public library cancels a citizens’ forum on war
Cynthia Pooler wanted to do was hold a public discussion in
her community on the possibilities of a war with Iraq. She
didn’t think she’d have to seat them in her living room to
Worried that their efforts were becoming too insular, peace
activists in the town of Mechanicville wanted to hold a public
dialogue on the Bush administration’s push for a war with
Iraq. But the group, and the forum, were turned away first
from the town library, then from a local restaurant, and then
from a local church.
Pooler had cleared the event, titled A Citizens’ Forum on
Iraq, with the Mechanicville Public Library about a month
in advance. She and Maureen Aumand, a local peace activist
with Women Against War who helped organize the event, had
placed notices in a number of bars, restaurants and pizzerias
throughout town, trying to pique residents’ interest.
But on the day of the event, Pooler said she received a call
from a clerk at the library asking if the event was an antiwar
meeting. She informed the clerk that it was an open discussion
on issues related to war, and then was informed that the room
that was scheduled to hold the meeting was named after a local
were kind of concerned that [the event] would be anti-veteran,”
said Pooler, “but it was just a forum for people to articulate
their interpretation of how this impending war is being presented
Pooler hung up the phone only to have it ring a few minutes
later, when Sam Carabis, president of the library’s board
of directors, informed her that the event would have to be
canceled. Carabis said the library had received an anonymous
phone call saying that 75 people from Albany were planning
on attending the meeting. He explained to Pooler that the
library couldn’t accommodate such a crowd, but Pooler said
she found the president’s excuse for canceling the forum odd,
since she hadn’t advertised it in Albany.
found that very curious,” Pooler said. “We had passed flyers
around in Mechanicville and we sent an e-mail or two, but
I have my doubts [about the 75 people]. I’m not saying that’s
not the case, but I tend to be a little skeptical about it.”
Pooler arranged for a new meeting place, the End Zone restaurant,
and notified the 13 people who’d expressed interest in attending
the forum of the venue change. Pooler said the library agreed
to direct anyone who showed up for the meeting to the End
Shortly after the discussion began at the restaurant, the
group was again asked to find a new place for the forum. And
as co-organizer Maureen Aumand explained, this time their
ejection had nothing to do with the group of 75 from Albany,
since they never showed up.
started to talk,” said Aumand, “and suddenly a man burst in
and said, ‘What are you talking about? You can’t talk about
this here. I have customers that are for this war.’”
As they left the restaurant, Carabis happened to be walking
in, and he apologized to the group for the inconvenience.
To the group of 13, he reiterated that the library would not
have been able to accommodate the crowd of 75 expected from
the phone call, and said the event’s cancellation was in no
way due to the topic of the discussion.
Baffled, the group eventually met at Pooler’s apartment in
Mechanicville and carried out the discussion in the exact
setting they were trying to avoid.
original concept for these forums was to avoid so much preaching
to the choir,” said Aumand. “We wanted to have a way to reach
out to the public and get more people involved.”
Evelyn Butrico, the library’s director, who was on vacation
when the incident occurred, said Pooler’s interpretation of
the veteran comment is representative of the entire evening’s
had nothing whatsoever to do with the topic of the forum,”
said Butrico. “The room is small and the maximum amount of
people it could hold is 20. We got a call from someone saying
they were going to bring 75 people from Albany. Could they
have been lying? Yeah, absolutely. I think that hindsight
is 20-20, and the person’s name and number was not taken.
They could have called to get the reaction that they got and
that is sad.”
Both parties said they have since discussed the incident and
cleared the air. Butrico invited the group to hold another
event at the library, but Aumand said enough people have expressed
interest in the forum since the incident that they wouldn’t
be able to fit in the Mechanicville Library.
certainly has served to raise the issue that we have to have
public discourse on this issue,” Aumand said. “My only regret
is that we didn’t start to do these things earlier.”
After hearing of the events in Mechanicville, Charles Woodman,
a minister at the Stillwater United Church, offered his temple
as a venue for the next forum, but when he brought the idea
before his church’s governing body, they had other ideas.
checked with the [church’s] governing board, and they voted
against it because they felt it would not be supportive of
families sending troops to war,” said Woodman. “What a controversy
that in a nation that says freedom of speech is so important,
yet nobody wants to talk about going to war. . . . I grew
up during the Vietnam War era, and I didn’t think we’d ever
get back to a time when it was love your country or leave
it—but I guess here we are.”
than 100 peace and free-speech advocates decended on
the Crossgates Mall food court for lunch yesterday (March
5) in response to the trespassing arrest Tuesday of
Stephen Downs, 61, of Selkirk. Downs and his son, 31-year-old
Roger, each purchased and wore silk-screened T-shirts
bearing peace slogans at the mall on Monday (March 3).
When mall security asked them to remove their shirts,
Downs refused and was then arrested for trespassing.
Downs’ shirt bore the slogans “Peace on Earth” and “Give
Peace a Chance.” As previously reported in Metroland
[Newsfront, Jan. 9], Monday’s incident marks the second
time in the last three months that Crossgates has asked
shoppers wearing peace-related articles of clothing
to leave its premises. Downs’ arrest has brought the
mall’s policy to international notoriety, as the Associated
Press, Rueters and a newspaper in the United Kingdom
all called the Downs residence for comment on the story.
Crossgates representatives have not released a statement
regarding their policy.
Games: The Sequel
draft of the Justice Department’s latest plans to enhance
homeland security has civil libertarians up in arms
week, the American Civil Liberties Union took out full-page
ads in the New York Times and the Washington Times
to call attention to an apparently leaked draft of a Justice
Department bill expanding the October 2001 USA P.A.T.R.I.O.T.
Act to allow even greater latitude in spying on, detaining
and possibly deporting American citizens who are terrorist
Attorney General John Ashcroft has come under criticism since
early last month when the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit
corporation, posted the draft of a sequel to the P.A.T.R.I.O.T.
Act, the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, on its
Web site (it can now be read online at www.dailyrotten.com/source-docs/patriot2draft.html).
Marked “Confidential—Not for Distribution,” the Jan. 9 bill
had been the object of rumors and subsequent denials of its
existence by the Justice Department for weeks before being
made public. The document alarmed civil libertarians, and
last week the ACLU detailed its provisions in a high-profile
advertising campaign. Among the key features of the draft:
“Prohibition of Disclosure of Terrorism Investigation Detainee
Information.” The Justice Department, which has already been
assailed by critics for its tightlipped ways, would receive
new powers to deny Freedom of Information requests on the
status of those being held as suspected terrorists.
“Distribution of ‘Worst Case Scenario’ Information.” This
appears to be a blow aimed at the Clean Air Act, which mandates
the EPA to require private companies that use potentially
dangerous pollutants to prepare “worst-case scenario” reports
describing the health risks of releasing these chemicals into
the companies’ surrounding communities. A section of the act
restricts FOIA requests for these documents to “read-only”
methods for people who live in areas surrounding potentially
hazardous industrial sites. In the draft, the DOJ attempts
to justify the limitations on such FOIA requests by describing
them as “a roadmap for terrorists.”
“Terrorist Identification Database.” This would create a DNA
database for suspected terrorists, citizens thought to have
any association with terrorist groups, and noncitizens suspected
of having aided terrorist groups.
“Appropriate Remedies with Respect to Law Enforcement Surveillance
Activities.” The DOJ proposes in this section to eliminate
all state law-enforcement consent decrees before Sept. 11,
2001, unrelated to racial profiling or other civil-rights
cases. This means, for example, that a wiretap could be placed
on your phone for two weeks before a judge had to sign off
on it, and would give state police agencies a free hand to
spy on individuals and organizations. The DOJ contends that
these consent orders, originally passed in response to police
surveillance abuses, could hinder antiterrorism investigations.
“Presumption for Pretrial Detention in Cases Involving Terrorism.”
If the government thinks you’re a terrorist or affiliated
with terrorists, this means jail without bail before trial.
Of course, this happens routinely in serious criminal cases
or where a suspect is considered a flight risk, but now even
being suspected of a terrorism offense would be enough to
land you behind bars.
“Expatriation of Terrorists.” In what is probably the harshest
provision of the bill, you, a U.S. citizen, could be banished
from American soil with no rights of appeal if the government
concludes that you were planning to relinquish your American
citizenship by your suspected terrorist-related actions. No
explicit declaration of any intent to do so would be needed:
Uncle Sam could infer it from your actions and deport you.
Even if your activities in a group labeled as a terrorist
organization by the attorney general were entirely legal,
you would still run this risk.
Responding to the furor created by the draft bill, the Justice
Department released a statement on Feb. 7 saying in part,
“We are continually asking our field prosecutors, investigators
and experts what tools they need to prevent future acts of
terrorism. During our internal deliberations, many ideas are
considered, some are discarded and new ideas emerge in the
process along with numerous discussion drafts. Department
staff have not presented any final proposals to either the
attorney general or the White House. It would be premature
to speculate on any future decisions, particularly ideas or
proposals that are still being discussed at staff levels.”
Reached by telephone on Feb. 25, Justice Department spokeswoman
Monica Goodling refused all comment on the matter, instead
referring a caller to the Feb. 7 communiqué.
Asked for his views on the DOJ draft, U.S. Representative
Michael McNulty (D-Green Island), who voted for the first
P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act, replied in an e-mail, “As we continue
to deal with the new reality of terrorist threats, we must
also be careful not to go too far and risk eroding the civil
liberties which mean so much to all of us. I believe it is
entirely premature to be suggesting alterations or additions
to the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act, and would examine any such proposals
with great scrutiny.”
handful of protestors took to the Knolls Atomic Power
Plant in Niskayuna Saturday to conduct a citizens’ weapons
inspection of the facility owned by Lockheed Martin,
one of the largest weapons manufacturers in the United
States. The group wanted to point out the hypocritical
nature of American criticism of other nations holding
weapons of mass destruction when we spend more on our
“defense” budget than any other nation in the world.
So does a local power plant have large stockpiles of
weapons of mass destruction? Go figure—the inspectors
weren’t allowed to check.