New York City People's Life Fund

339 Lafayette Street
New York, NY 10012

2004 Annual Report

On November 13, New York City People's Life Fund held its 2004 Annual Meeting in the A.J. Muste office on the third floor of the War Resisters League. Following below is the text of our update to membership:

The Republican Convention

As you know, the New York City People's Life Fund rechannels war tax resisted moneys to New York City community groups in the form of loans and grants. However, we are also part and parcel of a greater community—that of the peace and justice community.

This summer the NYC PLF Board members joined tens of thousands of demonstrators from all over the world to sound the cry for peace on earth. It was a thunderous cheering crowd, high-spirited with inventive signs and posters to carry a message to the world—peace, not war.

Below are two reports, one by Board member Alice Sutter on her two-day detention, the other by Sallie Marx, recounting the events that led to the arrests of over 200 demonstrators—arrests that were pre-emptive since civil disobedience had been planned.

August 31 Direct Action and Aftermath (Alice Sutter)

I was arrested August 31 at 7:00 PM while participating in the die-in (symbolically dying to commemorate the war dead) at 28th and Broadway. A bus transported us to Pier 57 at about 9:00 PM. The pier was creatively arranged with huge gated pens topped with barbed wire. Each pen had a few benches for over 100 detainees, a port-o-potty and a large bottle of water. Those unable to sit or stand all night had to lie directly on the grimy floor. About six hours later, we received sandwiches which we shared. According to my sister inmates most arrestees received no warning. Many were tourists, journalists or passersby. No information on a release time, no phone calls and no food for six hours made for an excruciatingly difficult wait.

About 20 hours later they handcuffed us and a paddy wagon took us to 'central booking.' One young woman, crying uncontrollably, complained that her handcuffs were too tight. An officer made the cuffs tighter, kicked her and put her in a solitary confinement compartment. Told she had a heart condition, I tried in vain to use my clout as a nurse practitioner, explaining that this is a medical emergency. No response. During our suffocating two-hour ride we called to those outside for help. At the same time we supported the young woman by helping her to breathe more calmly.

Again I was in a cell with over 100 women. Moving slightly in the tight floor space could mean kicking your sister inmate in the head. The floor had a strong toxic chemical smell. Sandwiches were more plentiful but still no phone calls, no information about when we would leave. Finally at 1:30 AM I left a message for my family and my job.

People around me suffered from an array of health problems including chemical burns from the pier floor, toxins, rashes, respiratory problems, back pain, migraines and other severe headaches. Finally, after 5:00 PM (two days of being held) police rushed to move us. An order for our release had come through. Overworked officers told us this should never have happened. We should have been released from the pier but the Mayor insisted that all records be investigated. We were photographed, medically cleared, brought to another set of cells where overworked lawyers worked to process us. We were brought before a judge and then freed. I accepted an ACD which is adjournment with contemplated dismissal—charges to be dropped within six months if one is not arrested again.

I realize with all this shockingly poor treatment, which must be legally challenged, we had only a taste of the abuse that most prisoners experience endlessly in our system. For years, many Middle Eastern and other immigrants have been sitting in prisons for years with no charges and constant abuse. Such treatment must be immediately ended and condemned as crimes against humanity. As human rights are increasingly denied in this powerful country, we open the door to lower standards all over the world.

Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Obstructed (Sallie Marx)

Tuesday, August 29, was a mild sunny summer day that gave no foretaste of what was to come. Planning for a massive march from the World Trade Center site up Broadway to Madison Square Garden had gone well, resulting in an agreement with the police—no permit was necessary for a march of two abreast to the Garden. A group of demonstrators planned to stage a die-in there. The War Resisters League, the initiator and one of the major planners, and several other groups which agreed to nonviolent principles, worked relentlessly for an agreement with the police. They were assured of police cooperation.

But agreement took a decidedly strange turn. While police assured WRL that the march would go forward with civil disobedience (a die-in—symbolically dying to commemorate the war dead), at the last moment they rescinded those assurances. Instead, the protesters were offered an alternative—stepping into a protest pen at 8th Avenue and 31st Street.

Ed Hedemann, an organizer with WRL, turned down the proposal. A few moments later a vast roll of orange netting was unfurled and officers with white plastic handcuffs moved in. Presumably, the action was to prevent the die-in. Actually, they were arresting people for what they intended, and that is clearly against the law.

But police action failed to stop the remaining protesters, who were watching the spectacle from across the street. In small groups they made their way uptown with an array of signs—many carrying the names of victims, both American and Iraqi, of Mr. Bush's war.

Overall estimates of police presence during the Convention were in the 10,000 range, on patrol and at fixed points round the clock. The rapid response techniques was made up of scooters, bicycles and vans.

Indiscriminate arrests and long detentions were the order of the day. A state judge ruled that the city was in contempt of court—protesters had been held over 24 hours without being charged before a judge. Numerous law suits against the city have been filed. Be that as it may, thousands of protesters were not only prevented from expressing their opposition to the Bush administration agenda but were deprived of their basic constitutional rights to protest, kept in detention beyond legal limits, and detained under horrendous conditions unfit for human habitation.

Norman Siegel, veteran civil liberties lawyer, declared, “The Bloomberg administration needs to be held accountable for what happened.” The latest news is that over 200 arrestees' cases have been dropped. Nevertheless, cases are being pursued under the Federal Civil Rights Act, which will allow for some kind of redress for the violation of civil rights.

Bucks for Bombs

As time passes a growing number of Americans have opened their eyes, not only to the cost of the war in terms of lives and destruction of Iraqi infrastructure, but in terms of the unrelenting drain on American society. Ordinary Americans are burdened with an unfair tax code.

They pay into the system dearly. But what do they get in return? Universal health care? Uncrowded decent schools? Affordable daycare programs? Adequate environmental protection? None of the above!

How NYC War Tax Resistance & NYC People's Life Fund Intersect

New York City War Tax Resistance (NYC WTR) counsels potential war tax resisters on methods of resistance and offers assistance to those who need guidance. Most war tax resisters choose to put their resisted moneys into the New York City People's Life Fund (NYC PLF), which enables it to grant tens of thousands of dollars to local community groups.

For over 30 years the Life Fund has represented “possibility” for many city groups. When a food co-op desperately needed a freezer to store perishables, the PLF was there for them; when a neighborhood economic development group needed to assist welfare recipients in dealing with unjust access fees for welfare benefits, the Life Fund was there for them.

We hope to continue our work. We hope to enlarge our outreach. We hope to be the future.

Looking Back: The Book Project

With the publication of Why Just Survive? Flourish! approximately two years ago, New York City People's Life Fund ventured forth into uncharted territory. On the whole, public response to the book has been quite positive. We have also learned several lessons along the road. First and foremost among these is that because this book addresses itself to a low income community, it must be made more affordable to that community. In fact, if there is to be a future edition, we might have to consider making it a self-supporting venture so that emphasis is shifted from recovery of publication expense to affordable, or perhaps even free, distribution of the book. How this might be achieved is not yet clear. It is, however subject for discussion in our upcoming annual meeting.

In the interim, we are offering free copies of Why Just Survive? FLOURISH! for all people who send in contributions of $20.00 or more. For those currently unable to afford a contribution, but who would like a copy of the book, please send us a check or postage stamps in the amount of $1.50, and a book will be in the mail.

Looking Forward: Future Projects

Notwithstanding the very difficult present we have described here, we think it is still quite important to look to possibilities for the future. We think, as has always been the case, that we need to extend our reach beyond the war tax resistance community to the larger peace and social justice communities.

Among our plans are the resumption of our efforts to make presentations to former grant recipients. By showing the direct relation between resistance and rechanneling of resisted moneys to community groups, we hope to gain new adherence to war tax resistance.

Back in 1995, we published our last newsletter, a very well-received publication that amazingly contains material that is still relevant. In that newsletter, we made a promise of a future edition. We are now considering how we can follow through on that promise. In the past these newsletters were a vital link to our community and spurred interest in the work of both New York City War Tax Resistance and New York City People's Life Fund. We are also considering another public forum exploring issues of peace and social justice.

In Conclusion

The New York City People's Life Fund takes war tax resistance moneys and contributions, and awards grants and loans to vital community organizations. In addition to putting the moneys of socially-minded contributors to work in the community the Fund also plays a unique role in New York City in converting moneys destined for war to productive social activities. It is a most desperately needed role today. However, with the ongoing slowdown in contributions and war tax moneys, and an increase in requests for return of funds, we have been unable to play the active role we have in the past. This year, we have once again deferred grant and loan-giving activities to the foreseeable future.