functions." DC Police specifically didn't press charges for trespassing.[28] Even though the U.S. government has recognized the Guaidó government as the legitimate government of Venezuela, there are major legal questions as to whether local police have the authority to recognize a disputed government in order to also recognize that trespassing occurred.


On September 6, 2020, Zeese died suddenly from a heart attack at the age of 64.[3][29]

Electoral history[edit]

Maryland United States Senate election results, 2006[30]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Ben Cardin 965,477 54.21 -9.0
Republican Michael Steele 787,182 44.19 +7.5
Green Kevin Zeese 27,564 1.55 n/a
Write-in 916 0.05 0
Majority 178,295 100.00
Turnout 1,781,139
Democratic hold Swing


  • Drug Testing Legal Manual and Practice AIDS, Clark Boardman Callaghan (1996)
  • Drug Law Strategies and Tactics, with Eve Zeese, Clark Boardman Callaghan (1993)
  • Drug Prohibition and the Conscience of Nations, with Arnold Trebach, The Drug Policy Foundation (1990)


  1. ^ a b "Kevin B. Zeese Biographical Sketch". Archived from the original on October 29, 2008. Retrieved August 30, 2016.
  2. ^ "Kevin Zeese, Attorney General". Green Shadow Cabinet. Archived from the original on November 14, 2015.
  3. ^ a b Winger, Richard (September 6, 2020). "Kevin Zeese Dies of a Sudden, Unexpected Apparent Heart Attack". Ballot Access News. Retrieved September 7, 2020.
  4. ^ "Kevin Zeese biography". Archived from the original on October 29, 2008.; "Kevin Zeese biography". Common Sense for Drug Policy.
  5. ^ "History | Drug Policy Alliance". Retrieved August 31, 2016.
  6. ^ "Harm Reduction Coalition -". Retrieved August 31, 2016.
  7. ^ "About Us | Common Sense for Drug Policy". Retrieved August 31, 2016.
  8. ^ "People | Common Sense for Drug Policy". Retrieved August 31, 2016.
  9. ^ "Is Truth a Casualty in the Drug War? The Common Sense for Drug Policy Public Service Ad Campaign". Retrieved August 31, 2016.
  10. ^ "Welcome to Drug War Facts | Drug War Facts". Retrieved August 31, 2016.
  11. ^ "Pledging to Vote for Peace". The Nation. ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved September 3, 2016.
  12. ^ Zeese, Kevin B.; Flowers, Margaret (January 18, 2018). "No Foreign Bases: Challenging the Footprint of US Empire". Original. Retrieved September 7, 2020.
  13. ^ "Kevin Zeese, JD". US Peace Registry.
  14. ^ Inc., Virtually Everything. "Candidate Profile: U.S. Senate: Kevin Zeese". Retrieved September 3, 2016.
  15. ^ Allen, Patsy. "Zeese offers real solutions, not status quo". Retrieved September 7, 2020.
  16. ^ "Organization of Howie Hawkins 2020 - Staff, Advisors and Supporters". Retrieved September 9, 2020.
  17. ^ "U.S. Peace Delegation Meets Nicolas Maduro". YouTube. Black Alliance for Peace. March 16, 2019.
  18. ^ "Peace Movement Goes to Venezuela". Green Party. March 16, 2019.
  19. ^ "Greens Party Members Meeting With President Maduro". Ohio Green Party. March 16, 2019.
  20. ^ Romo, Vanessa (March 14, 2019). "State Department Says All U.S. Diplomats Have Left Venezuela". NPR.
  21. ^ "Grupos de EEUU afines al chavismo crean 'colectivo para proteger' embajada en Washington". MSN. El Nuevo Herald. April 22, 2019.
  22. ^ Newman, Lucia (May 9, 2019). "Venezuela: Who are the colectivos?". Aljazeera.
  23. ^ Lugo, Luis Alonzo (April 25, 2019). "Activists Told to End 2-Week Sit-In at Venezuelan Embassy in DC". NBC Washington.
  24. ^ Villanueva Heredia, Tania (May 8, 2019). "Venezuelans Abroad Are Now Victims of Political Appropriation". Caracas Chronicles.
  25. ^ Powell, Nicholas; Acevedo, Rafael (March 6, 2019). "Will Juan Guaido Give Venezuela the Free Market It Needs to Succeed?". The Independent Institute.
  26. ^ Benjamin, Medea; Wright, Ann (May 14, 2019). "Venezuela Embassy Protection Collective Defies Unlawful "No Trespass" Order". Codepink.
  27. ^ Wu, Nicolas (May 16, 2019). "Activists arrested in Venezuelan embassy in Washington after a monthlong occupation". USA Today.
  28. ^ "US Judge Orders Release of Four Activists Arrested at Venezuela's DC Embassy". USA Today. May 17, 2019.
  29. ^ Garris, Eric (September 6, 2020). "Kevin Zeese, RIP". Blog. Retrieved September 7, 2020.
  30. ^ "Official 2006 Gubernatorial General Election results for U.S. Senator". Maryland State Board of Elections. December 19, 2006. Retrieved January 13, 2010.

External links[edit]