Congratulations to the L.A. Times for digging into the motivations behind the nominations of Tookie Williams for Nobel Prizes — and for finally reporting that it is “surprisingly easy” to make such nominations.
The story is titled Telling His Story to Save His Life. Reversing the usual habit of burying such information exclusively on the back pages, the story states on Page A1:
[Anti-death penalty writer Barbara Becnel] arranged for Williams to speak by telephone to youth and criminal justice groups, and edited his series of children’s books. Death penalty opponents also took up his cause, pushing him into the limelight by nominating him for the Nobel Peace Prize and the Nobel Prize for literature, prestigious nominations that are surprisingly easy to make.
More detail is provided on Page A15. Writer Bechnel obtained the first nomination during a campaign in Switzerland to save Williams from the death penalty:
Around the same time, Becnel met a woman who was active in anti-violence efforts in Zurich, Switzerland, and took Williams’ campaign to Europe. Zurich, like many California cities, was troubled by gangs, with Somali and other immigrant youths engaged in violence, Becnel said.
She made several trips to Zurich and eventually met the Swiss national legislator Mario Fehr, who would nominate Williams for the Nobel in 2001. Legislators and professors in certain disciplines can nominate Nobel Prize candidates.
“The Nobel Prize nominations really catapulted his name into the media,” Alonso said. “That’s when reporters started calling me.”
Further nominations were also made by death penalty activists, primarily to save Williams’s life:
In the meantime, Philip Gasper, an anti-death penalty activist and a professor at Notre Dame de Namur University, a small Catholic school in Belmont, near San Francisco, heard Williams speak via telephone to a UC Berkeley panel and decided to submit more Nobel Peace Prize nominations.
“Barbara and I came up with the idea, and she helped me through the process,” Gasper said.
“All you need to do to nominate is to write a nominating letter to the committee in Norway,” Gasper said.
Gasper’s prime motivation in writing the four-page letter was to save Williams’ life, he said, but he also thought that Williams deserved the prize because “his message has had such resonance with kids in the U.S. and in other countries.”
“I think he has probably saved a few hundred lives, at least,” said Gasper, who has nominated Williams four times for the peace prize.
Brown University English professor William Keach, who is also active in the campaign to end the death penalty, nominated Williams for the Nobel Prize for literature.
We had, of course, guessed all along that the primary motivation behind these nominations was to save Williams’s life. Now we know for sure.
As regular readers know, I am involved in a campaign to get myself nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, to make a point about how easy such nominations are to make. Eugene Volokh suggested yesterday in this post (referring to my campaign, though not by name) that such a nomination would not be legitimate, because the nominator wouldn’t really mean it.
I think my nomination would be every bit as legitimate as Tookie Williams’s. If I can talk someone into nominating me, their motivation will be mixed. Their primary motivation will be to expose such nominations as less prestigious than they really are. But they need not be dishonest in making the nomination. Indeed, given the fact that terrorist and murderer Yasser Arafat actually obtained such an award, someone could nominate me and sincerely argue that they believe I am more worthy of the prize than Arafat was.
If Eugene Volokh thinks that Nobel Peace Prize nominations are not truly legitimate if they are made with some ulterior purpose in mind, as he seems to suggest in his post from yesterday, then I assume that he believes Williams’s nominations are not truly legitimate either. I’d love to see him weigh in on this topic in light of today’s Times article.