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Representin’: Immortal Techique. Photo by: Alicia Solsman

Organized Rhyme
Albany festival aims to promote connections between hiphop and labor

The Capital District Area Labor Federation presented the six-hour Hiphop Movement Meets the Labor Movement Cultural Festival in Washington Park on Saturday (Sept. 4), drawing more than 1,000 people from both sides of the equation. It was an attempt to cross-pollinate and raise mutual awareness; the CDALF’s press release called it an effort to “unite the two movements . . . and highlight the similarities in their struggles” and “foster dialogue and promote culture.”

It was a connection that, at first glance, seemed unusual, perhaps even a bit illogical, but as the day wore on, it became clear that there was a great deal in common between the two movements. Throughout the Saturday afternoon festival, speakers, poets, rappers and dancers took to the stage to promote their mutual cause. A number of labor-based organizations and event co-sponsors—including the New York State United Teachers, Teamsters Local 294, and the Albany Public School Teachers’ Association—were on hand to distribute literature, register voters, and educate those in attendance.

A three-on-three basketball tournament and a demonstration of capoiera Angola, a Brazilian martial art that resembles slow-motion two-person breakdancing, were among the afternoon’s activities. One speaker aligned capoiera with the labor and hiphop movements, explaining that there were efforts to “keep it small, in this little box” when it was first practiced in the 1800s (the art was developed as a response to the institution of slavery, and was outlawed at one time by the Brazilian government).

The actual intersection of the two movements’ struggles was best represented by the presence of the Grassroots Artist MovEment. Lawrence James, director of operations for GAME, was on hand to explain his organization’s goals—to form a hiphop union for the sake of collective bargaining, to provide health care for hiphop artists, and to ensure that artists are represented properly in contract negotiations.

“About 44 million people [are] uninsured or underinsured,” James explained. GAME is “about practical solutions, real things. We’re organizing the situation by ourselves. . . . We want to make sure [our artists] have their medical, we want to make sure they have their dental, we want to make sure that they [have] proper representation—at a show, or in the studio.”

GAME also presented a large portion of the afternoon’s musical entertainment, including Hasan Salaam, Majesty, Red Clay and Slik da Relic. (Other artists were discovered through open auditions held earlier this summer.) Much of the rappers’ material was underlined with a message of positivity and social activism. Unfortunately, one of the headliners—M1 of Dead Prez—was a last-minute cancellation, reportedly detained by police earlier in the week. Peruvian-born rapper Immortal Technique closed the afternoon with a strong, politically charged set of material culled from his experiences growing up in Latin America and Harlem.


“That’s a scary woman made of dollar bills.”
—a child’s reponse to “Monster of War,” on display in the window of Lark Street’s Firlefanz gallery.

Bruce Richards, a spokesman from 1199 SEIU, New York’s health-care union, promoted unity and motivation in his energetic mid-afternoon speech. He urged the crowd to use its “collective strength” and to “not allow the value of human life to continue to be pulled down.” He pointed to the high percentage of unemployed black youth and the growing number of prisons in the United States as reasons for people to unite and respect one another.

“Working people fought and died for an eight-hour day, for social security, for unemployment insurance, for vacation pay, for pension,” he reminded the crowd. “If we do not stick together and overcome the divisions that exist among us, these things will be gone. It is the challenge of the hiphop movement [and] the challenge of the labor movement to create positive images in our community.” Richards concluded by paraphrasing Civil War abolitionist Frederick Douglass: “If there is no struggle, there can be no progress.”

The festival came off without a hitch and seemed to be extremely successful in conveying its purpose and plot, especially in light of a holiday weekend and very little advance publicity. Zoeann Murphy, a spokesperson for the CDALF, expressed the federation’s optimism that the hiphop and labor movements can continue to work together toward greater change. They plan to make this an annual event and continue to find new ways to spark interest in their cause.

—John Brodeur

Let Our People Vote
Independents cry foul over Democrats’ efforts to keep third-party candidates off state ballots

The Democratic National Committee is the real election spoiler, says a group of independent voters, and they’re willing to take presidential candidate John Kerry and other Democrats to court in order to prove it.

In a lawsuit filed last month, Kerry, his running mate John Edwards and a host of other prominent Democrats were accused of engaging in a vast conspiracy to prevent the development of third-party politics. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Committee for a Unified Independent Party, a nonprofit think tank for independent politics, along with a group of independent voters from several states.

According to the lawsuit, certain tactics used by Democrats to prevent independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader and his running mate, Peter Camejo, from being included on state ballots not only deprived voters of their right to choose a third party in the upcoming presidential election, but also made improper use of public funds. The Kerry-Edwards campaign receives funding from the Federal Election Commission.

Erika Soto, a spokeswoman for the DNC, called the lawsuit “baseless” and “without merit.”

“Anything we’ve done is part of an effort to make sure that Ralph Nader follows the law to get on the ballot in each state,” said Soto, who added that “[Nader] has shown a disturbing willingness to bend the law to get on state ballots.”

The lawsuit alleges that—among other things—defendants such as DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe and certain Democratic state officials used their influence to bring Nader-Camejo petitions under a higher level of scrutiny than is normally required, and announced criminal investigations of Nader-Camejo petitioners as a form of intimidation.

One section of the lawsuit accuses a state official of filling a nominating caucus for Nader supporters with Democratic Party “activists” in order to prevent Nader from receiving the 1,000 votes necessary for ballot access.

Soto declined to comment on whether such tactics were used, or whether the use of such tactics violated any laws.

“We think that this case has long-term implications,” said Harry Kresky, counsel to the CUIP and its fellow plaintiffs. He said a statute created just after the Civil War figures prominently in the justification for the lawsuit. The statute was created to prevent groups such as the Ku Klux Klan from organizing actions that would keep black voters from participating in elections.

“It’s not frivolous when a 200-year-old institution with $75 million in public funds and ties to elected officials in every state, county and city of the country is on a mission to prevent an individual from running for public office,” said Kresky in response to comments from DNC spokesman Jano Cabrero after the lawsuit was filed.

Soto declined to comment on what action the DNC would take in response to the lawsuit. However, Kresky said that he expects the DNC to move for dismissal of the lawsuit, in which case the motion would be contested. The DNC has 60 days to respond.

—Rick Marshall

On the campaign trail: Tick (center) and Sanders (right) canvass for Soares. Photo by: Joe Putrock

What’s a DA to Do?
Primary for Albany County district attorney rests on different definitions of the job

Janet Sanders and Paul Tick were cheerful as they worked their way through a few blocks of canvassing for district attorney candidate David Soares on the shady suburban streets of Bethlehem last Friday (Sept. 3). “I don’t know why it’s so easy,” Sanders joked as they headed up to another door. The man who answered looked at their stickers and said he’s already voting for Soares. “Can I ask how you heard about him?” asked Sanders.

“I’m familiar with Mr. Clyne,” he replied, through tight lips.

A few houses down, a woman said she had heard the name but didn’t know anything about him. As Tick gave his summary of Soares’ highlights (to him)—reforming the Rockefeller drug laws, supporting creative prosecution methods like drug courts and community accountability boards, seeking more funds to address domestic violence—she opened her eyes wide and exclaimed, “He sounds excellent!”

Mid-block, Tick and Sanders pass along literature to a friend of the teenager who answers the door, someone they know through their work with Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace. Her mother is a Democratic committeewoman, but she promises to pass the information on even though Soares is not the Democratic committee’s pick.

Though longtime activists, like most of Soares’ canvassers, neither Tick nor Sanders has worked on an electoral campaign before; both work in the social services field and say they were drawn in by Soares’ commitment to prevention as well as prosecution. And they are having fun, getting overwhelming support wherever they go. One day, Sanders said, she had a run of women who were all shocked to learn that Clyne wasn’t pro-choice, while for others it has been Soares’ community prosecution experience that appeals.

The Soares campaign headquarters has been hopping day and night for months with what Newsday has called “one of the Working Families Party’s signature grassroots campaigns.” WFP, which often cross-endorses progressive candidates on other ballot lines, has provided much of the financial support for the campaign, which has been sending people door to door in all corners of the county. Amanda Paeglow, one of the campaign’s canvassers, and a former staffer of the community prosecution unit Soares headed, said that everywhere they go, people are particularly happy to be listened to, and shocked when campaign workers actually get back to them with answers to questions they couldn’t answer on the spot. “No one ever comes to us and says ‘Here what’s going on,’ ” she recalled one woman saying. “We go to the polls blind.”

Since the position of the current DA, Paul Clyne, is that he is doing the job well, crime is down and everything is fine, the primary race for district attorney—which began when Soares announced his candidacy on June 8 (shortly after being fired for telling Clyne, his boss, that he was going to run) [“New Face in DA Race,” Newsfront, June 10]—has been a matter of Soares announcing how he would do things differently, and Clyne responding, sometimes questioning Soares’ statistics or experience, other times with withering personal attacks.

Earlier this summer, for example, Soares announced a plan to fight domestic violence, outlining funding sources he would seek and models of training and interagency cooperation from other counties that he would implement here. “Paul Clyne treats domestic violence as if it was an average assault,” said Soares.

Clyne responded by releasing a letter Soares wrote in support of parole for a cousin who had been in prison for killing his wife. Soares responded that supporting parole for someone who had served his time and shown evidence of rehabilitation did not mean he wouldn’t have prosecuted that person to the fullest extent of the law in the first place.

But the major issue of the campaign has been the question of violent crime versus nonviolent drug crimes. Soares has gained statewide attention and support for being outspoken about the need to change the state’s Rockefeller drug laws by removing the mandatory minimum sentences and reinstating judicial discretion. “The focus on these buy and bust operations are doing nothing but removing the very lowest offender on the drug chains,” he said.

The Rockefeller drug laws are well known, and a majority of the people in the Capital Region agree that they need changing. Many have the same reaction as the man who showed up at Soares’ headquarters last Thursday, flyer in hand, saying he’d gotten this in the mail, and it looked good, but what could the DA actually do about a legislative matter? Soares responded that he would use his prosecutorial discretion and a focus on treatment and diversionary programs to circumvent the worst effects of the law, and noted that Clyne had been the lead lobbyist for the District Attorney’s Association, which was itself the main organization lobbying against these changes in the state Legislature.

This position in particular has helped him pick up some notable endorsements, including SEIU local 1199 and Albany Common Council president Helen DesFosses, who opened a press conference announcing her Soares endorsement by saying, “We can’t continue to fight crime the same old way.” DesFosses admitted that endorsing a candidate not supported by the county Democratic committee may have “consequences” for her own political career. “I thought long and hard about this,” she said. “I didn’t just trip out of my car into this press conference.”

Soares, whose formative experience was working with a community prosecution program and community accountability board in Albany’s Arbor Hill [“To Protect, Serve, and Earn Your Trust,” May 13], has promised a two-pronged approach of focusing on incarcerating high-level drug dealers and other violent criminals, while expanding treatment, diversionary programs, and other creative sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders aimed at preventing them from joining the revolving door of increasing crime. He contends that Clyne has done just the opposite, increasing prosecutions of felony drug offenders in order to inflate his numbers, while allowing violent crime to increase.

Clyne’s campaign manager, Robert Haggerty, who returned calls to Clyne, dismissed these accusations, saying the statistics Soares refers to amount to a “blip” and “overall crime is down.” The numbers do not clearly support either candidate’s contentions. While most violent crimes have decreased steadily around the state from 2000 to 2003, in Albany County they rose significantly from 2000 (when Clyne took office) to 2002 and dropped down again in 2003, to levels sometimes above and sometimes below that of 2000, depending on the type of crime, with rape notably down compared with the state’s trends and aggravated assault notably up.

Statistics for 2004 have not been released, but Soares supporters in Albany’s Arbor Hill and South End neighborhoods point to the recent rash of shootings in the city as an example of how their neighborhoods do not feel safer, and say that the current focus on incarceration will not work over the long run. An antiviolence group from these areas, independent from the Soares campaign, is planning a Walk for Change and Hope this Saturday to dramatize its safety concerns.

Soares has also said he will prioritize implementation of programs to connect vulnerable senior citizens and law-
enforcement personnel, hiring a grant writer to go after all available resources, and enhancing the independence of the DA’s investigative branch.

At base, the candidates have markedly different assessments of what the role of the district attorney is. “The main function of the district attorney is to prosecute crime,” noted Haggerty, repeating that Soares has not prosecuted felonies. “The role of the district attorney is not to turn the office into a social services agency, which is what Mr. Soares proposes to do. The district attorney cannot unilaterally broaden the scope of the office.”

Clyne, in an interview for The Informed Constituent, also noted that his experience in the job was helpful because he has “close working relationships with many of the people. . . . It’s a network type of thing. A lot of things [that] could be problems are smoothed over with phone calls, and that makes it kind of nice, actually.”

To Soares, on the other hand, a district attorney’s office that is focused on the long-term goal of public safety needs to be actively involved in partnerships and working on prevention. The office needs prosecutors who are problem solvers, he said, people who are familiar with and have relationships with mental health, drug treatment, and social services agencies so in court they can say “This person would be better served by . . .”

“We know how to put people on probation, we know how to lock them up, but what about this other world of conditional discharge? We need creativity. . . . When your objective is public safety you need to ask, Should I be involved with schools, parole, reentry? . . . A prosecutor like Paul Clyne will tell you no,” he said, “[but] the DA is in the best position to bring about these long-term solutions.”

—Miriam Axel-Lute

A show of force: police presence at Ground Zero during the RNC. Photo by: Rick Marshall

The Price of Dissent
For those arrested at the RNC, the fight isn’t over

During the protests outside the Republican National Convention in New York City [“From New York, With Outrage,” Sept. 2], more than 1,800 arrests were made—the most in the history of party conventions. The validity of the arrests, and the actions of the police, have been questioned, with reports of members of the press, protest observers, and commuters being rounded up indiscriminately. Though Mayor Bloomberg commended the actions taken by the police force, many have a different story to tell.

The treatment of the detained was highly unusual. Many of those arrested were taken to Pier 57, which protesters began calling “Toxic Guantanamo on the Hudson,” where they were detained for an average of 12 hours, though many arrested spent more than 38 hours in custody. Detainees at the Pier, which is notorious for being ridden with asbestos and other chemicals, suffered from chemical burns, rashes, welts, skin infections, and other wounds. Because of the lack of available seating, many were forced to sit and sleep on the floor, which was thick with motor oil and sludge, leftover from the days when the warehouse served as a bus depot. One person reportedly was treated for toxic shock from the amount of motor oil absorbed through the skin.

G. Simon Harak, anti-militarism coordinator of the War Resistors League, was one of the many protestors held at Pier 57. Harak led an unpermitted, nonviolent march that called for the Bush administration to take responsibility for lives taken by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The police, (who had been initially informed of the march and had given verbal assent), barricaded the protestors at an intersection and then accused them of blocking traffic. Harak and 270 others (including members of the press and bystanders) were rounded up in orange plastic police nets, arrested, charged with disorderly conduct, and detained at Pier 57 for more than 12 hours. Harak was held for 23 hours.

“Their intent was to discourage and criminalize free speech and dissent,” said Harak. In other demonstrations he has participated in in the past, he said, an arrest for disorderly conduct has resulted in about one hour in custody.

Last Thursday (Sept. 2), State Supreme Court Judge John Cataldo, discouraged by the excessive amount of time arrestees were being detained, ordered that 560 people be released or made ready for arraignment by 5 PM. When the police did not follow through on his order, he fined the city $1,000 for every person not released, which the city has since appealed, claming the 1,100 protestors arrested on Aug. 31 overwhelmed the city’s legal system.

Many Capital Region residents were present for the protests, and some were among those arrested. Through the Ironweed Collective, they are helping to raise bail money for those still incarcerated and collecting information from those arrested to be used as evidence in a class-action lawsuit currently being built by the National Lawyer’s Guild. The lawsuit examines the various legal issues surrounding the protests, including the length of time protesters were detained, the degree of criminal processing, and the conditions of Pier 57. On Sept. 15, a hearing on the treatment of the detainees will take place at New York’s City Hall.

—Ashley Thiry


David Soares for Albany County District Attorney

Allow us to raise a couple issues that are often emphasized by those far to the right of us, but that we figure people on all sides of the political spectrum can agree upon: (1) We want less crime (2) We’d rather our taxes didn’t go up unneccessarily.

David Soares has the long-term vision to make both these things happen at once. Anyone who has spent a modicum of time in and around prisons knows that they turn people who committed petty, nonviolent offenses into hardened criminals with vast connections in the criminal underworld. As such, it should be saved for people who are actually a danger to have on the streets. It is also wildly expensive, especially when compared with treatment, supervised community service and restitution, volunteer community accountability boards that enforce community standards, and a whole host of other creative approaches that David Soares is recommending. The district attorney’s office has the power to put some prosecutorial motivation, as it were, behind efforts that can get individuals’ lives back on track and break the cycle of recidivism.

There’s nothing soft about Soares: He doesn’t believe in victimless crimes, and has even spoken wistfully of the days when he could focus on locking up “bad guys.” Nothing about him is knee-jerk liberal. It was his real-world experience on the ground, walking the streets, working with the police, listening to residents, and watching patterns of crime, that has brought him to his positions about the Rockefeller drug laws, creative prosecution, and focus on community standards and prevention. We’ll trust someone who came to his principles about public safety by trying to make it happen over ivory-tower ideology anyday. In the language of management, Soares is focusing on outcomes (increased public safety) rather than process (increased convictions). It’s a relief to hear someone willing to take that on for real, with respect for the ideas of justice, fairness, and respect.

Soares’ opponent, incumbent Paul Clyne, has spent the past few months giving nasty soundbites to the press, but other than that, his claims to reelection are increased indictments, computerizing the office’s records, and “overall crime is down”—a complex claim for which it is unclear that he can take credit. It’s not like Soares can either, but it should be noted that crime actually decreased only from 2002 to 2003, the year in which the community prosecution program Soares led came into its own. It’s a stretch to attribute the decline all to that, since crime was decreasing across the state—but it’s similarly a stretch for Clyne to take the credit himself.

Given what we’ve seen of the campaign, we wouldn’t call Soares’ campaign a long shot in the slightest, but a Soares win would be, in the words of supporter Barbara Smith, “historic.” Let’s make history.

Margaret Walsh for Albany County Family Court Judge

It’s a tricky thing to suss out judge candidates. Neither of these candidates has given us much to sink our teeth into by way of their positions on the issues or how family court ought to be run. However, there are a few things that tip our hand to Walsh. First, she has explicitly recognized that “it isn’t traditional families that a family court judge typically deals with,” and made a commitment to recognizing those different forms and doing what is best for the children in every case. This rings very differently to us than her opponent’s “A family man for family court” slogan. Second, her experience as a law guardian—representing the interests of children in all phases of family court—has brought her closer to the kinds of decisions she will have to face as a judge than her opponent’s work as a support magistrate, in which he makes financial decisions about child and spousal support. Finally, and this wouldn’t be enough by itself, it does strike us that preserving some gender diversity among family court judges (Walsh would be the only woman in Albany County) would probably be a good thing in the long run as well.

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