2008 Annual Report
On November 26, New York City People's Life Fund held its 2008 Annual Board Meeting at the A.J. Muste Institute. Following below is the text of our update to membership:
A Disturbing Common Thread in Republican Conventions
A disturbing common thread runs through the 2004 and 2008 general election seasons. This year's Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, encountered many peaceful protestors decrying the spoils of both the Bush Administration and the Republican Party as a whole. Peaceful protestors were herded around like cattle, physically-abused and pepper sprayed. One television news report clearly showed a woman being repeatedly pepper-sprayed when all she was doing was peacefully marching. Further, numerous members of the media were arrested, among them Amy Goodman of Democracy Now. One of Goodman's producers, Nicole Salazar, suffered a bloody nose during her arrest. Legitimate press credentials were ignored and even confiscated.
A 10,000-strong peace march against the war was greeted with a veritable army of local police, secret service and FBI. Concussion grenades were lobbed into the crowd, and peaceful protestors arrested (approximately 300 people). Some of those arrested were tasered. The implications for personal freedom guaranteed by the Bill of Rights is all too obvious.
Sadly, these events are not without precedence. In fact, they are an eerie reminder of what happened in 2004. Few of us could forget the Republican Convention held four years ago in New York City at Madison Square Garden. Flagrant abuse and disregard for civil rights of peaceful protestors engaging in civil disobedience were rampant. Numerous protestors were herded into a temporary holding area at Pier 57 on Manhattan's west side under sub-human conditions that later prompted the nickname Guantanamo on the Hudson. Held for hours, handcuffed, and with no indication of when they would be processed, these people suffered from inexcusable injuries such as chemical burns from the pier floor. One young woman who suffered from a heart condition complained to a police officer that the handcuffs were too tight. The barbaric response was that he tightened the handcuffs and kicked her. Press were also among those arrested.
The extent of this flagrant abuse is now at least partially acknowledged. The protestors have been vindicated by a $2,000,000 settlement announced this past August for those wrongfully arrested during the Republican Convention in 2004. Where does this all lead? If political parties and government seek to silence the voices of those guaranteed the right to speak, where is the opportunity to make changes for the better? Where the prevailing parties fail miserably to provide, we may find the answers by turning to one another. Direct action in the form of alternative funding gives sustenance.
The Year in Review
For the first time since the Depression of the 1930s, the U.S. is facing the strong possibility of economic cataclysm. Stagnant incomes, job losses, rising gas and food prices have hit millions of Americans and plunged the country into an economic downturn that could spiral into a Depression.
The Depression of the thirties and the hard years of the Roosevelt administration have been forgotten. The legislation that was passed to prevent a return of flagrant financial practices has been overturned in the last decades. The thirites were different. That era will never return might have been the pervasive sentiment in Congress, or perhaps there was a collective failed memory.
Bailout is now underway. Ironically, the sum 700 billion dollars (approximately the amount spent so far in Iraq), is suddenly available to Wall Street when health insurance and other vital needs are callously ignored. Although every industrialized country in the world has erected comprehensive universal health care, some plans dating back to the fifties, in the U.S., somehow, money is unavailable for such pressing needs, that is, unavailable for life-giving purposes.
At this difficult time, a time filled with uncertainty and foreboding, we are in the midst of an election campaign. Although Barack Obama voted against the invasion of Iraq, in recent months he has been less than forthcoming about dates for withdrawal. And recently, more in the news than in the last few years, is Afghanistan. The government there is weak and many Afghans hope for change in their upcoming elections.
Here in the U.S., the left continues its mission to keep up pressure for troop withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and to steer the country toward a more relevant social and health agenda, an agenda that helps to make our lives better, not one directed toward conquest and destruction.
The cliché that “Times are hard” has never seemed truer than now. The word “change” has ceased to have meaning as it is drummed into our ears by candidates eager to win an election. With dire predictions of possible economic collapse that could rival the Great Depression of the 1930s, and ever-diminishing support for programs funding fundamental human needs, positive change is needed. What can we, as individuals devoted to peace and social justice, do?
As the New York City People's Life Fund (NYC PLF) redoubles its efforts, and initiates new efforts to build bridges between our organization and others of like mind, we seek to raise awareness within the general public that their tax monies needn't be poured into the black hole of war without end, but that you can resist; even more important, you can redirect war taxes into alternative funds such as PLF. We plan, this coming spring, to direct monies, once again, in the form of grants to outstanding community groups that provide critically-needed services. Additionally, we are now engaged in efforts to build bridges between the war tax resistance community and organizations devoted to peace and social justice.
A Call to Action
This coming April 15, we will resume limited granting activities with five grants totalling $5,000. In the otherwise gloomy economic climate, this offers us hope for more vigorous granting and lending activity in the future. Resources are limited in the current economic climate. If enough of us pool our limited resources, we can begin to make a difference. Clearly, times are hard. But our failure to act now in whatever small ways we can will assure that times continue to get harder. It is essential that the Life Fund receive a regular infusion of money in order to maintain granting activities. Your sustained support can make a real difference in the New York City community.
It is hard to predict where the current economic and political climate may lead us. We must continue to keep up the pressure on the U.S. government to cease its incessant funding of carnage in both Iraq and Afghanistan and begin to heal the ills on its own shores. Our control over these events is limited.
We can act internally by supporting our own communities, and by way of example, providing a blueprint for what might be done on a larger scale. Your contributions are vital to all efforts the Fund makes.
The lifeblood of our work is the spirit for change in our community. In order to bring this change closer to reality, let's work together to create a solid base. We're counting on your support.