WESPAC Annual Report 2010
In our thirty-sixth year of operation, WESPAC continues to remain a hub of progressive organizing in Westchester County. 2010 was a year where we reached out to more youth, embarked upon our chapter concept, moved our office headquarters and connected with national organizing initiatives.
Young people affiliated with WESPAC planned and curated an art exhibit at our White Plains space entitled “Food Glorious Food”. The exhibit took a unique look at the use of food in art. Adam Zucker, the main curator said about the exhibit: “In the 21st century, food is more of an issue than ever. The last decade was full of fad diets and fast food promotions. On the other hand, some people became more aware of the value of organic foods versus chemically and genetically modified foods. Vegetarianism, once seen only as a religious and moral choice, has become synonymous with “hipster” culture. Whatever the perspective, artists still regard food as a worthy subject both for conceptual reasons and the aesthetic beauty of a culinary composition.” The artists included in the show were Alex Miritello, Kristen Goehringer, Carissa Baldino, Yancey Guthrie Winch, Jessica Emerson, Christine Camacho, Deana Camacho, Brian Galderisi, Beverly Shipko, and Adam Zucker.
The theme of the art show blended well with WESPAC’s food justice work which attracts people under the age of thirty. Jalal Sabur takes Westchester youth on the weekends to glean foods from African American farmers in our region and then brings the produce back to Westchester for distribution in Winbrook Housing Project (White Plains), Slater Center, as well as other sites in Southern Westchester. Jalal is also connecting young farmers with each other. Our latest food justice person is Doug Decandia who is a young farmer in his twenties in Northern Westchester who donates the extra food he grows to the Mount Kisco Interfaith Food pantry, Neighbors Link as well as Hope Community Services in New Rochelle. His outdoor work has also enhanced his poetic writing. Here is a snippet taken from early September:
“After a few days of humble reflections, beautiful weather, and heart-warming sustenance, I think it is a bit safer to say that a change in season is about us, that the soft kisses of Autumn’s winds will soon be a part of our everyday, that the days will shorten, and our bodies will begin to take rest. I feel it more than ever this time of year, to reflect on the past days, months and years – to remember and pick out the little teachings that I have come across, and try and put them all together to build my tomorrow – for we are all what we have become through our experiences, and what better way to celebrate our lives, and our time here on this ship, than to remember, to reflect on, and to grow from these journey’s. I am feeling closer to the earth more these days – in my actual and physical connection with the land, the plants, and animals – but also in my emotions and spirit, which tie me to this place and give me the insight to remain here, for it is here that my roots are. I feel very blessed to be here now, to be able to share my love with my roots (the land, my family, friends and community), and to have my roots feed me and build my strength.”
On the topic of food justice, WESPAC took an active interest in saving operations at Hilltop Hanover Farm which is a county-owned farm located in Yorktown Heights. Tracy, Jalal and Nada all brought students and friends to visit and volunteer on the farm as well as actively meet with county officials to request that the farm be saved. The local government has decided that instead of selling the property to private developers, they will insist that the $377,000 annual tax-payer subsidy to support the farm must be shifted to private donors and to expanding the food production on the farm. Please see http://www.lohud.com/article/20101009/NEWS01/10090331/Westchester-lawmakers-make-plan-to-protect-Hilltop-Hanover-Farm
The issue of our local food security is closely linked to access to clean water. Thanks to an Elias Foundation grant, Tracy Basile and Scott Halfmann were both able to take a film course at the Jacob Burns this Spring entitled “Reel Change for Non-Profits” and produce a twelve minute film about the dangers of Hydraulic Fracturing (deep natural gas extraction) from the perspective of Native Americans in upstate New York. The over five hundred toxic chemicals that are used to lubricate the machinery in hydro-fracking have a track record of devastating underground aquifers as well as the natural environment and the health of people and animals. A functioning agricultural sector is dependent upon access to clean water which is why so many groups in New York rallied together to pressure Albany to issue a moratorium on hydro-fracking in the area of the Catskills and Adirondacks which supplies NYC with drinking water. Unfortunately the moratorium does not include all of New York State and the gas industry is engaged in deep gas extraction in Western New York. Over 180,000 land owners in New York State have signed contracts with the gas industry to allow them to hydro-frack on their property in exchange for monetary compensation. Upstate New York is economically depressed which makes the gas company’s offer all the more appealing. Full disclosure of the consequences of the drilling has not been included in the contracts.
Tracy and Scott’s film can be viewed online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdwCKzqVRdQ . The current moratorium on hydro-fracking in areas that supply NYC with drinking water expires in May 2011 which makes the current campaign all the more urgent. WESPAC has been able to work with other local groups on this issue including the Lower Hudson Valley Sierra Club, Transition Westchester, The Beacon Institute, Teatown Environmental Center, Waterkeeper Alliance, the Watershed Agricultural Alliance, Intergenerate, Jacob Burns Film Center, Westchester for Change, Bedford 20/20, FrackAction and The Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment.
WESPAC Chapter Development
This year, WESPAC started connecting people in various municipalities with each other, starting with Yonkers. We had volunteers call everyone on our mailing list in Yonkers and inform them of a community meeting at the Yonkers Public Library. People were pleased with the opportunity to meet each other; several of them already knew each other from previous organizing. After the first two meetings, the chapter developed a focus for the year which was educating the Yonkers Community about the new voting machines. With help from Bo Lipari, a software engineer and founder of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, the Yonkers Chapter came out with a list of points that they have shared:
· You must mark your ballot in pen, NOT IN PENCIL, or your vote will not be counted.
· Completely filling in the tiny outlined ovals or squares next to the names of your chosen candidates is the best way to mark your ballots for the machine to count your vote, but an X or a check mark is also supposed to be counted.
· There are no curtains behind the “privacy stations” where you will be marking your ballots, so use your body to hide your vote or ask a poll worker to seat you at a privacy station with your back to the wall to mark your ballot; you are entitled to a secret ballot.
· Your ballot has two sides. Vote for candidates and propositions ON THE BACK OF THE BALLOT, too.
· If you make a mistake in marking your ballot, do NOT try to erase: go ask the poll worker for a new ballot. However, you can only spoil two ballots, no one will be given more than three, so be careful! Decide on your vote before marking the ballot, and review your ballot carefully! Be especially careful not to vote for too many candidates for any one office.
· BE CAREFUL not to vote for more candidates for each office than is allowed: the ballot will say, “vote for only two,” for example for certain judgeships, or “vote for only one” for governor or legislator.
· People can check out the machines on which they will be voting online at www.vote-ny.com.
· Disabled people must inform poll workers before they vote if they need special ballot marking devices, and if they want the machine to provide them with an audio or visual ballot review before they cast their vote.
WESPAC as meeting space
WESPAC continues to serve as a meeting space for those looking to connect with others on a variety of issues. We have hosted meetings for unemployed people to meet each other and network with others in the hopes of finding employment and also in developing coping strategies for chronic unemployment. The group discussed what they had learned about being unemployed as well as their feelings associated with the unemployment. They also shared resources that they had discovered since their unemployment such as the WEDC – women’s economic development center http://www.wedc-westchester.org/, the Department of Labor, the White Plains One Stop and other government websites: http://www.dol.gov/, http://www.labor.ny.gov/home , http://www.westchestergov.com/wplwis/
Local libraries were also mentioned as a resource to think through career options: http://www.westchesterlibraries.org/webs People also mentioned the need to volunteer and keep busy during their unemployment as a means to keep their spirits up: http://www.volunteer-center.org/index.shtml Neighbors Link etc.
A newly formed men’s group also meets regularly at WESPAC to discuss the intersections of sexism, racism and the internalization of gender superiority. A young organizer, Luke Jones, has taken the initiative to spearhead this group. He works for Project Morry in White Plains http://www.projectmorry.org/ . He was inspired to start this group after participating in a gender workshop at WESPAC with Tony Porter from A Call to Men http://www.acalltomen.com/ which was a fabulous three hour training on gender and racial oppression.
To connect progressives with each other, WESPAC has hosted poetry cafes, a Champagne Brunch series with jazz and speakers of interest as well as fitness and dance classes. Our annual dinner was very successful this year and our deep appreciation to Elias for helping us fill the tables! Thank you!
Connecting with larger movements
The WESPAC experience at the US Social Forum was very meaningful this past June and the workshop that was offered on “Building Black and Arab Solidarity” continues to receive positive feedback as a topic that is necessary in the current Islamophobic environment while African Americans continue to be targets of police and FBI repression. The workshop attended by 45 organizers from around the US created a space to honestly discuss the current state of the relationship among both communities. We covered the context of the Arab immigrant experience, the choice they may have in slipping into the white dominant mainstream, the distancing from the African-American Communities, the lack of empathy with the Black experience in the United States and then transitioned in the second hour to strategies for coalition building by soliciting examples of solidarity from New York and around the country, and concluded with next steps.
We also discussed goals of a Black-Arab alliance and key areas for collective advocacy as well as resources either community has as constructive tools in coalition building as well as the use of privilege, expertise and experience. Problems faced in attempting to build a Black-Arab coalition were reflected in the at-times tense discussion in the room and included a conversation about racism, mutual distrust, stereotypes, class-differentials, brown-on-black racism, anti-Arab racism post-9/11, Arab ownership of businesses in Black neighborhoods as well as apathy in both communities.
Building on the social forum experience, WESPAC has been invited to be part of the steering committee of the UNAC national anti-war coalition that has emerged as perhaps the most unified coalition in the past decade: http://nationalpeaceconference.org and invited WESPAC to speak in Albany in July, at the October 2nd feeder march to the mass union rally in Washington, DC as well as in NYC. The War Resisters League has also recently asked for WESPAC participation on its national coordinating committee. WESPAC continues to be sought by peace groups in Connecticut as well as universities including NYU, Columbia, Rutgers, SUNY New Paltz and SUNY Binghamton. We have a close ongoing relationship with Pace University and have two younger members, Roger and Antoinette, now working at Manhattanville College and Sarah Lawrence College respectively where they help connect us with students on campus.
Our membership meetings are increasing in attendance and we are looking forward to an even more productive and effective year in 2011.