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Dialogue? Pro and anti-war demonstrators meet in Capitol Park West last Wednesday.

photo:Chris Shields

And on to Washington

Bring Them Home Now Tour warms up Albany for larger antiwar demonstration

At 10 AM last Wednesday, the Bring Them Home Now Tour officially began its stay in Albany’s Capitol Park West. Members of the group had already visited 14 cities on a tour designed to keep discussion of the Iraq war alive. The tour will conclude at Sataurday’s rally in Washington, D.C.

Cindy Sheehan, the mother who lost her son, Casey, in Iraq and started the vigil that became know as Camp Casey in front of Bush’s Crawford, Texas, ranch, skipped the Albany leg of the tour so that she could assist relief efforts in New Orleans. It was a disappointment for local organizers; however, members of the Gold Star Mothers for Peace were there, joined by members of local peace groups like Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace. The Albany gathering was named Camp David Fischer, in memory of a fallen Watervliet soldier.

Capitalizing on the national attention given to Camp Casey, local activists got the attention for their cause they have always wanted, and some they may not have.

“Where are the young people in the streets?” asked Albany Common Council President Helen Desfosses at the start of a discussion forum that evening. About five teenagers stood up and the crowd applauded them. Earlier in the day, at the noon rally, there had been more young people, but they had been mugging for the news cameras, holding signs reading, “Osama Says: ‘I love Cindy Sheehan.’”

Will Schmarder, one of the seven representatives of the Siena College Republicans, explained, “We’re just here to show them that someone supports the troops.” According to the teens, something like the Bring Them Home Now Tour would never happen in their hometowns. “A priest in my church spoke out about the war and he got a talking to,” one said proudly.

“I’m glad they are here,” said Trudy Quaif of Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace. “We need to get people talking about the war. I would much rather have them here than ignoring us.” Quaif said she asked the group why, if they believe so strongly in the war, they don’t sign up to fight in it. She says that she was told, “We buy savings bonds.”

Without Sheehan to stir up interest, at first it was unclear how many people the event would draw. “Both of these groups say they could get a couple hundred people, but who knows?” state trooper F.C. Cardenas said as he surveyed a mental-health workers’ protest as well as the peace rally.

Local activist Joe Seeman was more optimistic. “Is it OK to say a shitload?” he joked. “Yeah, we expect a shitload of people from around the area.” For an hour, newsmen far outnumbered those in “Bush Lies” shirts and “Where are the WMDs?” caps.

But around 11 AM, as state workers began exiting office buildings, activists began to arrive, some carrying makeshift signs from the office. Workers cautiously gathered on the edge of the park. As more arrived, the line between demonstrators and state workers began to blur. More than 300 people filled the park.

Tour representatives say they were not surprised by the solid turnout in Albany as they have gotten decent-sized crowds and warm welcomes on all stops of their tour.

Activists carried around sign-up sheets for the Washington rally. Some state workers took up signs. Others refused. One man shouted at protesters, “Step the fuck away from me! Some people just don’t realize there has to be sacrifice!”

A Fox News truck’s alarm cut through the 6:30 PM reading of the names of 81 soldiers from New York state who lost their lives in Iraq. As the reading of the names finished, participants picked up empty black boots and pulled white crosses from the ground. Officers on horseback stopped traffic so the procession could cross State Street.

At the forum, Stacey Bannerman of Military Families Speak Out told the audience that Rep. Mike McNulty (D-N.Y.) has signed on to H.R. 55 to bring the troops home starting in October 2006. She explained that he had also promised “to do everything he can do to bring the troops home as quickly as possible, meaning before the October 2006 timeline.” She admitted that attempts to speak with New York’s senators had not gone as well.

Mike Ferner reminded the crowd of the Washington protest scheduled for Sept. 24. “I would really like us to consider on the 24th, when there are a half- million people in the streets of Washington, D.C., are we all just going to go home? When we’ve got hundreds of thousands of people in the streets, I hope someone with a microphone big enough says, ‘Every one of you who would like to stop the war sit down!’ ”

—David King

dking@metroland.net


What a Week

Fewer Bangs for the Bucks

Upon concluding a round of talks on Sept. 19 between six nations in Beijing, North Korea announced that it would halt all aspects of its nuclear-weapons programs. The deal will allow the nation energy and food aid, as well as provide economic assistance, granted that Pyongyang adheres to its promise.

Annan’s Legacy?

The United Nations met in New York City Sept. 14-16 for its 60th Annual World Summit to discuss issues including human-rights violations and genocide. One of the measures agreed upon included the “responsibility to protect” declaration, which will hold nations liable for human-rights violations within their own borders. This declaration will effectively override a nation’s sovereignty in the case of such violations, a stipulation that some U.N. members protested. The move, motivated in great part by President Bush and U.N. Secretary-General Annan, will possibly grant the U.N. the power to take military action in the wake of certain atrocities.

Aliens in Utah

Salt Lake City station KUTR-AM 820 has recently canceled Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s show, one day after he spoke on-air about having a gathering between Utah residents and Katrina refugees, some of whom have been relocated to Army base Camp Williams, to discuss racial bigotry and also encourage the evacuees to make Utah a permanent home. Boteach suggested this meeting after a caller complained that “refugee blacks might move in next door.” One Katrina refugee at Camp Williams has stated that “we’re getting shown a lot of love, but we’re also getting a lot of stares like we’re aliens or something.” Managers of the station deny the charge of bigotry in canceling the show, but otherwise have “no comment.”

Just Passing Through . . .

A couple of “terrorists” in Basra, Iraq, opened fire on a police checkpoint this week, killing one officer. Once caught, the vehicle was found to contain explosives—and two undercover British soldiers. After they were thrown in jail, British tanks broke through the walls, rescuing their soldiers. One-hundred fifty other prisoners escaped in the process. An Iraqi governor called those involved “barbaric, savage and irresponsible.”



Overheard

Overheard:

"So I gave him $50 for 'cheese' from Vermont, and he brought back $50 worth of actual cheese! It was damn good cheese though."

—late night at the Old Songs Festival campground



Loose Ends

Local resident Donald Whisenhunt [“Faith of the Fathers,” Newsfront, June 24, 2004] should be happy to hear that Dr. Michael Newdow of California has made considerable steps in the case against the usage of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Newdow’s case was dismissed in 2000, after it was determined that he was not a legal representative of his daughter. Newdow recently took the same case to the court again, this time with a different judge. Federal District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton sided with Newdow, barring recitation of the pledge in the school Newdow’s daughter attends. Karlton followed the 2003 decision of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals first pledge case which stated that the pledge violated “the children’s right to be free from a coercive requirement to affirm God.” This will apply only to the state of California, but the ruling virtually guarantees Newdow a case with the Supreme Court. A footnote in the ruling states that Karlton “would have issued a broader ruling if he could have—one reaching beyond the classroom.” We’ll have to wait for the Supreme Court case (if one occurs) to see if that will be the outcome.



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