and say NAFTA: a delegate taking Polaroids of Mexican
children. Photo by: Brian Brown-Cashdollar
Local students head south of the border for a closer look
teens from the Capital Region and elsewhere in New York state
spent their February break in the warmer Mexican border towns
near Texas’ southern tip. They were not, however, beach bumming
on the Gulf Coast. Instead, they went with elder members of
the New York State Labor-Religion Coalition to learn hard
truths about what life looks like for Mexican workers and
their families living with the effects of the North American
Free Trade Agreement.
The delegation met with labor leaders, workers who are employed
in maquiladoras, factories near the border where products
for export are made by many foreign companies, and who live
in colonias, the makeshift communities where workers
live mostly in homes made of scrap cardboard and metal, often
located near dangerous dumps and landfills.
Maureen Casey, who has led all 14 of the coalition’s trips
since they began in 1997, said that they keep coming back
to the same places so they can watch the effects of NAFTA
in the same communities over time. She has worked hard to
build relationships with people there.
NAFTA turned 10 in December, and the anniversary was marked
with mixed reviews: Critics noted that America has lost about
750,000 jobs to Mexico, in that “giant sucking sound” Ross
Perot famously forecasted, while others, including former
Secretary of the Treasury Robert Reich, contend that consumers
benefited from lower prices. In the program’s first seven
years, manufacturing jobs doubled in Mexico, but the current
trend is that companies are closing up shop to head overseas
for cheaper labor. According to Casey, this threat is used
by companies who operate where the delegation visits to undermine
organizing attempts to improve conditions and pay scale, but
few have actually moved.
met with different workers’ groups who are trying to educate
other workers on their rights because Mexican labor law is
actually very strong, but it’s just not enforced, especially
if it’s a U.S. company,” said returning delegate Camila Levia,
a 16-year-old student at Guilderland High School who went
as a translator this year. A recent victory for one union—something
that would be elementary in America—was the installation of
fire escapes at one factory.
This is the fourth trip that has included youth delegates,
which the coalition believes is an important experience for
a new generation of act ivists. “These are the people who
are going to be living with the consequences of what I call
corporate free trade for the next several decades, and they
have a right to know what the costs really are,” Casey said,
adding that the adults are energized by the youth who help
them keep in touch with “that sort of moral outrage that you
can feel when people are abused. Kids keep us in touch with
that, and that’s a healthy thing.” But that’s not to say that
the experience was an easy one.
for people who haven’t seen such poverty, at first there’s
a reaction of anger because essentially the workers that we
met along the border, along the free-trade areas, are sort
of supporting our way of life,” Levia said. But she found
that the more people the delegates met, they realized “that
feeling despair is not going to get you anywhere. Then I think
begins more of a need to do something about it, at least for
me,” she said.
Reed Dunlea, a 16-year-old from Averill Park High School,
said he was particularly affected by the children, whose apparent
resilience in the face of difficult living conditions was
“heartwarming.” The delegation visited several schools and
the students said it was a real highlight to play with the
The average daily earnings amount to about $4 per day, on
which it’s hard to support a family because, as Casey pointed
out, prices there “are comparable to prices in my local Hannaford
and Price Chopper.” To drive this point home, the delegates
split into “families” and mock grocery shopped on their earnings
at a local supermarket. Levia said her family could barely
afford milk, giving her a sense of how helplessness feels.
“At one point we had a discussion in our ‘family’ if we would
buy lettuce or toilet paper.”
Returning home has been hard for youth delegates, though all
of them feel empowered by their knowledge and are determined
to confront fair-trade issues locally. Students said that
their schools had adopted “sweat-free” purchasing policies
for apparel, though implementation has been difficult. “I
want to work with that because I know that at the moment I
can’t change the entire system,” Dunlea said. “I can have
a direct impact if I don’t buy stuff made in sweatshops.”
Dan Van Wormer, a 16-year old from Guilderland High School,
thinks simply talking about his experience will help to inform
others. He thinks “if people actually know and understand
more about what is happening, then if they’re as moved as
I am they’ll want to do something too.”
for action: Upper Hudson Planned Parenthoods Blue
Carreker. Photo by: Teri Currie
Reproductive-rights advocates join together in preparation
for an upcoming march on Washington, D.C.
an election year when many feel that the future of a woman’s
right to choose hangs in the balance, preparations are in
the works nationwide for a major march and rally on the Mall
in Washington, D.C., later this spring.
v. Wade is slowly being subjugated and now is a good time,
with the upcoming presidential election, to show solidarity
among all who believe in a woman’s right to chose,” said Kate
Bower, 27, an organizer with Medical Students for Choice at
Albany Medical College.
Bower was one of approximately 70 people who gathered at DeJohn’s
Restaurant in Albany for an educational fundraiser earlier
this week. The event was a primer for this spring’s March
For Women’s Lives, to be held in Washington, D.C., on April
25. The rally, being billed as the first of its kind, is an
organizing effort of hundreds of family-planning, women’s
and student groups from across the country.
got to make a stand now to preserve everyone’s right,” Bower
added. “Whatever you believe in, this is about freedom, this
is about democracy. You shouldn’t have a government that decides
for you what you can and cannot do.”
Bower and others who attended Monday’s event expressed concerns
that another four years of the Bush administration—four years
without another election to hold them accountable—could lead
to a disastrous erosion of the progress in achieving women’s
health-care rights over the last 30 years.
wasn’t that long ago that that women were given the ability
to determine when and whether to have children,” said Blue
Carreker, director of marketing and public affairs for Upper
Hudson Planned Parenthood. “Until that point, women have not
been able to fully participate in society.”
Monique Radman, 26, also with Albany Medical College’s Medical
Students for Choice, echoed Carreker’s comments. Radman stressed
the need to organize around reproductive rights issues at
the college level and younger.
are a lot of us that grew up with Roe v. Wade, so I
think the reality that it could [be overturned] is sort of
surreal and not hitting some of the younger crowd,” Radman
said. “Supreme Court justices are going to be turning over
here pretty quickly, and you have a president right now who
is extremely vociferous about being against abortion. We need
to get the word out that this is a reality.”
Radman pointed to President Bush’s signing into law a ban
on a late-term medical procedure commonly, and some say shrewdly,
referred to as “partial-birth abortion” last November as evidence
that women’s rights are in jeopardy. Lawsuits have been filed
in New York, California and Nebraska challenging the law.
think what it comes down to is, the choice to become a parent
is the biggest decision a person can make and the ability
to say you’re not ready is an equally important decision,”
said 29-year-old Kathy Kearnan, who is six months pregnant.
“This was my choice.”
Kearnan, a Planned Parenthood Young Leader, has been organizing
various social-action events in the region in preparation
for the march, including a local March For Women MeetUp, http://marchforwomen.meetup.com,
the turnout for which has steadily ballooned, she said.
Gregg Bell, a 57-year-old consultant from Albany, opposes
the president’s view on choice, stating that it is just another
example of the divisive tactics the Bush administration has
used to address a range of issues since taking office. Bell
said that he was hopeful that a large turnout at the march
in April could have an impact on how reproductive rights and
women’s health-care issues are addressed in Washington.
think the march will be a good predictor of how things will
go this fall,” he said.
Durfee can be contacted at email@example.com
or 463-2500 ext. 144.
by: Teri Currie
That Bother Us So
do signs on the Madison Avenue end of the Empire State Plaza
always say the plaza is closed for the winter?
time of year, the Empire State Plaza resembles much of Albany:
cold and barren, without a hint as to its actual depth.
From Madison Avenue, there is no evidence that there are spacious
courtyards and benches a few hundred yards away. There is
no indication that the ice-skating rink Gov. Pataki has called
“one of the favorite winter activities of Capital Region families
and visitors to the City of Albany” exists only just around
Instead, the stairs leading to the white marble buildings
are guarded with metal fences and signs proclaiming “Plaza
closed for winter.”
Closed for the winter? The plaza building? The ice-skating
rink? As recently as this weekend, Albany citizens of all
ages could be seen enjoying the ice or strolling through the
windy public square. Didn’t they read the signs?
The people who answered the phone at the office of the plaza
manager and at the plaza visitors’ bureau cited safety problems
from ice as the cause for sealing off the stairs, and suggested
that patrons “walk around” through one of the other entrances,
or up from the concourse below. But they said the plaza, of
course, isn’t actually closed. They had no explanation yet
for the signs that claim exactly that. These signs and barriers
are “consistent with our policy every winter,” said Jennifer
Morris, spokeswoman for the Office of General Services.
It will soon be a moot point this year, anyway. The ice-skating
rink was closed Monday—and the closed signs should be just
about ready to come down, said Morris. In the interest of
people feeling welcome in our city’s public spaces, maybe
next year they should take the leap to signs that say “Stairs
closed” or even “Just go around.”
Carries; Albany County Confused
statewide joined the Kerry bandwagon while voters in Albany
County still have to wait for the final outcome of yesterday’s
county legislative primary.
After voters in 10 of 11 states taking part in yesterday’s
primaries, referred to as Super Tuesday, selected Kerry, the
senator from Massachusetts appears to have the Democratic
nomination for president all but wrapped up. Only Vermont
chose otherwise; 58 percent of Green Mountain voters gave
the nod to the state’s former Gov. Howard Dean, despite the
fact that he dropped out of the race last month.
Approximately 61 percent of New York’s Democrats voted for
Kerry. North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, Kerry’s closest rival,
garnered 20 percent of the vote.
Though numbers haven’t been officially totaled, Lee Daghlian,
spokesman for the New York State Board of Elections, said
that voter turnout for this year’s presidential primary appears
significantly lower than it was four years prior. Daghlian
estimated that only 13 or 14 percent of registered voters
went to the polls yesterday, compared with around 20 percent
one cared,” Daghlian said. “There was no contest really. All
the polls were predicting that [Kerry] would win, voters thought
that it was a forgone conclusion, and they turned out to be
Daghlian added that primary turnout is typically low, stating
that a 25-percent turnout would be a big deal.
In Albany County yesterday, primaries were held in six legislative
districts, but the results were still up in the air as of
press time Wednesday.
In the day’s most troublesome primary, incumbent Wanda Willingham
clung to a slim four-vote lead over challenger Jestin Williams,
217 to 213, with 100 percent of the machines counted, but
problems at and away from the polling place led a state judge
to order two voting machines and all absentee ballots impounded.
Willingham filed a formal complaint with the BOE after a mailing
error sent 40 people from her district to the wrong polling
place. Republican Elections Commissioner John Graziano Sr.,
who said the error resulted from the county’s redistricting
process, said that at least 10 of those 40 lodged votes in
the wrong district.
Willingham also filed a complaint over the handling of some
150 absentee ballots by Third Ward Democratic Leader Jamie
Gilkey, who had asked the BOE to hold the ballots for him
to deliver to shut-in or disabled voters in his ward. While
no law forbids the practice, Graziano said, the sheer number
of ballots Gilkey requested presented at least the appearance
In other races, unofficial polling numbers from the county’s
board of elections showed incumbent Democrat George Infante
leading Nell Stoke-Holmes, 312 to 203, in District 1; insurgent
Marilyn Hammond holding a sizeable lead over incumbent Lucille
McKnight, 210 to 177, in District 2; incumbent Virginia Maffia-Tobler
leading Ward Dewitt in the district 4 primary, 168 to157.
Independence Party voters in Guilderland’s District 31 placed
their support behind Republican Jeff Perlee, 16 to 14, over
Democrat William Aylward. Scott Paton beat William Gardner
III, 305 to 261, in the Republican primary in Colonie’s District
20 with 100 percent of the machines.
A protracted redistricting process—where it was determined
that the county’s voting maps provided inadequate representation
for a growing ethnic-minority population—postponed last fall’s
regularly scheduled legislative elections. Legislators were
to hold their seats until this fall, but a federal judged
ordered yesterday’s special primary. On April 27, all 39 seats
in the County Legislature will be voted on. Those elected
in April will carry out the remaining three years of a regular
term, which would have started Jan. 1.