Racial Justice

Campaigning to #FreeRodneyReed

Feb 3, 2020

Rodney Reed has spent 22 years of his life in prison, awaiting execution for the murder of Stacy Stites – a murder he says he didn’t commit. 

At the time of Stacy’s murder, Tiffany McMillian was working at domestic violence prevention organization in Texas. She saw the case and thought it was textbook domestic violence – she was sure Stacy’s fiance would stand trial for her murder. So Tiffany was shocked when instead it was Rodney who was convicted and sentenced to die. 

For Tiffany, seeking justice for Stacy ultimately became seeking justice for Rodney. 

For decades, she was on the ground fighting for Rodney’s life and organizing supporters, all the while speaking to him on a weekly basis in prison. Tiffany took her fight to the next level when she started a petition on Change.org.

So how did we jump in to fight for Tiffany, Stacy, and Rodney? We decided that the strength of Change’s platform is that we could bring powerful media potential that no one else could. We reached out to musicians, actors, faith leaders, and influencers – and it paid off. 

Tweets sharing the petition flooded in from Dr. Phil, Busta Rhymes, Kim Kardashian, and presidential candidate Julian Castro (who hails from Texas).

Susan Sarandon changed her Twitter photo to a plea for help for Rodney.

Beyonce changed the front page of her website to a letter to the Texas governor in support of Rodney, and a link to Tiffany’s petition. 

Oprah spoke about the campaign on CBS News, and major media outlets like Newsweek, Billboard, People, and CNN covered it.

Meanwhile, we pushed signers to take one action a day to directly contact key decision-makers like the governor’s chief of staff, the first lady of Texas, and the state Board of Pardons and Paroles. We did not rent a skywriting plane or call up the pastor of the governor’s church, but we could tell you how if you ever need to do either of those things.

Through phenomenal media campaigning and celebrity outreach, and by working in tandem with the Innocence Project and Shaun King, we helped create a chorus too loud to be ignored. 

On November 15, 2019, just 5 days before Rodney was scheduled to die, we got the news that the Texas Board of Pardons unanimously recommended a stay of execution. But Rodney’s execution would still move forward without further action from the Governor, so we pivoted and kept pushing. This happened a half dozen times that day – new information came in from Tiffany, we jumped online to discuss, and pivoted our efforts again. By the end of that day, a Texas Court had unanimously blocked Rodney’s execution, and we finally knew for certain his life would be spared.

When a campaign has such enormously high stakes, it can feel debilitating. You are constantly asking: What’s the next best move? What action is most likely to save this person’s life? Do I really have any control over this outcome? But rather than freezing in fear and uncertainty, we are most proud that our team kept fighting, without hesitation.  

Across 7 petitions, we gathered over 660,000 signatures and over 2,000 media hits. 

While Tiffany still hasn’t declared victory because Rodney still hasn’t been officially exonerated, this campaign has seen huge success. The court ordered a new hearing to examine new evidence, new witnesses, and Rodney’s claims of innocence – which is promising, considering just how much the evidence points to his innocence.

After 22 years, Rodney finally has a chance to clear his name and be exonerated. In the meantime, we’re here to cheer on the ways that petition-based campaigning can save the lives of those who have been stripped of their rights and their voices. We’re going to keep fighting for Tiffany and for Rodney, and we’re already fighting for others who face unjust execution.