expecting flag burnings and other “anti-American” activity
show up to protest RPI’s Unamerican Film Festival
turn your back on the flag, son. Don’t ever forget your flag,”
the roving, cowboy-hat-clad protester shouted, as students
and community members filed into Troy’s Chapel + Cultural
Center for a viewing of the Unamerican Film Festival on Monday
On a tip from a source that no one could quite remember, he
and approximately 35 demonstrators showed up to stop alleged
plans to burn an American flag at the film festival, a fundraising
event for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s independent community
radio station WRPI.
heard that there is an anti- American program here tonight
and possibly someone is going to burn a flag, and that isn’t
going to happen on my watch,” said protester Bob Reiter, the
director of veteran’s services for Rensselaer County. “They
have a right to do that. I fought for that right, but it doesn’t
mean I’ve got to like it. If somebody wants to burn a flag
here, I’m going to be a fireman and put the fire out. Sorry
if the person burning the flag gets wet, but I’m going to
put the flag out.”
Representatives from both WRPI and the Chapel + Cultural Center
who arranged for the film festival—named after the House Un-American
Activities Committee that terrorized Hollywood in the 1950s
with its communist witch hunts, blacklisting many allegedly
subversive writers and producers—said they were not aware
of any plans to burn a flag, and none was burned during the
The demonstrators were a decidedly unified lot; almost all
were former servicemen, some accompanied by their wives. Most
were middle-aged and older, and sported baseball caps, blue
jeans and vinyl jackets from various veterans’ groups—the
Elk’s Club, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans.
Roughly two dozen people wore white stanchion holsters over
their shoulders and around their necks, supporting large U.S.
flags. Though there was little chanting, many carried signs
bearing such slogans as “Support our Troops” and “Anti-war
movies at RPI, our tax dollars hard at work.” Forming a visible
presence from two blocks in either direction, the protesters
lined the sidewalk in front of 2125 Burdett Ave. in Troy,
though their presence was not welcomed by all.
you, you fuckers,” shouted a person from a carload of college-aged
students that drove by, honking, hooting and hollering.
your higher education money hard at work,” one of the protesters
Most who passed the demonstration on their way into the Chapel
+ Cultural Center said they weren’t bothered by the placid
protest, but some were angered at the demonstrators’ message.
our troops? How about we support them by bringing them home
alive?” said one film attendee who passed by the demonstrators.
When asked to comment on that sentiment—support of U.S. troops
as one facet of an antiwar ideology—Reiter wasn’t buying it.
total bullshit,” Reiter said. “All the troops are seeing are
that the protests against the war are against them, and this
is why we are out here in support of them.”
Karen Lorf, a Stillwater resident who attended the film festival,
can understand them wanting to support the troops,” Lorf said,
“but blindly saying that war is OK and if we go to war that
we have to support our troops, that isn’t necessarily the
way to [support our troops]. War is about killing. Do we really
want to send troops over there for a war that is not necessarily
Further, Lorf said the demonstrators were misinformed, looking
for anti- American activities from the Unamerican Film Festival.
think they came here looking for something that didn’t really
exist,” Lorf said. “I think they were looking for a confrontation
to make a statement.”
What the Unamerican Film Festival did include were a number
of political short films and trailers for longer feature films
and documentaries. Other films were investigative, issue-driven
pieces about the War on Drugs and the effectiveness of recycling
The demonstrators began to pack up as the last of the filmgoers
were filing into the Chapel + Cultural Center, and Lorf and
a few others invited them to view what they turned out to
protest and see what roughly 400 people turned out to see.
Although most of the demonstrators turned down the invitations
to watch the films, a few took up the offers, but all had
left by the end of the first film.
should read as much as you can and make your own decisions
about things,” Lorf said. “But if you’re only looking at a
couple of sources or just reacting to a couple headlines,
then how can you really know what’s going on?”
Lunch, Not War
food program serves free meals with a humanitarian message
the U.S. military launched Tomahawk cruise missiles and thousand-pound
artillery shells to convey its statement to the Iraqi leadership
on Sunday, a handful of volunteers in Albany had a message
their own—“Food Not Bombs.”
The slogan adorned a banner hanging from a table at the corners
of Grand and Wilbur streets in Albany’s Mansion neighborhood
Sunday afternoon, where a free meal was offered to those in
need. Approximately five volunteers prepped and served a buffet
from food donated by local businesses and churches or retrieved
from dumpsters of local grocery stores and restaurants—fare
that otherwise would have been wasted.
A well-rounded vegetarian meal could be pulled together in
multiple combinations from the variety of the day’s dishes:
A large salad was tossed with greens donated by a local food
pantry, and a tray of stuffed portobello mushrooms had made
its way from a fundraiser at UAlbany the night prior. Pots
of mashed potatoes, bean chili and vegetable soup rested next
to the loaves of wheat bread and a tray stacked with peanut-butter-and-banana
sandwiches. Freshly ground coffee, and two garbage bags full
of whole and crumbling donuts were also available.
For the past two and a half years, local volunteers have carried
out Albany’s incarnation of the international, all-volunteer
social program Food Not Bombs.
Food Not Bombs initially started in the early 1980s when a
few activists in Boston combined antinuclear demonstrations
with their work on a mobile soup kitchen. Socially active
circles throughout the country and around the globe have adopted
Food Not Bombs’ pro-peace, humanitarian message, and independent
chapters carry out the program in Canada, Germany and Australia,
among other nations.
Each group operates its Food Not Bombs program autonomously
in its own community, but the general theme remains unified:
No one should go without when the amount of salvageable, edible
food wasted could easily feed the nation’s hungry.
about bringing people together and reclaiming wasted food,”
said Dave Oehl, an Albany resident who helps run the local
Food Not Bombs. “In reality, the goal of Food Not Bombs was
never to end hunger, because that just seems impossible. But
if everybody had a meal like this in their neighborhood, it
would definitely have an impact.”
According to groups that monitor poverty and hunger, such
as the Hunger Action Network of New York State, programs like
Food Not Bombs are crucial, considering the dire fiscal situations
at both the state and federal level.
Hunger Action says that approximately 900,000 New Yorkers
rely on emergency food programs every week because they cannot
make ends meet. Although Hunger Action states that demand
for these programs statewide has increased 27 percent from
last year, Gov. George E. Pataki’s budget proposal cut funding
for these programs, including a $1.6 million cut in the hunger-prevention
and nutrition-assistance programs that fund soup kitchens
and food pantries.
more that [funding for hunger programs] is cut back,” said
Sheila McCarthy of HANNYS, “the more that these foods programs
are going to have to cut back, reduce their hours or just
close down, and that’s pretty lousy.”
But Oehl said feeding people in the Food Not Bombs tradition,
through volunteer work and donated or gleaned food, makes
their work easier than that of a nonprofit such as Hunger
not like a nonprofit where they have to set out to feed a
certain number of people to justify themselves to get more
money,” Oehl said, and McCarthy agrees.
think it’s great if there is a group on the sideline that
has nothing to do with funding from the government or funding
from any system anywhere and is completely disconnected,”
McCarthy said. “There are a lot of advantages of being free
of the system, and I think that really needs to happen in
New York state. To truly challenge the impact that corporations
are having in downsizing and low wages . . . people can create
alternative systems, and the more you do that the more you
will ultimately be challenging a system that just isn’t really
working right now.”
Ray Churchill, a UAlbany senior who also volunteers with Food
Not Bombs, said the program has another leg up on more traditional
emergency food programs.
not like a food pantry, where you have to go in and fill out
paperwork and they may tell you to come back for a meal tomorrow,”
Churchill said. “People always feel weird having to take things
for free, and having it real small and in the community makes
it easier to approach.”
Food Not Bombs serves a meal weekly in Albany at around 12:30
PM at the corners of Grand and Wilbur streets, and new volunteers
are always welcome.