from the peace march on Washington, D.C.
on a second,” said Joe Seeman, juggling phone calls. Back
again: “OK. We’ve just added a fifth bus.” This was last Thursday,
as he helped coordinate the Albany contingent. By Friday,
as that bus filled and no others were to be found, he was
inviting protesters to show up at the departure point in downtown
Albany and form carpools.
This was Janet Vinyard’s plan. Her spontaneous decision to
travel came too late to secure a seat on an Albany bus, so
she and three others—family and friend—were ready to do the
driving when they found seats on one of the Kingston buses.
“The last time I did this,” said Vinyard, who lives in the
Montgomery County town of Sprakers, “I was protesting the
on the mall: activists protest a pending U.S. invasion
Photos by B.A. Nilsson (left) and
Shannon DeCelle (right).
from Columbia and Berkshire counties filled three buses; there
were buses from Cobleskill and New Paltz as well. Think of
any significant city across the state, and there probably
were bus trips departing during Saturday’s frigid wee hours;
nobody yet has coordinated the numbers to determine how many
New Yorkers in all made the trip. But if it looked like most
of Vermont was on the Capitol Mall, that’s no surprise: 22
buses left the Green Mountain State.
I drove in with my family the day before and stayed in an
inexpensive hotel in Falls Church, Va. During our morning
metro ride to the Capitol, we sat near some sign-wielding
people who had just arrived from North Carolina. Their trip
was coordinated by their church, and their buses were parked
at an affiliated church in suburban D.C. “We’re Christian,
and maybe even fundamentalist,” explained one of the protesters,
“but we don’t like to be identified with the kind of fundamentalist
who supports George W. Bush.”
are people who oppose things like taking care of the poor,”
said another, “which doesn’t seem very Christian to me. How
can a true Christian support Republican values these days?”
The walk from any Capitol-proximate metro station takes you
by some of the imposing-looking buildings that concretely
suggest the imposing nature of the federal government; as
we neared the Capitol, and I asked a Connecticut-based protester
to pose with his sign, we were chased by a security guard
who said we were too close to Capitol grounds, where no signs
Saturday’s rally and march in Washington, D.C., was coordinated
by International A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War & End
Racism), a coalition founded in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks
and spearheaded by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark,
who was one of 40 speakers and musicians whose pronouncements
thundered across the Mall during the late morning.
Others included U.S. Representative John Conyers (D-Michigan),
Rev. Jesse Jackson, Ron Kovic, who recounted his Vietnam experience
in his book Born on the Fourth of July, Rev. Al Sharpton,
British MP Michael Benn and actresses Jessica Lange and Tyne
As each speaker finished a brief presentation, more busloads
of people arrived. And arrived. And arrived, easily filling
the block between 3rd and 4th streets, and then swelling the
lawn west of 4th Street back toward the next intersection,
at 7th. With the Capitol in front of us and the Washington
Monument behind, the sky a crisp, clear blue, it couldn’t
have been more picturesque. And with so much American history
enshrined in the museums and galleries that flanked the rally,
it was easier than ever to hope that another significant page
in history was being inscribed.
It was a day of pleasant moments, big and small. I explored
the Mall, exchanging where-are-you-froms with strangers, regretting
that I hadn’t packed a snack, when a pair of young men hauling
garbage bags ambled by. “Bagels!” they shouted. “Muffins!
Bread!” I was given a bagel. I asked the fee.
fee? The fee is that you came here today. Bagels! Muffins!”
On the speakers’ platform, Moonanum James of the United American
Indians of New England drew cheers by observing that “for
the next few hours, at least, we have no war.” Simplistic
as it sounded, it reinforced the senses of hope and solidarity
that allowed so many people to politely share a comparatively
small amount of space.
A New York Times reporter observed “a swelling
crowd, packed densely to stave off the winter winds,” ignoring
the fact that proximity was dictated by space, and that folks
hardly were breathing down one another’s necks.
As the crowd began to move along the march route, we bottlenecked
onto Independence Avenue, fitting many streams into the few
that could fit abreast. I’d had a similar experience with
vehicles the day before on the New Jersey Turnpike, but this,
by contrast, was an essay in good spirits and politeness.
And as we gained a slight hill near the Jefferson Memorial,
I turned to see if I could locate the end of the line. I was
looking at a half-mile stretch with a slight uphill; at the
back of it was an unbroken thicket of sign-wielding bodies
still surging off the Mall.
We walked with a few from the Albany contingent. Joe Quandt,
an activist from Troy who visited Baghdad late last year,
said he now has faces to add to what before was only a matter
of conscience. “The Iraqi people I met have got to be the
friendliest, most welcoming on Earth,” he said. “They know
most Americans oppose a war. They know it’s just this crazy
administration. But the war has already been going on for
years in the form of sanctions. Thousands of kids are dying
every month. That’s why I’m marching.”
A pair of marchers from Massachusetts walked on stilts in
giant Uncle Sam outfits; a group of drummers kept up a syncopated
rhythm on empty water-cooler bottles. It was a carnival, a
celebration so heartfelt that the cold air was easy to ignore.
NY: No War,” read a sign held by a Ed McCorry as he stood
in the Pennsylvania Avenue median. He explained that he never
bothered to find out about the buses—he hopped into his car
and drove down for the event.
Turning down 8th Street en route to the Washington Navy Yard,
we passed through a residential neighborhood. The sun hung
low in the sky, and colder winds began poking through. Any
open eatery was packed with the hungry. Pizza Bolis was sending
out cheese pizzas ($5.50 for an eight-cut, no price gouging
here) as fast as they could make them. “Our best day ever,
I think,” one of the employees told me later. “I don’t how
many pies we sold, but we usually do about 300 in takeout
on a Saturday, and this was way, way more than that.”
A gaggle of buses began to flank the sides of New Jersey Avenue,
the pickup place for everyone at the end of the march, and
good spirits still prevailed as the mad search for the right
coach commenced. The Albany people established a rendezvous
corner at 2nd and K and reflected on the experience.
real pleased with the turnout,” said Tom Catchpole, who was
last here for the Inauguration protest in 2001. “And this
time, everybody’s watching,” added John Pagoda. “I like the
fact that there are demonstrations going on worldwide right
It was a natural move for Julie Belles, who won a share of
local notoriety when she was thrown out of Crossgates Mall
for wearing a shirt that displayed a peace message. “It’s
absolutely incredible here,” she said. “So energizing and
While many of the protesters have been active for many years,
this demonstration seems to have attracted more than its share
of first-timers. “I’ve never done anything like this before,”
said Karen Campbell. “Washington’s a cool place, and I’m opposed
to just about all of Bush’s policies. I’m sure I’ll be back.”
the People Lead
New York state ready for initiative and referendum?
groups throughout New York would like to see Gov. George E.
Pataki back up his words from the State of the State address
asking the Legislature to give the state’s voters the power
of initiative and referendum.
Currently, voters in 24 states have the power of initiative
or referendum or both, processes that give citizens direct
power to change the laws that govern them. Voters with the
power of initiative can collect signatures and petition their
government to hold a vote to create new laws or to amend ones
already on the books. In 2002, for example, marijuana advocates
in Nevada brought the state’s possession-of-marijuana law
to a vote through the initiative process. The process of referendum
requires a governing body, like a state Legislature or common
council, to pass a specific measure prior to a public vote.
In his State of the State address, Pataki said he wanted to
“empower voters with that fundamental right” this year, but
New Yorkers aren’t holding their breath. Pataki’s office did
not respond to inquiries about how he plans to put initiative
or referendum to use in New York.
is the same old story with him,” said Blair Horner, legislative
director for the New York Public Interest Research Group.
“He has talked the talk, but he has never taken the first
step to walk the walk.”
Groups like NYPIRG and Common Cause/NY say that is unfortunate,
because initiative and referendum are sound public policies
that give citizens the ability to correct representative governments
that misrepresent their constituencies.
positive is that you are literally giving citizens the ability
to pass their own legislation, to control their own situations,”
said Rachel Leon, executive director of Common Cause/NY. “For
New Yorkers frustrated with the dysfunction in Albany, it
could provide a forum for issues like campaign finance and
term limits—certainly citizen frustration is reflected in
Leon said sometimes voters need the powers of initiative and
referendum to reform their laws when their elected officials
won’t do it for them. She pointed to a longstanding dispute
between the voters and the state legislators in Colorado regarding
In 1996, Colorado voters passed a referendum introducing campaign-finance
reforms to its state Legislature via the initiative process.
In the following years, the Colorado Legislature took the
voter-approved amendments through the state’s court system,
effectively weakening the reforms. But last year, Colorado
voters again introduced the campaign-finance reforms through
the initiative process and presented them as constitutional
amendments that, once passed, would require voter approval
to be overturned. The measures passed 66-to-34.
is a powerful tool,” Leon said “We’ve seen this happen in
New York City, where citizens have passed publicly financed
elections three times and the council just kept trying to
overrule it. There are times where I think it really can give
people an opportunity, but there are pros and cons.”
Leon pointed out that initiative and referendum are not cure-alls
and noted that there are a number of cases nationally where
the processes have seemed like politics as usual. A recent
example was California’s Proposition 45, which set out to
overturn the state’s term-limit requirements for state legislators,
voted on in 2002. Proposition 45 was eventually voted down
58-to-42, but critics questioned the integrity of the proposition,
saying that money notably influenced the process.
According to Jim Knox, executive director of California Common
Cause, petitioners are frequently paid to solicit signatures
in California, and financial records showed that a campaign
in favor of overturning term limits was heavily funded by
legislative lobby groups.
donor list [for ‘Yes on 45’ included] interest groups that
had a lot of stake in the Capitol and were trying to curry
favor with the incumbents,” said Knox. “This wasn’t an issue
that the incumbents felt [they] could have their fingerprints
on, so all the usual suspects were headed up to fund the measure.”
But Knox stopped short of calling initiative and referendum
a corrupted process, saying the glut of special interest money
is a “mixed blessing.”
interest groups whose financial livelihood is at stake are
going to invest one way or another,” Knox said. “There just
needs to be clear financial disclosure and the public has
to be able to sort through it.”
Horner said that voters in New York would benefit if given
the power of initiative and referendum. He pointed to a study
released by his group in 1998 showing that the average voter
turnout in states with initiative and referendum, 56 percent,
was greater than in states without, 46 percent. Considering
that average voter turnout in New York from 1976 to 1996 was
44 percent and dropped to a record low of 39 percent in last
year’s gubernatorial election, Horner said giving New York
voters the power of initiative and referendum could give the
state a civic boost it desperately needs.
the public wants to pass its own law because the Legislature
is in gridlock, they should be allowed to do it,” Horner said.
“In a democracy, letting the people occasionally choose their
laws is not necessarily a bad idea.”
Race Have a Place?
the debate on affirmative action in college admissions
few days before the national holiday remembering civil-rights
activist Martin Luther King Jr., President George W. Bush
officially took sides against the use of affirmative action
in college admissions.
On Jan. 15, Bush announced that his top attorneys would file
a brief with the Supreme Court arguing in favor of four white
students who claim the admissions policy used by the University
of Michigan and its law school is discriminatory to nonminorities.
The university employs a policy that takes race into consideration
in order to create a diverse student body. Michigan uses an
admissions formula that assigns points to prospective students;
20 out of the possible 150 points are based on students’ race.
Locally, Siena College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
responded to a Metroland inquiry into their affirmative-action
A representative from Siena said the college does not employ
affirmative action in admissions, saying it views each applicant
on an individual basis. Teresa Duffy, dean of enrollment at
RPI, said the university attempts to vary its student body
based on four “broadly defined” criteria: intellectual, geographic,
gender and ethnic diversity. Duffy said the university’s enrollment
policy admittedly looks to create a diverse campus, but student
selection with that goal in mind is second to academic ability.
have specific [academic] policies that we don’t bend for anybody,”
Duffy said. “When we’re looking at prospective students, we
are looking first and foremost at a student who will thrive
Duffy said the educational background needed to attend RPI
can make meeting its goal of diversity that much more difficult.
of the things unique to [predominantly science- and technology-based]
universities like Rensselaer,” Duffy said, “is that women
and students of color are tremendously underrepresented in
the students at the high-school level that are taking advanced
science and math exams needed in order to even apply here.”
Duffy noted that the minority students often come from school
districts that don’t prepare them to attend many colleges
and universities, a point with which Mark Mishler, an Albany-based
civil-rights attorney, agrees. Mishler said many minorities
have historically been excluded from some of the privileges,
like having alumni parents or having attended prep school,
considered in college admissions. Mishler said affirmative
action is necessary since some of these considerations are
still used today.
is important to understand that people have historically been
excluded from full participation in, among other things, higher
education based on race, and that is a problem,” Mishler said.
“Part of the solution to that problem has to be to consciously
take consideration of race in order to correct what has been
a direct exclusion based on race.”
Further, Mishler said affirmative action policies are necessary
today to avoid further race- or gender-based injustice in
should take affirmative actions in regard to issues of race
and class and gender,” Mishler said. “It is a myth that what
we have in the absence of affirmative action is a system that
is based solely on merit determinable in some objective, absolute
But critics of affirmative action, like Tom Wood, who sits
on the Americans Against Discrimination and Preferences board
of directors, claim that racial considerations have no place
in college admissions. Wood said the problem with the University
of Michigan’s admission policy is that racial preferences
are the deciding factor and some students can be excluded
based on race.
you can decide in favor of an individual on the basis of nonracial
criteria, then preferences are not an issue,” Wood said. “[But]
if you can’t make the decision in favor of an individual and
you want [to admit] that individual for diversity or something
like that and you have to use race [to make that decision],
then it is by definition the deciding factor and I am opposed
To achieve the university’s goal of a diverse campus, Duffy
said RPI will continue its affirmative-action policy. Since
only 35 percent of all students admitted to RPI actually attend
the university, Duffy said admissions decisions never boil
down to having one spot open and having to decide between
admissions on the undergraduate level is a funnel process,”
Duffy said. “You have certain thousands of inquiries that
result in far fewer applications that convert to admission
that convert to a class. Anybody who says that at the undergraduate
level comes down to choosing one student or the other, college
admissions just doesn’t work that way.”
for a King
Luther King Jr. Day inspired a number of celebrations throughout
the Capital Region. Jack Landron (pictured with guitar) was
the keynote performer at the Thomas O’Brien Academy of Science
and Technology elementary school’s Martin Luther King and
Labor event with students. Landron, a civil rights activist,
actor and songwriter, was formerly Dr. King’s personal assistant.
At Monday’s event, he told stories and sang songs highlighting
King’s commitment to workers and civil rights.
March Before the March
mothers, doctors, state workers, lawyers and children marched
down State Street in Albany last Friday in a candlelight vigil
to protest a possible U.S. invasion of Iraq. The demonstrators
marched to the state Capitol, where more than 250 people converged
for a rally in which numerous speakers, singers, activists
and poets voiced their opposition to war. The event was also
a send-off rally for those traveling to Washington, D.C.,
for the national antiwar demonstration on Saturday, where
a turnout of more than 300,000 people was reported, making
it the largest war protest since the Vietnam War.