home country, half a world away: Fahima Vorgetts speaks
at St. Rose in Albany
the war in Afghanistan escalates, an Afghan activist comes
to Albany to discuss her home country
Vorgetts, an Afghan-American peace activist and women’s-rights
advocate, came to Albany this Tuesday—exactly a week after
Obama’s polarizing announcement that he will be sending 30,000
more American troops into Afghanistan during the first months
of 2010—to speak about the implications of United States foreign
policy on women living in that region.
Vorgetts spoke at several venues in the area, including the
College of Saint Rose and the Unitiarian Universalist Society
Vorgetts, who grew up in Afghanistan during the 1960s and
’70s, got involved with women’s rights at the age of 10, when
she became aware of the difference in freedoms available to
herself and her brother. Even though the Afghan Constitution
granted civil rights to women in 1969 and allowed them to
run for public offices, Vorgetts and her friends often discussed
the inequalities that still existed between their mothers
and fathers, especially in the more religious families. As
notable as those inequalities were at the time, she said,
they are nothing compared with injustices that Afghan women
are experiencing today.
said that she believes that U.S. funding of Muslim fundamentalist
leaders during the Cold War led directly to 9/11 and to the
current situation in Afghanistan.
supported the wrong people in Afghanistan. We created our
own enemies,” she said. “We supported thousands of madrasas,
gave them weapons, and told them to go fight the infidels.”
When the Soviet Union dissolved, she said, the “fundamentalists,
warlords and drug dealers” that had been supported, trained
and armed by the United States and others against communist
influence came into power, setting civil rights back 100 years.
The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 at the behest
of that country’s newly Marxist government, to help protect
it against constant attacks from the local mujahideen (militant
Islamists), which had evolved into a civil war, she said.
In response, the administrations of Jimmy Carter and Ronald
Reagan, along with Saudi Arabia, the People’s Republic of
China, Iran, and several Western European countries financed
and armed militant Islamist forces against the Soviet occupation.
Support of the mujahideen became official foreign policy under
the Reagan Doctrine, which committed the United States to
supporting anti-Soviet movements across the globe.
Vorgetts fled Afghanistan at age 24, during the Soviet invasion.
At that time, she said, women enjoyed far greater freedoms
than they do now. The Marxist government supported women’s
rights and, while they still had less freedom in religious
households, women were allowed to hold office, attend school
and work outside of the home. When the mujahideen (many of
whom went on to form Al Qaeda and the Taliban) came to power
in the ’90s, Vorgetts said, they used religion against women
in much the same way that they had been trained to use it
against the infidels. They denied them education, occupation
and freedom of dress. Rapes, abduction and forced marriage
skyrocketed. Women became afraid to leave their homes.
The equal-rights law remains in the Afghan Constitution, but
few judges will uphold the law. “Violators are not being punished,
there is no legal protection,” said Vorgetts. “People have
said that they would support the Afghan women, but this has
not really happened.”
Vorgetts said that she believes a continued U.S. military
presence will only exacerbate problems that have been convulsing
the country for years, ever since extensive oil reserves in
northern Turkmenistan made the region globally significant.
She estimated that only 10 percent of Taliban members actually
believe the fundamentalist rhetoric, and that the other 90
percent have joined in angry retaliation against U.S. military
have 92 first cousins,” she said. “First cousins. Now, if
one of those cousins was one of the innocent civilians killed
by U.S. troops, I would be angry. And so would 90 other people.
Some of them might even fight back.”
Comparing the war in Afghanistan to the Vietnam War, Vorgetts
said that the situation is essentially the same.
say if we leave, there will be chaos. But we are there, and
there is chaos. So why not leave?” She said she believes that,
if the United States truly wants to help the people of Afghanistan,
the government should withdraw the weapons and send in teachers,
doctors and engineers. “Peace cannot be brought by the army
and the military mind,” she asserted. “And we need to work
Raising funds through speaking engagements and the sales of
Afghan crafts, Vorgetts has raised enough money to build five
schools, two clinics, 15 clean water wells and 22 irrigation
systems, and put together hundreds of literacy and computer
classes. She has also gained the support and respect of many
Afghan men, who help to build the classrooms and teach students.
Saying that it is her “passion and life’s work is to reclaim
and rebuild Afghanistan so that women can be free and equal,
and can live a life of dignity, literacy, and financial stability.”
Vorgetts is the director of the Afghan Women’s Fund and an
advisor to Women for Afghan Women, a grassroots organization
based here in New York state.
County battles over layoffs in a tough budget year
is that the budget that we adopted wasn’t even a balanced
budget,” said Albany County Legislator Chris Higgins (D-Albany).
“We are asking everyone in the county and in this country
to tighten their belts and make tougher decisions. At the
same time, we in government are unwilling to do that.”
On Monday night, the Albany County Legislature passed, by
27 to 12, a budget that included a 5.9 percent tax increase
and restored many of the 109 layoffs that Albany County Executive
Michael Breslin had originally proposed. Seventy-four of those
proposed layoffs were targeted for the county nursing home,
which has been the focus of a long-standing battle between
Breslin, who wants to move the county away from institutional
care for the elderly and disabled, and the legislative majority,
which wants to build a new home.
Higgins broke with the majority of Democrats in the legislature,
voting no on the budget. He said that he was concerned that
the budget didn’t go far enough to balance the budget by stripping
costs in the way of jobs. “I hate to say it, but there probably
should have been some layoffs in the budget, to keep the county
on sure footing.”
was a very difficult budget, because you are damned if you
do, and damned if you don’t,” said Richard Mendick (R-Selkirk),
who also voted against the spending plan. “Going forward,
we have a very tough fiscal situation not only this year,
but a significantly dire situation in 2011.” Part of Mendick’s
concern is that the legislature has dipped into budget reserves
“to the tune of eight million dollars.”
Further, Mendick said the he sees significant concerns facing
the county in 2011. Specifically, the $9.2 million in stimulus
money that was accounted for in this budget will be gone.
“And that is only one of several major items. The pension
costs will probably increase. There will be a significant
increase in health care. And there is money coming from the
state that will drop by four million dollars.”
He estimated that in the 2011 budget, there will be approximately
$20 million of additional deficit.
isn’t about the future; we are in dire straights now,” said
John Rodat, commissioner of Albany County Department of Management
and Budget. “[Albany County] is an operation that operates
at a more than a half- billion dollars a year, and there have
been weeks this year when we’ve had, in cash, less than four
million. That’s a rounding error. We’ve been juggling cash
all year. We have no margin for error. None.”
Sales-tax revenues are down substantially this year, he said.
“As we look down the road, well of course we’re going to take
a hit from the state. With the budget the county executive
submitted, we tried to take all of that into account. Economic
circumstances have driven us to a cliff. And although it personally
pained the county executive to propose layoffs, he did, to
at least turn the wheel so that we parallel the cliff. But
the idea was, until there is an economic recovery worth noting,
we’ll try to dance along that edge. What the legislature did
is turn us back toward the cliff and arguably accelerate.”
The legislature did allow some layoffs and included some new
ones, he said, but “more than half of the legislature’s changes
rely on one-shot monies—use of reserves—and once those are
gone, they don’t come back immediately.”
are probably right,” said Legislator Gil Ethier (D-Cohoes),
about impending economic catastrophes. “But my concern is
the 2010 budget.” Ethier voted in favor of the budget, pointing
out that the budget only slightly increased an already low
tax levy. A $100,000 home in Cohoes currently pays $500 a
year in county taxes. Now, the same house will pay around
an extra $25.
For Cohoes legislator Shawn Morse, a Democrat, this budget
succeeded in balancing demand with tight fiscal constraints.
“One of the things that is unique about county government
is that it was created to provide for those people who cannot
provide for themselves. We take care of the seniors, people
who cannot take care of themselves, children who have been
abandoned. We are the social-safety network for the people
who are in the most dire need for the most basic resources
what happens during these difficult times? People fall into
the most hard-luck spots of their lives,” Morse said. “When
these people turn to the government that is supposed to provide
these services, what are we supposed to tell them? ‘Sorry,
these are difficult times so we don’t have these services,
so you people just have to go to church and pray that you
hit the lottery?’ ”
Breslin’s office told Metroland that they are still
reviewing the legislature’s changes to the budget, and haven’t
decided whether or not to use their veto power.
Of course, even if Breslin does veto the spending plan, with
27 legislators supporting the budget, the legislature could
simply override a veto.
have no doubt that Breslin is considering vetoing portions
of this budget,” Higgins said. “And quite frankly, to be a
responsible county executive I don’t see how you can’t. But
I’ll tell you what, Breslin is going to get the last laugh.
Reality is we are looking at huge hole. You can’t save jobs
every year without raising the property tax levy 10 percent,
20 percent. That’s what is going to happen. This government
is not sustainable on the property tax levy that we set.”
students join the fight for community policing in Albany
than 30 University at Albany students packed into the chambers
of the Albany Common Council for Monday’s night meeting. The
effort, organized by UAlbany sophomore Sam Frumkin, aimed
to demonstrate to lawmakers that, as Albany searches for its
next police chief, the students see the adoption of a community-policing
model as a top priority.
Mayor Jerry Jennings is currently searching to replace former
Police Chief James Tuffey, the mayor’s fifth chief during
his 16-year tenure. Under Chief Tuffey’s watch, the city moved
away from the utilization of beat cops and community outreach
efforts. The department closed two police precincts and began
relying more heavily on computer modeling of crime statistics.
Many members of the community have decried this strategy,
saying that it has robbed neighborhoods of their healthy relationships
with the Albany PD.
last year’s elections, it was a constant refrain among candidates
for the Common Council, as well as Jennings’ mayoral challenger,
Corey Ellis: To reverse the alarming trend of violence that
plagues much of Albany, the city must change the strategy,
and leadership, of the APD.
violence has not spared the university or the believed-to-be-safe
neighborhoods where many of its students live: Last October,
UAlbany student Richard Bailey was shot and killed while walking
home in the Pine Hills neighborhood, across from Washington
who volunteers at Achievement Academy Charter School and is
studying to be an elementary school teacher, was first introduced
to the issues surrounding Albany’s gun violence by Rev. Joyce
Hartwell, a longtime local activist, during a class assignment.
immediately clear that the time had come to do something.
It was time for students to get involved. And the time had
come for the whole city to do whatever it takes to put an
end to the gun violence that is spiraling out of control,”
started a petition, calling for community policing, and took
it around the UAlbany campus, going to organizations, classes
and his friends, telling them that “to fight gun violence
we need community policing. We need a new police chief who
is going to work with the people in the neighborhoods, to
maintain public safety.”
night, he presented the council with more than 500 signatures.
his call to action, Frumkin said, he spoke extensively with
longtime community-policing advocate Terry O’Neill. Frumkin
pointed to Albany Common Councilwoman Barbara Smith (Ward
4) as a mentor in this process, as well as Dr. Alice Green.
Green, the founder of the Center of Law and Justice, is serving
on the advisory committee established by Jennings to aid his
search for a new chief.
is impressed by Frumkin and the students who turned out Monday.
“I haven’t seen student engagement like this in a long time.”
She added that it is critical that the community rally now,
when there is such a significant chance for change.
is focusing on finals this week, and will be returning home
to Ithaca for the holidays, but he said that his activism
in this issue will extend into next semester.
to get this action into the mindset of every large group on
campus,” Frumkin said. “We have several hundred members of
the on-campus NAACP. We have several members of our on-campus
Latino organization. We have a strong college Democrats organization.
And I know that they care about this issue. There is no reason
we can’t turn out several hundred students to demand for this.”
loose ends this week-