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Bring Home the Peace

Local activists attended a United for Peace and Justice conference in Chicago and brought home peace of mind as well as new strategies for peaceful protesting in the area.

Five hundred fifty activists (including four from the Capital Region) from more than 325 organizations met from June 6 to 8 to develop a structure and a set of priorities for United for Peace and Justice to operate under for the next 18 months.

Although the main goal of the conference was to formalize the structure, leadership and framework of the organization, which was established temporarily prior to the conference, local attendees also will take home information and ideas to share with other local activists.

“The biggest benefit was that [the conference] gave us an opportunity to meet with organizations that are national, international and grassroots, and coming up together with a strategy,” said Erin O’Brien, organizer of Women Against War, who spoke at the conference. “All our voices are equal, which helps us in solidarity around certain actions.”

The national conference gave local attendees ideas for an Albany conference to be held in early November. The local conference will give upstate organizations the opportunity to talk about goals and strategies from a grassroots perspective. Although currently only in the planning stages, the local conference will feature planning sessions, workshops and keynote speakers on the subject of war, said Maureen Aumand, who represented Capital District for Peace and Justice, Moral Response to Terrorism and Women Against War in Chicago.

“One of the things that made the conference [in Chicago] very valuable is that we’re working with a broad coalition of many justice groups to put together a [local] conference in the fall,” said Aumand. “Our hope is to strengthen our roots and build on our connections and unite the cause of peace with the cause of justice.”

“It hasn’t changed the way we are going to organize and plan,” said O’Brien. “We’re going to be signing on with a lot of the national protest dates.” On July 4, local supporters will gather at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia to protest President Bush.

“The work has only just begun,” said Aumand.

—Jennifer Schulkind

Activists Awarded

“I just did my job,” said Mark Bobb-Semple, youth and teen director for the Albany YMCA. And doing it got him an 11th Annual Jim Perry Progressive Leadership Award.

On June 19, at the Albany Quality Inn, Capital District Citizen Action gave awards to Bobb-Semple, Frank Mauro, Irene Miller, Erin O’Brien and Eleanor Stein for their commitment to making a difference in the community.

Bobb-Semple has spent years working with Albany youth as the program manager of the Liberty Partnership Program, a dropout prevention program focusing on keeping middle- and high-school students in school and sending them to college. Twenty children with whom he has worked came to the event to support and thank him. Bobb-Semple said he works for the children, not the big awards.

On Oct. 17, 2002, Eleanor Stein invited 22 women to her home to talk about the possible war with Iraq. These women, ranging in race, ethnicity and age, expressed their antiwar sentiments and formed an antiwar group, Women Against War, now an international organization with 1,500 members. Stein believes women have played a “very strong role in this antiwar movement.”

Erin O’Brien, an organizer of Women Against War, led the mall walk for peace, which opposed the arrest of a Selkirk man in Crossgates Mall for wearing a “Give Peace a Chance” T-shirt, organized a fast for peace, and created the Flower in the Gun, an online newsletter to inform WAW members about issues. She is also the executive director of the Women’s Building, at 79 Central Ave. in Albany, which provides recreational and educational programs for women.

Irene Miller has been working on publicly funded elections only since 2001, but since then she has become the founder and chair of New York Citizens for Clean Elections, which has grown to three chapters in Woodstock, New Paltz and Rensselaerville. Miller is trying to pass the clean money/clean elections bill in New York state and has been working with Senate Minority Leader David Paterson (D-L-NYC), Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn), and statewide organizations Citizen Action and Democracy Matters (a politically active college group).

As the executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, Frank Mauro provides research for the Alliance for Quality Education, among other organizations. However, his work in raising consciousness about progressive taxation finally paid off when, for the first time in more than 30 years, New York state added brackets back into the income tax, which makes taxes more specific to income.

Nominations are made by members of Capital District Citizen Action, and its board votes on the recipients. Jon Bartholomew, organizer with Capital District Citizen Action, said they look for leadership qualities and going above and beyond what’s expected.

Jim Perry, whom the awards were named after, was a lesbian/gay rights leader and founding member of Capital District Citizen Action. He died of AIDS-related complications in 1991.

“Jim Perry brought people together,” said Bartholomew.

—Jennifer Schulkind

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