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Calling Clinton

Women Against War would like a word with its junior senator


Ask a member of Women Against War about the group’s hope to meet with Sen. Hillary Clinton, and you will be politely but firmly corrected.

“We’re framing it always that we would like her to meet with us,” said member Maureen Aumand, a librarian from Colonie.

Aumand and her colleagues in Women Against War—a coalition of antiwar women in the Capital Region—would like to present Clinton with what they consider the growing body of evidence about the harmful effects of the war on the Iraqi citizenry and economy. They want to urge her to take a stance against the U.S. occupation. They say they would just like her to listen to their comments.

They could be waiting a while. They aren’t quite to the point of producing the Capital Region’s version of Roger & Me, in which filmmaker Michael Moore chronicles his constantly thwarted efforts to connect with the one-time president of General Motors. But the senator and her staff have so far dodged any meetings with Women Against War, and Clinton’s avoidance has, if anything, made the group all the more determined to get Clinton’s notice.

“We know that it’s complex, but we want her to hear this perspective,” Aumand said.

In the latest almost-encounter, Tracey Brooks—Clinton’s regional representative for Albany—agreed to attend a meeting of Women Against War. “Tracey Brooks, plans to join us on June 2 to gain a sense of what sets WAW apart as a group of possible help to the Senator . . . Tracey will not speak. . .” read the group’s meeting announcement to its members. Two days before the June 2 meeting, however, Brooks sent an e-mail to organizers telling them that a schedule change would prevent her from attending.

The 19 women who showed up expecting to speak with Brooks were not easily deterred. They had already procured a video camera to record the meeting, so they decided to record individual messages to Clinton about the war and send the tape to her.

One by one, 13 of the 19 women at the meeting sat in front of the camera, introduced themselves, and talked. Most of them directed their remarks to Clinton, expressing horror at the daily violence in Iraq and appealing to her in simple, unrehearsed statements to be more responsive to groups who object to the U.S. occupation there. Several alluded to Clinton’s status as a mother and a woman in asking her to be more responsive to antiwar groups and in explaining their focus on her.

“My message to you is that we are only a few of the many, many who feel this way,” said member Mabel Leon.

“If you truly think that it takes a village to raise a child, what do you think that we’re teaching our children now?” Jeanne Finley asked Clinton.

Clinton and Sen. Charles Schumer, as well as 20 of New York’s 31 members of the House of Representatives, supported the resolution in October 2002 that authorized President Bush to use military force in Iraq against former dictator Saddam Hussein. Since then, Clinton has criticized both the way Bush conducted the invasion and the administration’s lack of preparation for the insurgency that followed, but she has stood by her vote and since stated that the United States needs to send more troops, and has never aligned herself with the antiwar movement.

Nina Blackwell, Clinton’s spokeswoman in New York City, returned an initial call from Metroland after the meeting to obtain details about the videotape, with a promise that a comment from Clinton’s office would be forthcoming. She did not reply to repeated subsequent messages seeking the promised comment.

The ongoing effort to get Clinton to meet with Women Against War is just one of many projects the group has undertaken since forming in December 2002. In the group’s inaugural event, dozens of women dressed in black gathered in the well of the Legislative Office Building to protest the imminent United States invasion of Iraq. They then started a three-month protest in the Women’s Building in Albany, in which volunteers from the group rotated fasting for 24 hours at a time throughout the three months.

Since then, Women Against War has organized talks about the war, participated in larger antiwar protests, and held solidarity events with Muslim women in the Capital Region. Last February, several dozen members of Women Against War gathered outside of the Desmond Hotel and Conference Center, where Clinton was appearing at a function, and appealed to her to acknowledge them. (She did not.)

Most recently, the group has organized a public forum on the effects of the war on public health in Iraq, which will take place today (June 9) at Albany Medical College. The program is co-sponsored by a number of public-health organizations and social-justice groups in the Capital Region, and will feature talks by Richard Garfield, who helped write a widely publicized report on the estimated number of civilian deaths in Iraq during the war, and Cathy Breen, a nurse and activist who has visited Iraq a number of times to gather information on public health issues there during the occupation.

All this, even though Women Against War has never elected officers or a governing board, has never registered for nonprofit status and has operated on bare-bones funding, usually raising just enough money for each event it sponsors through outside donations and contributions from its own members. The original group of about 20 women now stands at about 200 on an e-mail list. Monthly meetings usually draw at least a couple dozen members.

“It actually is a wonderful organization, in its ability to keep generating projects and a presence in the community, with what we call a shared mothering of projects,” said founding member Maud Easter.

For now, Women Against War plans to continue participating in and organizing events in the Capital Region. Easter said the members can’t imagine disbanding before the U.S. occupation in Iraq is over, and they see a continued role if the U.S. policy in Iraq expands to other parts of the world.

In the meantime, that videotape is heading to Clinton.

Said Aumand, “We’re really serious in our goal of wanting to talk to her.”

—Darryl McGrath

What a Week

It Couldn’t Have Happened to a Wealthier Guy

Microsoft founder Bill Gates was denied a meeting with Brazil’s president to discuss the country’s recent switch from Microsoft products to open-source Linux technology. In switching to the more inexpensive and modification-friendly technology, the country has been able to wire everything from its major cities to outlying shantytowns, and Brazilian diplomats have begun encouraging other developing countries to make a similar change.

Are We Surprised?

New York state lawmakers should put graduation plans on hold, at least according to the Interim Report Card on Reform issued by a coalition of good government groups. Of the 10 areas in which lawmakers were graded, including lobbying, ethics, and campaign-finance reform, the state received an “incomplete” in eight, which will be converted to F’s if lawmakers are unable to reach an agreement before the legislative session’s conclusion on June 23.

But I Want a Parking Spot Now, Daddy!

At Monday’s meeting of the Albany Common Council, members voted unanimously to ask the state Legislature to reserve around 3,000 of the 9,000 curbside parking spots within a mile of the Empire State Plaza for local residents. The two major state employees’ unions, the Civil Service Employees Association and the Public Employees Federation, said that, as usual, they would oppose the proposed two-year trial system. The unions wouldn’t specify how many parking spots their members actually need or what (if any) compromise they’d be willing to consider, leading councilman James Scalzo to say the unions don’t care about local residents.

Yellow Ribbons and Confused People

Schenectady City Council member Joseph Allen recently said he doesn’t think Muslim clerics invited to perform the opening prayer for the council’s meetings should be allowed to address the council about religion- or war-related issues during the public-comment period. The councilman added that he believes the United States is fighting a war against Islam, not international terrorists, echoing the sentiment of Karen Maioriello, a Scotia woman who criticized the council two weeks ago for allowing Islamic opening prayers. The city’s other council members have offered little criticism of Allen’s remarks.

As nature intended: Kate Maunz and her son Dorje in Hooters.

photo:Alicia Solsman

Would You Like to See the Kids’ Menu?

Breastfeeding moms from the region gather for a chat about nursing—in an unlikely venue

The group of seven women, four with nursing babies, were cheerful, but a just a tad uncomfortable. After all, most of them had never been in a Hooters before. “I knew about the tops, but I hadn’t heard about the bottoms . . .” one said, shaking her head as a round of chicken caesar salads arrived.

The outing, last Wednesday (June 1) at dinnertime, was inspired by today’s signing at the Book House by Barbara L. Behrmann, author of The Breastfeeding Café. Behrmann compiled the book, which is based on first-person stories of hundreds of mothers, after her own difficult experience starting to breastfeed. “Parenting books and magazines are quick to give advice and information but sometimes what women need most is support, understanding and a window into the day-to-day reality of nursing and nurturing our children,” she writes, advocating that nursing mothers seek out others to share their stories with.

For the most part the stories shared at the Crossgates Mall Hooters were positive. Unlike previous generations when breastfeeding was less common, these mothers had experienced little negative reaction to breastfeeding in public, though one’s sister had recently been told at a restaurant to go nurse in the bathroom. (“Not until I see you eating your lunch in the bathroom,” was her reply.)

Kate Maunz, of Albany, said that it was sad that the most distressed looks she gets when nursing in public tend to be from adolescent girls. Megan Schmidt-Root, also of Albany, added that she often has to explain what she’s doing to young kids who have never seen breastfeeding. Many told of in-laws or grandparents getting impatient for them to wean kids older than six months.

Though the country’s attitude toward breastfeeding has improved markedly, there’s a ways to go in many circles. It was only 2002 when a Peruvian couple in Texas were arrested for child pornography because they had taken a picture of their child breastfeeding. Though the charges were dropped, it took them five months to get their children back.

Holding a discussion like this in a Hooters was an idea that had been rattling around Betsy Mercogliano’s head for a long time. Mercogliano, an Albany midwife whose kids are grown, said she “just wanted to know what it would feel like.”

“Let’s show them what boobs are made for,” joked Mary Maley, of Glens Falls, who sported a T-shirt that said “Would you like to see the kid’s menu?” “We feel our breastfeeding rate is so low partly because kids aren’t taught it’s natural,” she added, saying that the oversexualization of breasts made them seem to be only about sexuality.

If the group comes back, Maley said she might make a “Breastfeeding—the real Hooters experience” shirt.

“How about ‘My kid doesn’t like bottles, he prefers jugs’?” chimed in Andria Wagner of North Greenbush.

Although the rates of breastfeeding have been rising steadily in the United States for decades, they still lag far behind most other industrialized nations and target rates set by national health organizations. Only roughly 20 percent of mothers are still breastfeeding at six months. These rates concern health officials because breastfeeding strengthens’ children’s immune systems and substantially lowers their risks for many health problems—from ear infections to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Though the hostesses looked a little bemused as the group first settled in, Hooters was basically welcoming. The servers brought high chairs, cooed over the babies, and made no fuss when the nursing started.

Mercogliano did point out that when she visited with Maunz a few days earlier to scope out whether the group could expect any problems, their server kept asking if Maunz’s nursing son wanted any juice or cereal, and had to be repeatedly told that he was getting all the nutrition he needed. It was well-intentioned, she said, but emblematic of some of the misunderstandings that still abound.

—Miriam Axel-Lute


Come together: between workshops at the Northeast Peace and Justice Action Conference.

Spreading the Peace and Justice

Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace reaches out to fellow activists

Last weekend, the Sage Colleges of Albany campus center played host to the first Northeast Peace and Justice Action Conference. About 175 people in shirts plastered with slogans like “Give Peace a Chance” and “Big campaign contributions are big bribes” filled up the auditorium.

The conference, which was endorsed by 20 New York groups including the Dutchess Greens, Women Against War and the Saratoga Peace Alliance, was attended by members of more than 30 peace organizations. Attendees separated into discussion workshops on topics from clean elections to nonviolence training to opposing selective service.

The most striking feature of the event was that it was organized by a member of a local peace organization that was itself born in a town in which the government had been under Republican control for the past 100 years. “It started as a few of us meeting in the Perfect Blend coffee house on the four corners in Delmar,” said Joe Lombardo, founding member of the Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace and organizer of the conference. According to Lombardo, the group officially took shape the January before the start of the Iraq war. “We had 130 people turn out for a vigil the very next week.”

“People just came out of the woodwork,” said Sandra Sprinkling, BNP member. In the November 2003 elections, Bethlehem was swept by what seems to be a new liberal majority, that put Democrats in control of the town for the first time in 100 years. Since its start, BNP has held weekly vigils, hosted speakers such as Kathy Kelly of Voices in the Wilderness and former weapons inspector Scott Ritter, started a high-school organization for teenagers who oppose the war and petitioned the Bethlehem town government to pass a resolution against the Patriot Act. The group currently has a paper membership of over 500 people.

After what its membership certainly saw as a disappointing outcome in November’s elections, some expected interest to fall off, but that didn’t happen. “We actually had a spike of interest in January. Some of the older people who are with us and have been doing this for a long time have slowed down, but we have seen a spike in new people who are just getting active,” said Lombardo.

It helps, perhaps, that the group avoided the split a lot of activist organizations faced after choosing a candidate to support. “We have long-term focus. One of the reasons we didn’t see the fracturing other groups have is that we established there would be no endorsements to start with,” said Lombardo. “We said if you want to back a candidate, go ahead. Get involved.”

University at Albany Professor Lawrence Wittner, who led a workshop on abolishing nuclear arms, says upstate New York is unique in the number of activist groups it is home to. This can lead to overlap. According to the Northeast Peace and Justice Action Coalition motivation statement, crafted by Lombardo, the purpose of the conference was to link peace and justice organizations in the area. Instead of having each group invest individually in committees to deal with issues such as depleted uranium or recruiters in schools, the idea was to instead form larger coalitions and to pool resources.

Coalition building isn’t always easy work. The nine participants in the workshop on clean elections, who sat around a long rectanglar table with notes in front of them, used much of their time clamoring to be heard, giving long diatribes on their pet topics and speaking out of turn. Each member made it clear that they thought no other issue could be dealt with properly until there are clean elections, but it was also clear none of them had enough time to deal with such a large issue themselves. However, early on Monday morning members of the group did begin e-mailing each other to continue their discussions.

Twenty-three-year-old Peter LaVenia, the chair of the Albany County Green Party, led a workshop on how to run your own campaign that was one of the few workshops attended by many younger activists. His workshop featured some of the most open dialogue of the day. Participants lounged in a study area near windows as they listened to LaVenia’s advice. They shot ideas back and forth in an open atmosphere. Some participants discussed ways to run an efficient independent campaign; others discussed which candidates to support.

Most workshops of the day ended with members asking what more they could do, whose attention they could get, which congress member they could write to. Some group leaders handed out sign up sheets, and e-mail lists. Others suggested marches to attend. Whether the interactions of the region’s various peace groups will be lastingly changed remains to be seen.

Although the workshops did have some 20- to 30-somethings in attendance, most of them were attended by middle-age white men and women. The lack of a youth presence was one of the only disappointments of the day for Lombardo, who had hoped his group’s offshoot in Bethlehem High School would motivate more youth to attend the event.

But according to Sprinkling, the lack of high-school age youth was not that alarming, since, she reported, “the Bethlehem junior and senior proms are this weekend.”

—David King

Loose Ends

Jagat Patel has opened the doors of his new independent pharmacy [“A Dose of Suburbia,” Sept. 23, 2004], Crestwood Pharmacy, in the former Crestwood Market on Picotte Drive in Albany. Patel, who has been working at Lincoln Pharmacy on Morton Avenue, says independent pharmacies have the flexibility to provide a personal connection that the chains can’t maintain. . . . Jeffrey Metcalfe, the Albany police officer who was convicted of overtime fraud last year [“Who’s Policing the Police?” May 5], was sentenced to six months in jail last week by County Judge Stephen W. Herrick. Herrick chastised Metcalfe for calling the charges “my mistake.” “This isn’t a mistake,” he said. “Thirty incidents are alleged in this indictment.” . . . Save the Ballet dissolved last Thursday, donating $37,000 it had raised to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The activist group formed last year after SPAC said it would not continue the New York City Ballet’s summer residencies [“Don’t Stop the Dance,” Art Murmur, March 11, 2004]. After much controversy over financial practices, the whole board and the executive director of SPAC resigned. . . . Emergency services for Union College cost Schenectady more than $500,000 last year, according to Mayor Brian Stratton. Stratton recently renewed his call [“Find Me the Money,” Newsfront, Aug. 26, 2004] for the tax-exempt college—one of Schenectady’s largest property owners—to kick in some money to defray city expenses, in this case via a specific public-safety fee. . . . The New York Jets will not get their new stadium in Manhattan, as the state Public Authorities Control Board rejected a plan that would earmark $300 million in public funding for the $2 billion West Side Stadium project. Controversy has surrounded the project since it was first proposed [“Fourth and Goal for $300 Million,” What a Week, May 19], with wealthy investors promising financial success but calling for significant financial support from the state’s taxpayers. With the project’s dismissal, New York City becomes a less-likely host for the 2012 Olympics.

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