with a message: Conference participants browse the vendors
between workshops. Photo: Eileen Clynes
activists seek like minds, and inspiration, at daylong conference
we can defeat fear, we can defeat these brigands, because
fear is all they have going for them!” It was late afternoon,
and the people filling the auditorium of Albany High School
had already had a long day of workshops and speakers and calls
to action, but this battle cry from the day’s second keynote
speaker, William Rivers Pitt, managing editor of Truthout.org,
still drew an explosion of cheers. This is what people had
Confronting the Politics of Fear, a “people’s assembly,” filled
the halls and classrooms of Albany High from 8 AM until early
evening last Saturday (Nov. 15). The conference was intended
to bring together the fragmented efforts of the peace movement
and related progressive causes and launch a diverse and unified
action plan. Organizers were hoping strongly to see more than
the usual faces. [See “Please Share My Umbrella,” Nov. 13.]
It was an ambitious plan, and showed early signs of success.
Three hundred people preregistered for the conference, but
by mid-afternoon all 400 welcome packets were gone, and people
were still streaming in the door, said Cathy Callan, one of
the organizers, who estimates that more than 500 people participated
in the event. (Oddly enough, the Times Union, whose
editor Rex Smith served on a panel at the conference, reported
only 200 attendees.)
The familiar faces were definitely there. Green “Choose Peace”
buttons were abundant, as were bearded anarchists, aging hippies,
and longtime labor leaders. Few people showed up whose opinions
weren’t already in line with the theme of the day. But a number
came who had formed those opinions outside of the activist
milieu, by following the news or talking with friends. These
were the people the organizers had been hoping for—people
who were feeling outraged, who may have written an angry letter
or attended one peace vigil, but weren’t the same hard-core
activists who come to all the meetings.
came for] comradeship, people I have something in common with,
people who are rational and haven’t lost their minds,” said
one older gentleman, his shirt and tie anomalous in a sea
of political T-shirts. A young woman who recently completed
an AmeriCorps stint in the Midwest, and is now living with
her parents and doing temp work, sought out the conference
to feel more connected to opportunities for action, which
she said was difficult without owning car. A woman from Canada
who just became a U.S. citizen said she came because she figured
that as a citizen she ought to start to paying attention to
Despite extensive outreach, however, some of the more desired
nonfamiliar faces—those of people of color—were only marginally
represented. “The politics of fear is manifest in this room,”
observed the morning’s keynote speaker, Damu Smith, and you
could have heard a pin drop. “We can’t have these separate
issues. When the opposition meets, they meet together.” Smith,
founder of Black Voices for Peace, challenged the audience
to invite him back to speak again, “and I want to see a different
Later in the day, at an overflowing workshop on “Race, Class,
and the Politics of Fear,” Smith and copresenter Barbara Smith
(no relation) dismissed the idea that what was needed was
more individual sensitivity. “I want more than to hug you,”
Damu quipped. “I want a job that pays the same as you.” He
explained the motto of Black Voices for Peace: “Peace in the
Hood, Peace in the Land, Peace in the World,” and offered
a concrete suggestion to the still- primarily-white audience.
“When the peace movement connects these dots,” for example,
by turning up en masse to a police- brutality protest, said
Smith, “I promise you, you will see more people of color show
up” to traditional antiwar protests.
To carry the day’s work forward, each workshop generated lists
of potential action steps (“Oppose the Clear Law Enforcement
for Criminal Alien Removal Act” came out of the workshop on
the Targeting of Arabs and Muslims), which will be posted
online and on listservs that have been created for each and
every one of the 31 workshops of the day. But the organizers
also wanted to come away with some sort of priority for unified
action. To do this democratically, nine sheets of paper with
the main topics of the day (broad categories like “globalization”
and “election 2004”) were taped up around the auditorium,
and after Pitt’s talk, participants were given two green dots
with which to vote on their priorities.
The two most popular—foreign policy and civil liberties—will
get the attention of a newly forming steering committee that
hopes to carry on, in the words of one attendee, “doing what
the community should be doing.” The task of sustaining momentum
on big issues is always a daunting one. But in the meantime,
the energy is high. Callan says she and other organizers have
been getting many e-mail messages from excited participants.
“People were thrilled,” she said. “A lot of people felt rejuvenated.
One person said he felt like we charged his batteries.”
Green Light, With Speed Bumps
planning board recommends approving Luther Forest chip-fab
plan, with conditions
Tuesday night (Nov. 18), Malta’s planning board made its recommendation
to the town board on the Saratoga Economic Development Corporation’s
proposal to develop a site for four semiconductor chip-manufacturing
plants in Luther Forest. Board members synthesized comments
and concerns from three public workshops and gave their approval
to a modified version of the plan.
The board had developed a list of 58 points that it thought
SEDC ought to address before going forward, but selected a
smaller number to officially include in its recommendations.
The rest are considered advisory. Among the official recommendations
are that any reports to government regarding emissions or
chemical releases also be filed with the town and that the
town has the power to halt development if promises about traffic
levels and other quality-of-life issues are not met. If SEDC
doesn’t voluntarily incorporate these measures, the town board
would need a supermajority to overturn them.
think it’s possible to have both—quality of life and quality
of jobs,” said Paul Sausville, chairman of the planning board
and a partner of the environmental engineering firm Sausville
and Schriber. “One way of ensuring that is to put conditions
on anything coming into the forest.”
But others think even the conditions are not enough. The vote,
which was approved 4 to 2, came after a motion to disapprove
entirely, which lost along the same split, 2 to 4. The Rev.
Peter Klotz, who made the motion to disapprove, said, “I don’t
think it’s something Malta needs badly enough to go through
all the changes and accept the so-called improvements and
accept all the risks.” He added that he was disappointed that
U.S. Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.) put money into the study of
a new Northway exit for the project before the town had come
to its own carefully deliberated conclusion. “I would prefer
to see him study mass transportation and other alternatives
to just more roads and just more cars,” he said, adding that
bus service to the site is under discussion.
Andrea Austin, a resident who has been part of a vocal opposition
to the project, said she was pleased that the planning board
was challenging SEDC and holding them “to higher standards
than we’ve seen them held to in the past.” But she was still
hoping the planning board would recommend not going forward
at all. “The middle road is the easiest one,” she said. “You
can say you’ve approved something, but you can feel in your
heart you’ve done it with a conscience.”
Throughout the region, debate is still lively about whether
the Luther Forest site is the most appropriate location for
chip fabs. Gary S. Kleppel, a biology professor at the University
at Albany who researches the effect of land use decisions
on ecosystems, said it would make a lot more sense to locate
a plant in a more urban area that already was served by the
necessary infrastructure. There are consequences to developing
a wild area like Luther Forest, according to Kleppel, who
said Luther Forest’s wetlands perform very useful functions
for area residents. “I know where my air comes from and my
water comes from,” he said. “Forest and wetlands.”
behind the plan: Jerry Jennings and Lori Harris. Photo:
Like a Plan
An update on the citys initiative for neighborhood
revitalization in Arbor Hill draws mixed reactions
public meeting to update Arbor Hill residents on progress
being made on the city-sponsored plan to revitalize their
neighborhood drew a mixed response from a packed house at
200 Henry Johnson Blvd. Tuesday night.
While members of the Arbor Hill Neighborhood Advisory Committee
and some neighborhood residents praised the plan for its comprehension
and inclusiveness, some citizens were more critical. A number
of community members who attended the meeting left before
its conclusion, some shaking their heads.
can keep talking all you want, but don’t keep calling me to
these meetings if you’re not going to come into Sheridan Hollow
and do something,” said Ruby Hughes of 202 Orange St. Hughes
was frustrated that the city’s plan for Arbor Hill didn’t
include any specific proposals for her neighborhood, Sheridan
Hollow, a sub-neighborhood within Arbor Hill.
Lori Harris, deputy commissioner of the city’s Division of
Economic Development and emcee for Tuesday’s meeting, said
that the plan didn’t include all of Arbor Hill’s neighborhoods
because it aims only to create “pockets of investment” that
the city could build from. “I think we need to view this not
as a sprint but a long distance that we are faced with,” Harris
Earlier this summer, a committee selected by Mayor Jerry Jennings
finalized a tumultuous, multi-year effort to present a revitalization
plan for one of Albany’s poorest neighborhoods. According
to U.S. Census data, one in every three housing units in Arbor
Hill remains vacant, nearly one in every three households
lives in poverty, and residents’ median household income is
$16,222, about half the city average.
City officials have twice before hired private development
firms—Norstar Development USA in 2000 and Dennison Associates
in 2001—to evaluate the community’s needs. Norstar’s recommendations,
which prescribed concentrating low-income housing on North
Swan Street, were abandoned when neighborhood residents presented
a lawsuit alleging that the community had not been adequately
involved in the planning process and that the plan was too
limited in scope. Dennison’s efforts were also dismissed for
not being comprehensive enough.
But in 2003, after the year-and-a-half-long planning effort
with Community Builders Inc., a national nonprofit, the committee
presented $69 million worth of ideas to breathe new life into
Arbor Hill. The committee’s plan calls for an ongoing community-oriented
police presence, and better investments in street repair and
playground upkeep to improve quality of life in the neighborhood.
It also calls for more and better investments in existing
neighborhood businesses and cultural organizations.
But the majority of Tuesday’s meeting was dedicated to the
Albany Housing Authority, which presented a plan calling for
the construction of a number of new or rehabbed single-family
homes and rental units in Arbor Hill using an existing $5
million federal Housing and Urban Development grant, leftover
from the Corning Homes project.
The housing authority proposed building 20 new single-family
homes each year over the next three years on vacant lots throughout
the neighborhood, some of which the city and the housing authority
already own. Darren Scott, a member of the mayor’s 23-member
committee who works at the housing authority, said that approximately
$600,000 is already in the pot for the new construction, and
the New York State Affordable Housing Corporation will decide
whether to afford the city an additional $500,000 early in
December. Scott said construction on the new homes could begin
as early as next spring.
Scott said the housing authority is looking to build 80 to
90 two- to three-unit rental apartment buildings over the
next three years as well. Most of the rental units would be
reserved for families or individuals of low income, with a
portion being rented at market rate. The buildings, which
Scott said would be rehabbed from existing structures or constructed
anew on vacant lots, would be small and spread throughout
the neighborhood to avoid unpopular clusters of low-income
Willie Medlock, president of Robert M. Whalen Homes Tenants
Association, said that he was most excited about the home-ownership
presentation Tuesday night. Medlock said he would be looking
into the home-ownership possibilities offered by the housing
ride around and you see all the abandoned buildings coming
up Clinton and Swan, it looks like a ghetto,” Medlock said.
“They’re trying to build so things look better, bring a better
quality of life to the community and that’s a good thing.
. . . Me being new, only three years in Albany, it seems like
an improvement. I’d have to see it fail for me to say something
negative about it.”
deliver: Jimmy Lawson and Rap. Photo: John Whipple
As pantries stock up for the increased end-of-the-year
demand, the Food Express delivers
checked orders and Jimmy Lawson finished his Stewart’s orange
juice as the truck idled at the Ryder rental center on Erie
Boulevard in Albany a little after 6 Wednesday morning. Were
it not for the image painted on the side of the 16-foot white
Isuzu—a giant black grocery bag spilling out multicolored
shapes—the truck would have just blended into its surroundings.
But this truck isn’t your average $29.95-a-day rental. This
truck has responsibilities. This truck has a name: The Food
Express. Monday through Friday, it handles the majority of
deliveries for Food Pantries for the Capital District, a 40-pantry
is our distressed time of year. You go nuts with it some time.
You’ll see,” promised Rap, the truck’s curmudgeonly captain.
Rap, who has driven the Food Express for the past three years,
and Lawson, who’s been on the job for about three weeks, zig
and zag the city’s streets, making stops at local bakeries
to pick up donated day-old breads and pastries before heading
to the Regional Farm and Food Bank in Latham to pick up the
bulk of the day’s orders. “Not a big day, about 6,500 pounds,”
Guy Rappold, aka Rap, is a 74-year-old from Castleton-on-Hudson
who took up truck driving in 1972 after retiring from a 25-year
career in the Navy. A man of medium build with a cragged face,
bright white hair and pale blue eyes that require the assistance
of bifocals, Rap exhibits a certain pride in his crotchetiness:
“You can’t spell ‘Crap’ without ‘Rap,’” reads the custom bumper
sticker on his duct-taped three-ring binder holding the day’s
paperwork. “You got it, boy, and don’t forget it,” Rap declared.
a good teacher. But if I do something wrong,” Lawson said,
“he’ll jump on me with both feet.”
Lawson, a gentle, 53-year-old man and father of five from
Loudonville, recently retired from his job as a maintenance
person at UAlbany’s downtown campus. He said he sat around
enjoying his retirement for about a year before returning
his momma was getting tired of having him around the house,
so she told him to get a job,” Rap laughed.
true,” Lawson said, laughing as well. “She kept giving me
After the early morning salvages, the truck arrived at the
Regional Farm and Food Bank’s warehouse a little after 7 AM.
Three pantries’ orders were rolled down a conveyor to the
back of the truck. The food bank was short a few items, and
the day’s load ended up one ton lighter than expected. Rap
checked the orders while Lawson began the three-dimensional
puzzle of hand-stacking the more than 4,000 pounds of grocery
cases—turkeys in 40-pound flats, boxes of cereal and dried
milk and cases of canned fruits, vegetables and sauces, much
of it USDA surplus with no name brand.
According to Linda Schuyler, director of Food Pantries for
the Capital District, the Food Express delivered some 434
tons of food to 42 pantries throughout the Capital District
in 2002—a 24-percent increase from 2001. Even with the busiest
time of year remaining, the Food Express has delivered 440
tons of food already this year.
From Latham, Rap, Lawson and the Food Express headed to the
pantries, stopping along the way to pick up a few more loads
of day-old pastries, cakes and cookies at local Price Choppers.
“We never have any problem getting rid of the sweets,” Rap
At around 8:30 AM, Lawson exited the Price Chopper on Madison
Avenue to Rap’s applause, having retrieved a stack of fresh
banana boxes along with the shopping cart full of donated
pastries. “I thought you might like that,” Lawson boasted.
The crew arrived at Emmanuel Baptist Church, 275 State St.
in Albany, a little after 9 AM, and were met by Deb Catoozi,
with Focus Interfaith Food Pantry, which feeds about 200 regular
visitors. Recently, demand has spiked again, as it always
does at the end of the year. Focus sends volunteer drivers
to the Regional Farm and Food Bank eight to 12 times a week,
Catoozi said, but most of the drivers are volunteering senior
citizens who can only carry so much.
The Food Express delivery “is like 10 of those,” Catoozi said.
“The more we see this truck the less we have to dip into our
Lawson said the job merely gives him something to help pass
the time in the winter. “I don’t know how to ice fish,” he
joked. Rap, too, was modest about his role delivering food
to those in need around the holidays.
when I was delivering for the drug company, I guess the people
needed the medicine I was bringing, too,” Rap said. “I guess
it’s six of one, half-dozen of the other.”
Saratoga Springs Democrats take election battle to
Spitzer, and Skidmore braces for more conflict over its polling
the final count last week, Republican candidate Mike Lenz
won the mayoral seat in Saratoga Springs. This did nothing
to quell the frustrations of city Democrats who think the
close outcome could have been different. They contend that
voters in Skidmore College’s district were deterred from voting
by very long lines and delays, or antagonistic challenges
over campus residency from Republican poll watchers [“An Education
in Intimidation,” Nov. 13].
The city’s Democratic committee chairman, Shawn Thompson,
brought his complaints to state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer,
and now the college community is trying to figure out how
to keep its polling place and make sure its students are correctly
a margin of 80 votes—less than one percent of the total cast—the
mayor’s office in Saratoga Springs has been returned for now
to the hands of the political bosses and the power brokers,”
current Mayor Ken Klotz said in a statement the following
day. He condemned the Republicans’ tactics, and implored citizens
to truly engage in local issues to make sure their voices
Being heard is something of a problem to city Democrats at
the moment, as they’re concerned that a pattern of vote suppression
has developed over the last two years; first with the attempt
to take away Skidmore’s polling place last year, and now with
the conduct of Republican poll watchers.
In his letter to Spitzer, Thompson wrote, “Each of these [challenged]
voters is, without any doubt, a resident of the City and County
of Saratoga. As such, regardless of the location of the poll
at which they cast their votes, each vote counts towards the
same totals. At minimum Republican operatives tactics deprived
legally registered voters of the chance to cast their ballot.”
He also said Republican poll watchers could have violated
state election law in several ways: voter intimidation; obstruction
of an elector en route to the polling place or registration;
electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place; remaining
within the “guard-rail” of the polling place after being asked
by an inspector to leave; and disobeying the commands of inspectors.
Spitzer’s office has not said what it might do with the complaint.
Meanwhile, the Skidmore community is concerned about what
might happen to its polling place, as well as how to make
certain its off-campus students are correctly registered in
the proper district each year.
the near term, I think the issue is less about registration
than it is more about the polling place,” said Pat Oles, the
dean of student affairs. “Public sentiment needs to be aroused
in support of keeping the polling place.” He also suggested
that the college make an effort to convince elections and
city council officials of the campus polling place’s importance.
“My concern,” he said, “is that they’ll quietly try to move
the polling place during January,” before the students are
Students living in the off-campus dormitory, Moore Hall, were
principle targets of the Republican challenges. To Oles, their
residency was fair to question, but “it’s a question that
could have been asked very easily over the summer.”
particular election, it’s an especially senseless challenge
because there were no district-level races,” said Oles. Students
“could have voted very easily by affidavit if they had been
challenged politely and in a way that was adjudicative. .
. . The tone was clearly not about that.”