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Why must we go on hating: peace protestors in New York City. Photo by Shannon DeCelle

Peace Train Sounding Louder

Voices against war on Amtrak No. 244 to Manhattan

It was officially listed as Amtrak train number 244 to New York City, but before it left the Rensselaer station, it became the Peace Train. I hopped aboard.

As the train slowly began to roll south through the below-zero chill early last Saturday morning, more than 80 Capital Region residents settled into their seats. They temporarily peeled off layers of warm clothes brought for a day in the streets of New York City that might (with a little luck) hit a high temperature of 25 degrees. We were on our way to a massive antiwar demonstration that would ultimately flood three avenues on Manhattan’s East Side, where a diversity of humanity united to say “no” to war in Iraq.

Simple white labels with “Peace Train” typed on them were attached to plastic badges and given out by the train’s organizers to identify the group. When the conductor came through for tickets, most labels had become buried in mounds of clothes piled in the overhead luggage rack. Saying “peace” or flashing the peace sign sufficed to get the equivalent of a punched ticket. There was now little doubt that this was indeed the Peace Train. Clusters of people began to form, discussing the threat of war, what feeder march they would join up with in Manhattan, and the inventory of clothing they had layered on to stay warm in the streets. A group from the steelworkers union worked on signs. New friends were made.

While the Peace Train was organized by labor activists, those filling the seats were not exclusively union members. Terri St. George decided this would be her first demonstration and e-mailed information about the Peace Train to friends who also decided to reserve seats. St. George learned about the demonstration and train from her boss and decided to go because “I don’t trust President Bush to keep us safe and out of war.” Her boss took a bus to the rally.

Michelle Smith-Carrigan found out about the Peace Train from St. George and signed on. “I wanted to go because I feel very powerless and I feel this is one way I can at least express myself and be heard.” She added, “I hope that the rest of the world sees that not all of America wants to go and beat everybody else up.”

 

New York street scene: rallying against war in Iraq.y. Photo by Michael Lurie

“I’m here,” said Jane Pattison (another friend of St. George’s), “because I feel very strongly that the United States is moving in the wrong direction.” Sister Mary Ellen Holohan got word of the Peace Train from Pattison and hopped on to get to the demonstration because “being part of this rally is a way of putting my body where my beliefs are.”

The Peace Train travelers did include a substantial number of labor union members, like Peace Train organizer Jon Flanders. “I’m affiliated with the Machinists Union and president of the machinists local in Selkirk,” said Flanders, who works as a mechanic, repairing locomotives. He has been witnessing an “unparalleled labor opposition to this military adventure—labor councils, union locals, even some international unions have passed resolutions opposing or critical of the war.”

Peace Train “conductor” Flanders sees all the resources going toward this threatened war as sucking away funding “for education, health and transportation like Amtrak, the train we’re on right now.” Many on board shared his view that a war against Iraq in conjunction with Bush economic policies would result in major dislocations for working people. To Dorothy Tristman, a member of the Capital Region BOCES Faculty Association, “It’s irrational to spend all this money on war” when we have so many social needs in this country. According to train traveler and United Universities Professions member Larry Wittner, Bush’s war is a “diversion of resources . . . down this rat hole of constant militarism and war.”

Longtime Capital Region labor activist Doug Bullock also helped get the word out about the Peace Train. He is a first vice-president with the Albany Central Labor Federation, is active with the Solidarity Committee of the Capital District, and can often be found on a picket line with a bullhorn in his hand. “I think union members, just like all other people, have an interest in peace and see the Bush push for war as wrong,” said Bullock. He pointed out that a number of unions in the Albany area have passed resolutions against Bush’s planned Iraq attack. “The Albany Central Federation of Labor passed a resolution against the Bush war as well as . . . the New York Central Labor Council . . . the Saratoga Central Labor Council and the Greater Glens Falls Area Labor Council.” Bullock also pointed out that Bush’s Homeland Security bureaucracy, which can hire nonunion employees, “is a big attack by Bush against the unions.”

Geraldine Stella, president of union local 9265 of the United Steel Workers, got on the Peace Train because, she believes, “It is so important to make a statement not just to the American government, but to the world that war should be the last resort, not the first resort.” Carol Olszewski, a member of the New York State Public Employees Federation, said, “I think citizens have to stand up and do something to let the country and the world know that there are people opposed to the war here.” International Workers of the World member Greg Giorgio got aboard “to join with people in at least 500 other cities around the world to say no to this madness.”

When the train pulled into Penn Station, the Peace Trainers dispersed to various staging areas to join feeder marches to the rally that was staged at 49th Street and 1st Avenue. Many on the train would never even make it to 1st Avenue; the rally grew to such numbers that it spilled over and shut down 2nd and 3rd avenues. Many heard the words from the stage only through radios carried by demonstrators that were tuned to WBAI and formed a “People’s Sound System.” Those I spoke with later said that what was important was that they were there, and it didn’t matter which avenue they ended up on.

The Peace Train riders returned to Penn Station and caught the 7:20 PM train back to Albany. They were exhilarated by joining so many opposed to war with Iraq, somewhat tired from a day in the cold streets, and eager to exchange stories about what they had done during the day. As the Peace Train pulled into the Rensselaer station and returned its passengers to the sub-zero Capital Region cold, many expressed expectations that this would not be their last demonstration before the winter thaws into spring. Many planned to keep their layers of warm clothes handy.

—Tom Nattell

Wrongful Death?

Albany’s Common Council considers resolution asking New York to review its practice of capital punishment

Get convicted of killing a white person in New York, and you can expect to face a death sentence—which is only half as likely if you kill a black person.

According to statistics compiled by the Albany-based Center for Law and Justice, courts throughout New York state have handed out the death penalty in just such a racially disproportionate manner since its reinstatement in 1995.

Grassroots groups like CLJ are part of a nationwide movement exposing inequities and questioning the practicality of capital punishment. Today (Thursday), the Albany Common Council may lend governmental support to the cause when it is presented with a resolution calling for the state of New York to place a moratorium on its death penalty until the practice is reviewed further.

“I think there are serious questions regarding the fairness of capital punishment,” said Alderman Richard Conti (D-Ward 6), the resolution’s sponsor, “[and] whether it can be implemented in a fair and unbiased way.”

Conti said 55 different organizations in the Capital Region have passed resolutions calling for a moratorium. And governing bodies in the cities of New York, Buffalo, Rochester and Mount Vernon all have passed such resolutions.

Conti points to studies like CLJ’s as evidence that there’s a need to further examine the consequences of capital punishment. CLJ’s study showed that if convicted of first-degree murder in New York state, defendants are twice as likely to draw a death sentence if their victim was white as opposed to black. The governors of Maryland and Illinois put a stop on all executions in their states pending investigations of their death-penalty systems.

Gov. George E. Pataki ran his inaugural gubernatorial campaign promising the reinstatement of the death penalty in New York; the governor’s press office did not return calls to comment for this story.

The New York State Bar Association is part of the movement in New York calling for a death-penalty moratorium. Although the NYSBA refuses to take sides on the death-penalty issue, it recognizes the need to scrutinize the system.

“The bar association has not taken a position on the death penalty itself,” said Vincent Doyle, member of the NYSBA’s House of Delegates, “[but] the moratorium resolution simply says that before people are put in danger of being executed, we should examine the death-penalty system to determine whether it is a fair and accurate system.”

The organization New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty also played a key role in bringing the resolution before Albany’s Common Council. David Kaczynski, executive director of the NYADP, is asking New Yorkers to recognize the unfairness and inaccuracy of the current system.

“American people have a basic sense of fairness,” Kaczynski said. “Justice was one of the principles we were founded on. In my experience, the more people learn about how the death penalty is administered, the more they think about it, the less they like it. It is really important to educate people about a fundamental issue of justice.”

Kaczynski has firsthand experience with the death penalty: He assisted federal authorities in capturing his brother Ted Kaczynski, otherwise known as the Unabomber, then fought to save him from execution.

“The moratorium issue is interesting,” Kaczynski said. “I am opposed to the death penalty on ethical grounds, but many people who support the moratorium aren’t. [Former] Gov. George H. Ryan in Illinois was actually a death-penalty supporter when he became governor. [Former] Gov. [Parris] Glendening of Maryland . . . is a death-penalty supporter. But both of them recognize that if you are going to have a death penalty, at minimum it needs to be accurate and fair.”

The resolution will be heard by the Albany Common Council tonight (Feb. 20) in the council chambers of City Hall at 7 PM. The council is expected to vote on the nonbinding resolution, which will express the community’s desire to have a state commission investigate the law.

—John Gallagher

Signs of the Times

Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Manhattan on Saturday (Feb. 15) to join in a worldwide antiwar protest, despite New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision not to grant rally organizers a permit to march. People came from all over the Northeast, and from all over the country, to march in the streets in hopes that their antiwar messages would be heard. It’s apparent that some people wanted their statements to be memorable: They obviously put some thought and effort into their signs. For those of you who didn’t make it to the rally, here are some of the more unique slogans seen at the protest:

Regime change starts at home • Bombs dropped in Baghdad will explode in America • Make dance not war • Pygmies for peace • My name is Joe and I don’t want to go to war • Back by popular demand (peace sign) • Theaters against war • They’re selling war, but we’re not buying • Another queen for the revolution • Diplomacy not duct tape • Can you believe the frigging guy? (picture of Bush) • Let the arms inspectors do their work • Republicans against an Iraqi war • Vermonters for peace • Transit workers against the war • He’s not my president (picture of Bush) • Trim back the Bush • No blood for oil • How did our oil get under their sand? • Impeach Bush • Arrogance is ignorance • Drop tuition not bombs • The world is my homeland • Germany, France and Russia hold strong—we are grateful • Get real, don’t steal • You can bomb the world into pieces, but you can’t bomb it into peace • Pluck the chickenhawks • Drop Bush, not war • Boys against the bomb • Bush is #1 threat to world peace—vive la France! • Let us not become the evil we deplore • Got duct tape? (picture of Bush with open mouth) • Health care not warfare • No more Bushit • Regime change in USA—no blood for oil • Work not war • Not in my name • The world says no to war • Peace is llamarific (drawing of llama) • NY Yankee fans for peace • No more duct tape • Democracy (written on coffin) • Draft the Bush twins • Bush is a weenie • God bless hysteria • Impeach the son of a Bush • Fear keeps us consuming, consuming keeps us in fear • Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld—the asses of evil • NYC cannot afford war • Give up war for Lent • If war is inevitable, start drafting SUV drivers now • Disarm Dubya • Body bag free with every fill-up (picture of SUV) • War, brought to you today by the letter Dubya • Bush and Saddam: Retire! • Books not Bombs • War is not the answer • Patriots for peace • If it weren’t for France, we’d all be speaking Texan by now • War sucks • Blood and oil don’t mix • Only the people can stop the war • Think of the Iraqi children • Saddam is not spelled O-S-A-M-A • Osama bin Forgotten? • Peace is Sexy • The streets belong to the people • It’s your right to refuse to fight • Buck Fush • Bush doesn’t speak for us • The U.S. Constitution—it’s not perfect, but it’s better than what we have now • The forefathers are pissed • Is this a war to win ’04?



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