Five supporters of the nuclear deal with Iran arrested at Albany federal building

Sue Clark being arrested at the Albany Federal Building.  Photo by Marcia Hopple

Sue Clark being arrested at the Albany Federal Building. Photo by Marcia Hopple

This is what Democracy looks like:  Albany rally and sit-in at the Federal Building to support the Nuclear Deal with Iran

from Waging Peace/Women Against War

by Mickie Lynn

On Wednesday, August 26, 2015, about 70 people gathered outside the Leo O’Brien Federal Building in Albany, New York as part of a nationwide series of vigils and rallies that happened at different times of that day in different cities. In most cases they were organized by a coalition of national groups (60 Days to End the War), supported by many members of local peace and justice groups.

Here in Albany, MoveOn took the lead and was greatly assisted by Jewish Voice for Peace- Albany Chapter, Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace, Solidarity Committee of the Capital District, Women Against War, Upper Hudson Peace Action, and Citizen Action NY.

In particular, Women Against War contributed our huge Iran Next? No War. No Way! banners and our photos of Iranian people and a large variety of signs and posters, a speaker, a song leader, and many of our members. As I’ll describe later, we also participated in a separate action that followed the rally!

We were all there to thank Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Paul Tonko for deciding to approve the vital Iran Peace deal.

The fire in our rally was fueled by the heartfelt desire to let Senator Chuck Schumer know that we were very displeased with his announced decision to oppose the agreement. We were there to tell him that it wasn’t too late to change his mind.

That passionate message to Senator Schumer wasn’t limited to the Capital District. There were 24 separate vigils held in New York State (out of approximately 230 rallies throughout the United States. MoveOn announced that they tallied more than 6,500 individuals taking part in the national rallies, just on this one day of actions. Many other Town Hall Meetings and other events are still scheduled on future dates between now and the vote in mid-September, including one here at the Federal Building on Thursday, September 10th from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.)

This is urgent because those who want to sabotage the agreement are spending at least $40 million on lobbying and advertising blitzes. All that we have is our right to visit our legislators’ offices and let them know of our passion for a deal that will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The rally had three parts. First came a long line with signs and banners out along Pearl Street in front of the Federal Building.

The second part of the rally began when we moved onto the grass alongside the Federal Building. That’s when we had some speakers and excellent music by folksinger Terri Roben, helped out at times by Blue Wilder and Susan Weber on vocals and percussion.

While we were an audience, many wonderful photos and a few videos were taken. We listened to speakers from The Solidarity Committee, Women Against War, Jewish Voice for Peace, Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace, The Palestinian Rights Committee and Veterans for Peace. The speeches were excellent. They were all brief, but filled with relevant ideas, analysis and passion.

In a brief ceremony, representatives of Senator Gillibrand (Gia Recco) and Senator Schumer (Steve Mann) were invited to receive 27,500 signatures in support of the Iran Peace Deal from their constituents in New York State, delivered by Susan Weber of MoveOn.

The final part of the official rally consisted of a walk from the Federal Building to Representative Paul Tonko’s Albany office where his new chief of staff, Ryan Horstmyer, came out to greet us and hear our messages of thanks.

After the visit to Paul Tonko’s office the official rally was over and a nonviolent civil resistance action was about to begin. [The group returned to the federal building.] This was quite a while in the planning and refining. Inspiration came out of a meeting of the Iran Project of Women Against War. Several of the people who planned the CR had been inspired by a meeting with Medea Benjamin during the Kateri Peace Conference. In particular, Sue Clark felt that she had not taken any powerful actions recently because of physical and health challenges. She came to the meeting of the Iran project and asked us to help her raise the level of her commitment to this unique chance for preventing another nuclear armed nation.

The five arrestees.  Photo by Wendy Dwyer

The five arrestees. Photo by Wendy Dwyer

The five who decided to risk arrest are in their 6o’s, 70’s and 8o’s and one is 90. Almost all of them are members of Grannies for Peace. Four of us wanted to sit in and offer support in various ways but not risk arrest. We nine women formed the core group, pooling different talents and tasks. Nonviolence was an integral part of the sit-in. At various times during the almost 4 hours, we were accompanied by allies who stayed for long or short parts of the sit-in. Our numbers ranged from 7 to 16.

It’s difficult to describe in words or pictures just what the experience of sitting in meant to this writer. Being in the presence of so much wisdom and compassion mixed with fierce determination to make a difference and to be heard.

Towards the mid-point of the sit-in we were visited by a Sergeant from the Albany Police Department. He was a delightful man, even though he was there to convince us to leave voluntarily at the time the building closed to the public at 5:30 p.m. He used humor and gentle persuasion to find out what our plans were and to try to bring about a peaceful resolution. He also got to hear from each of the fantastic five about their reasons for challenging the closing of the building without a response from our Senator. During a long conversation, he shared his own ideas about the Iran agreement and heard ours as well. He left knowing that Sue Clark and Pat Beetle and Sr. Fran Dempsey and Kate Cavanaugh and Mabel Leon were not going voluntarily. But he also left knowing that the APD would not be dealing with any violence on their part. When I spoke with him the next morning he said that meeting the group was the “best part of his day.” His attitude towards law enforcement was a model of the very goal of diplomacy without threats of violence that we all wish for our nation and the world.

At closing time a woman Federal Security officer came to talk with the aptly named (by Wendy) fantastic five and to again ask them to leave voluntarily. I wasn’t there at that time but here’s Mabel’s description of how Sue responded and the immediate outcome of the civil resistance.

[A woman Homeland Security officer] tried every way possible to talk us into walking out voluntarily and she told us what we were doing made no sense and it was not going to affect anything. Sue answered her in a strong, steady voice with compassion. She was incredibly articulate. Finally, they locked the doors at about 5:50 and brought a wheel chair for Sue and booked her first in a little office. We were each given a ticket and fine for $80.00. The press never came, but it was a good day and Sue fought the good fight!!

So we continue as we began. Being inspired by the most passionate among us, supporting them, making connections with others and working on. Although most of us will not be on the planet another generation more, we pass the torch to the next generation and the ones that follow. For now we strive to leave a more peaceful and more just world to all the world’s children.