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Don’t Ask, Don’t Recruit

Antiwar students shift tactics to getting military recruiters off their campuses

From Brooklyn high schools to Seattle community colleges and now to the University of Albany, students across the country are targeting on-campus military recruiters as part of a new strategy in the antiwar movement. Using the military’s open discrimination against gays and lesbians as its entry point, the UAlbany chapter of Campus Action is arguing that the presence of recruiters from the Marine Corps, Army, Navy and Air Force is a violation of the school’s own regulations.

“This is a community here. We simply want the school to live up to its own rules,” said Campus Action member Yunus Fiske. In an effort to bring this about, Fiske and his partners have staged protests over the last two weeks any time the military has been set up in the campus center, using cell phones and text messaging to let each other know when the recruiters arrive.

UAlbany’s literature states “It is the responsibility of the University to prevent sexual orientation discrimination, if possible, correct it when it occurs, and to take appropriate disciplinary action, as necessary, against behavior that is a violation of the policy.”

Campus Action believes the U.S. military’s position on homosexuality is contrary to this statement, and that this is grounds for banning recruiters from setting up on campus. The major bone of contention is with the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, wherein homosexuals are allowed to remain in active duty as long as they abstain from homosexual activity and keep their sexuality to themselves. A recent congressional study showed this policy’s alarming effects since it was passed by Congress in 1993: the loss of almost 10,000 troops—many of whom were trained in highly specialized areas, including translation—and an estimated cost of $200 million to recruit and train replacements.

Last week the Campus Action chapter formed a human blockade of the military’s presentation at a UAlbany job fair. The unexpected protest caused a major scene. According to Campus Action member Eugene Cronin, recruiters responded to the protest with not-so-subtle efforts at intimidation. “One of them told me, ‘You should thank me for letting you be gay.’ ”

But the intimidation has done nothing to deter the group from their goal. In addition to the protests, Fiske says they have had a running dialogue with UAlbany administrators, which has led to the group’s new strategy of “tabling off” with the recruiters. Any time the military is set up on campus, Campus Action will also set up their own anti-recruitment presentation. They say they are being heard and are hopeful that their work will pay off.

A self-described radical, Fiske believes that this form of protest will hurt the military services’ recruitment numbers and force them to change their attitudes towards homosexuals. “The military mentality is that being gay is a mental defect—that something is wrong with a homosexual,” he said. “Their policy is in serious need of an upgrade.” Banning the military from recruiting the area’s biggest campus would certainly be a solid step toward that goal.

When asked why they don’t simply ignore the military’s presence, Fiske posed a hypothetical situation in response. “Imagine if another group other than the military wanted to come on campus and recruit, and they openly stated ‘We don’t hire gays. It’s against our policy.’ There’s no way they would be allowed here.”

“This is state-sanctioned persecution of homosexuals on our campus. It’s ridiculous,”added Campus Action member T.J. DiChristopher.

The new strategy arose from an assessment of the peace movement’s work over the past few years. The group saw that antiwar protests, no matter how large-scale, did not stop our country from going to war. “The current administration made it clear that it wasn’t going to listen to protesters,” said Fiske. “Our belief is that direct action is the best way to bring about change, but sometimes what you’re doing doesn’t always work. You can only squeeze an orange for so long before there’s no more juice left. Then it’s time to get a new orange. We saw that we needed a new strategy.”

Getting recruiters kicked off campus, not just in Albany but across the country, has been a tough sell. In fact, with the No Child Left Behind Act, recruiters have been given increased access to students at both the high school and college level. All high schools are required to submit a full roster of students with phone numbers and addresses to recruiters. On top of that, any schools that refuse to aid recruitment face the loss of federal aid.

Still, Campus Action remains confident. “The only way it’s going to change is with a grassroots movement,” Fiske believes. “It’s never easy, but it will work.”

Fiske also dismissed the idea that the reinstatement of the draft could be an unfortunate side effect of their efforts. “Not feasible,” he stated. “The antiwar movement would overwhelm America if the draft came back. We really don’t see that happening.” But, just in case, DiChristopher added, “We are trying to educate people on their options if the draft does come back. A lot of people think the draft means they are going to war; they don’t realize they can declare conscientious-objector status and things like that.”

Opposite Campus Action’s table this past Monday, several members of the UAlbany ROTC were stationed in the campus center to “provide information and answer any questions students might have.” The scene was much less tense than last week’s protest. The cadets, along with Air Force Capt. Peter Hughes, had no formal recruiting training. “We are all nontraditional recruiters,” Hughes said. “We’re here to help students make decisions about their futures. None of these [ROTC cadets] have any combat obligation.”

Captain Hughes described the student protest as a good thing. “I wasn’t sure what was going on over there, so I stopped over to pick up a couple pamphlets,” he said. “And honestly, there’s no better testament to the liberty we serve and protect than to see students speaking out negatively on important issues.”

Hughes emphasized that he was in no way a mouthpiece for the Air Force or any other branch of the military. When asked for his response to the students’ claim that the military discriminated against homosexuals, he stated, “That’s not an Air Force issue. That kind of stuff comes straight from the Department of Defense.”

The Campus Action members stressed that while they were protesting the military’s presence on campus, they are not antimilitary. “We have members that are in the military and ROTC. The issue at hand is sexual discrimination,” said Fiske. “The short-term goal is to see the end of that discrimination.”

“Of course,” he added, “If the military does finally end their discriminatory policies, there will still be plenty of other issues for us to protest them on.”

—Nolan Konkoski

Hungry for Health Care

Medical students, members of labor unions, and religious representatives marched between several health-care clinics on March 2 in Albany’s Arbor hill and West Hill as part of a 40-hour fast to support universal health care. Hundreds of people across the state participated in the fast, which is sponsored by the New York State Labor- Religion Coalition, and each year focuses on different social-justice topics voted on by local coalitions. The idea is to spend the time educating yourself and others, developing a “hunger for fairness,” said Executive Director Brian O’Shaughnessy, who found this year’s event to be a success. “It was an excellent coalescing. . . . There was a real strong notion that people are beginning to break through the paralysis and work on solutions.” The coalition is supporting Assmblyman Richard Gott fried’s (D-Manhattan) push to form a state commission to study extending health care to all New Yorkers.


What a Week

Truth Is Sadder Than Fiction

A high-school junior in Lexington, Ky., recently found himself on the wrong side of antiterrorism law. The 18-year-old student said that he wrote a short story about zombies invading a high school for an English project, and was shocked when police took him into custody over it. Kentucky police said that writing (or even possessing) such a story is a felony because the plot involves violence directed at a public institution. Emphasizing the seriousness of the terrorism-related charges, prosecutors were able to get the student’s bail raised from $1,000 to $5,000.

Hear No Evil, or Good, for That Matter

The FCC crackdown on broadcast “indecency” has now hit a radio reading service for the blind. A complaint to Buffalo TV station WKBW several weeks ago prompted the station to stop its round-the-clock audio broadcast of newspaper, book and magazine content for vision-impaired listeners. According to station representatives, a listener threatened to lodge a complaint with the FCC after hearing an “offensive” word in Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons. The station recently made the service available again—but only during the day, when the content is of the all-ages variety.

Check Your Press Credentials at the Browser

A California state judge tentatively sided with Apple Computers last week in a case that had Apple arguing that online journalists aren’t legitimate press agencies, and therefore aren’t granted the same protection for their anonymous sources as other forms of the press. The Federal Election Commission is embroiled in a similar debate, as a 2002 ruling by a federal judge may begin extending regulations of campaign-finance law to the Internet, requiring people who link to a campaign Web site from their own site—whether personal weblog or online news forum—to report the act as a political contribution.

Getting the Goods on Goodbee

Albany mayoral candidate Archie Goodbee will be getting his own chance to talk to the city this April, as local classic-rock radio station PYX-106 has announced that Goodbee will be given 30 minutes each week to speak to the public on the station’s Wakin’ Up With the Wolf morning show. Incumbent mayor Jerry Jennings will continue to have his voice heard on an hourlong show each Friday on WROW-AM.

Cinema stalled: Moviegoers arrive at the Madison Theater on Aug. 22, 2003, only to find the building closed.

photo:John Whipple

Will the Show Go On?

Friends of the Madison have many ideas for reusing the vacant Madison Theater—now they just need a sympathetic owner

‘Hi, my name is Larry Barnet, and I saw Lassie, Come Home in the Madison Theater for 35 cents,” laughed one of Tuesday night’s speakers. “It was a while ago, but I still remember crying like a baby.”

And on that evening, Barnet was far from alone in describing fond memories of the now-vacant theater on Madison Avenue, as more than 100 people gathered just a stone’s throw away from the local landmark to discuss its past, present and potential future. The event, organized by the local neighborhood advocacy group Friends of the Madison, featured a brief journey down memory lane, an evaluation of the building’s current condition and a presentation detailing not only the facts prospective buyers will be faced with, but also examples of how similar buildings have managed to remain a part of their communities. As it has been a fixture in the city for more than 75 years now, many of those in attendance hoped to see the Madison Theater hit its centennial birthday.

“It was a big deal when a new movie theater opened up in town back then,” said Lorenz Worden, a member of FOTM, discussing the theater’s May 29, 1929, grand opening. Entertainer Al Jolson presided over the event as master of ceremonies, and more than 1,300 people paid 35 cents apiece to crowd into the single-screen theater owned by Warner Bros. studios and designed by notable architect Thomas Lamb (who also designed Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady). The feature, which was preceded by a short Mickey Mouse cartoon and newsreel, was The Desert Song, starring John Boles.

Years later, multiscreen theaters’ arrival in the region and many city residents’ departure to the suburbs made already hard times even more difficult for the Madison, and the building’s owner divided the single-screen theater into seven small theaters in the hope of attracting more business. After several short-term, unprofitable ownerships, the Madison closed without warning on Aug. 22, 2003. A small sign in the window advertised the building’s for-sale status to the crowd of hopeful moviegoers that had lined up outside.

In the wake of the theater’s closing, interested buyers have been few and far between for the Madison Theater property, prompting a reduction in the asking price from $549,000 to $399,000. CVS, the pharmacy chain which has a small store adjacent to the theater, initially proposed buying the property and demolishing the theater to make way for a larger store with drive-through accessibility. Their initial proposal was denied by the city due to zoning issues, much to the relief of local residents who feared the added traffic and aesthetic effects such a move would bring about.

“That whole block would become one big parking lot,” said Worden, noting the large parking lot that already lies between the street and the Price Chopper supermarket on the same stretch of Madison Avenue.

The College of St. Rose, which hosted Tuesday night’s event, had also expressed some initial interest in purchasing the theater, but has since backed off, instead favoring a cooperative relationship (providing parking for moviegoers or business students for theater interns) with the future owner. After sending in architects to evaluate the potential uses for the theater, the college determined that “the best use of the theater is exactly that—a theater,” said St. Rose president Mark Sullivan.

Despite that assertion, an “idea generation” session that followed the facts-and-figures portion of Tuesday night’s event yielded some interesting suggestions for the Madison’s future role in the neighborhood.

“Whatever goes in there next has to be successful,” said Anne Savage, emcee for the night and another FOTM member, “because we’ve had two quick failures, and need to prove that the theater is worth saving.”

During the hourlong public comment period, several speakers recommended new businesses for the old theater building, such as a bookstore or indoor market. Several city and county officials present for the whole event (Mayor Jerry Jennings made an appearance, but vanished shortly after shaking some hands and posing for pictures) shared their own memories of the theater, and Albany Councilwoman Shawn Morris (Ward 7) proposed making the theater into a work and exhibition space for local artists, citing the building’s high ceilings and large, open interior. One of the evening’s speakers even proposed moving the local library into the theater.

The majority of the night’s suggestions, however, seemed to echo Sullivan’s appraisal of the theater and its role, focusing on arrangements for the building that would let it remain, at heart, a theater. While one speaker, a graduate student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, argued that genre nights (western, war, etc) could become the theater’s “niche,” others argued for mixed-use arrangements such as dinner-and-a-movie or theater-pub combinations. FOTM has done a hefty amount of research about other cities that have been successful with such ventures in their own historic theaters.

Some of the night’s discussion even centered on possible uses for the four retail spots that fall on either side of the theater’s main entrance, with many citing the need for a non-chain coffee shop in the neighborhood.

And though the event’s organizers and participants clearly considered the night a success, questions remain as to what level of influence the FOTM and local residents’ recommendations will have on the eventual property owner’s plans. Ann MacAffer, the CB Richard Ellis real estate agent charged with marketing the property, said she appreciates the FOTM members’ efforts in publicizing the property, but the seller’s primary concern is finding a qualified buyer as soon as possible, not preserving a local landmark.

“Sure, I’m hoping [the FOTM] find a buyer for the property,” said MacAffer, “but at the same time, I can’t not market it to someone they don’t like.”

—Rick Marshall


overheard:“Oh my God, look! We have these at home!”

—a woman responding to a Community Underground Arts installation involving several dozen models of dead babies.

photo:Teri Currie

Just a Hint of the Cold

The Homeless Action Committee held its 12th annual Sleep-a-thon in Albany’s Townsend Park last Friday (March 4). Around 120 participants—including several city and county representatives, local religious congregations and their leaders, and social service employees—spent at least an hour each in the park, with 18 people spending the entire night. More than $15,000 was raised for the HAC’s housing program and outreach van from pledges and donations from passersby, as pictured.



Loose Ends

Former Albany Police Cmdr. Christian D’Alessandro’s $6 million lawsuit for wrongful termination against the city of Albany [“Getting Down to Facts,” Newsfront, July 15, 2004] got underway this week with depositions from Mayor Jerry Jennings, former Police Chief Robert Wolfgang, former Public Safety Commissioner John C. Nielsen, and city treasurer Betty Barnette. The timing couldn’t have been more awkward for the city, with current police Chief James Turley having just admitted that he lied about attempts to track down a mole in the police department who leaked information to the media. As the police department comes under public scrutiny once again, the Coalition for Accountable Police and Government has resurfaced and continues to call on Albany’s Common Council to further investigate such abuses of power. . . . A 20-year-old Ravena man was arrested for “theft of services” last month after police claimed to have discovered him connecting to a neighbor’s wireless Internet signal. The arrest is one of the first of its kind in the region, and may be a sign of things to come as the Capital Region marches toward a wireless future [“No Wires Attached,” Feb. 17, 2005].

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