by Derek Scarlino/Love and Rage
Years ago, during the surge in antiwar activity during the Bush administration I assume, I signed up for MoveOn.org newsletters. As such, when someone pursues the MoveOn process as a vehicle to organize a bit of people action, emails are sent out to those who punched their names into the boxes of the sign-up screen and clicked Submit. I don’t know the exact process, but that seems standard.
So I got an email from a MoveOn organizer about a rally happening in Downtown Utica on August 26th in conjunction with a national day of action against war with Iran. This was about showing support for the deal reached by the Obama administration, opposing those against it and sending a message to other legislators dragging their feet on a decision. Since busy summers have meant that Love and Rage hasn’t really been out covering happenings in a while, this was a needed opportunity.
The rally was slotted for noon and I wanted to drive by the corner of Genesee and Court Streets to see if there was going to be any presence at all in front of Representative Richard Hanna’s office. Hanna is a Republican who, as Republicans are wont to do, does not support President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal — hence the rally. After a couple of passes by, the last of which being the only time I saw anyone actually holding a sign, I parked up the street in front of the NBT Bank, checked that I had my press pass (valid thru: 12/31/12) set the aperture of my borrowed camera to a more sun-friendly setting and walked up the street to the corner with many more people now visibly holding up signs.
“Would you guys mind if I took some photos?” I asked the backs of several rally-goers, their heads, somewhere between a snap and casually, turning to identify the voice. A few seconds go by. They might have been looking for a local news insignia on my clothing or at least someone in a tie as opposed to black slim-fit jeans.
“Sure, go right ahead,” a woman in a pink shirt, who later refused to be quoted or identified, said to me. So I knelt down and placed my camera bag by a mailbox when I heard my name.
“It’s a Scarlino!” I hear a voice say. One of my father’s former teacher colleagues identifies me with a smile. To her right, another former teacher, but one whom I did not know. A very brief exchange over why they’ve personally decided to rally today turns into a discussion about this DIY journalism thing they see before them, my parents’ retirement and me trying to land a teaching job. After some catching up, I begin to snap pictures of signs and the people holding them.
A woman farthest down the line on the curb of the road sports a simple message in thick, blood-red letters, ‘FOOLS FOR WAR’. I’ve seen signs in my days. Some with paragraphs, some with slogans and some like this; written with equal measures of edge, angst and the clarity of easily translated sentiment. It encompasses the mood of those in attendance who prefer any chance at peacefully resolving Iran’s nuclear ambitions over TV news images of flag-draped coffins. She doesn’t say a word as she gives me an odd look. Am I media? Am I just a hobby photographer? She likely wonders these things as I snap my pictures of her sign and walk back down the line.
“Are those the — uh– organizers?” I ask my father’s former colleague, intending to get a statement from someone. There are two people on the edge of the corner, a man and the woman in the pink shirt, both standing with signs.
“I’m not sure, honey. I don’t really know who’s in charge, but I think they’re more involved with the group,” she replies as we look toward them.
I stride away. Zeroing in, my search beings, “Are either of you the organizers?” I ask as a van with a ladder clanging on its roof speeds by. I wonder if they heard me.
“No, we’re not the organizers,” says the man whose name I later learned was Charlie. “I actually haven’t seen him.”
“And who are you with?” asks the woman, her silver hair in a pony-tail. I reel-off about Love and Rage and mention my tip-off of the event from that MoveOn email. I ask if they want to give me a statement about why they’re out on the corner today adding that I don’t have to credit them with saying anything as she politely refuses anyway. “Charlie” on the other hand, indulges me.
“Well, you got the — uh — email, so you know why we’re here,” he says through a light laugh. “Anything is better to the alternative, which is war. Y’know we don’t like each other, but it’s — it’s not that it’s trust and verify, it’s distrust and verify,” he adds, using a popular phrase that has been following the deal’s modus operandi for months.
I follow up, “Have you been involved with other antiwar activities over the years?”
“Well, I wouldn’t really say I’m antiwar, but I think not having to fight a war if you don’t have to is preferable. Y’know we’ve learned things from the past fifteen years. You don’t want Iran to have nukes, but there are more options,” he adds.
The tone of conversation shifts to the turnout of the crowd which numbers about 10 (more showed up after I took pictures). We talked about organizing and what it can be like getting crowds to show for issues of foreign policy.
“Not here. Not around here,” Charlie says in reply to getting people active on issues like Iran, “If it were abortion — or some conservative issue, you’d get people to turn up. Stuff like this –” his voice trails off, unimpressed with the lack of local awareness.
Our collective attention is grabbed by a man in a red shirt sporting a blue Duke hat. He’s standing behind the line of protesters, halfway between them and the entrance to 258 Genesee Street, where the Congressman’s Utica office is. His name is Ted Tottey and it would be later revealed that responsibility for today’s action has defaulted upon him in lieu of the original organizer never coming. I walk toward him and he extends his hand expectedly.
“Ted Tottey?” I ask. He nods.
“And you’re –”
“Derek Scarlino, Love and Rage media. Are you the one of the organizers?”
“Uh — well, I guess I am now,” he smiles as he points behind him, pre-empting my question, “Can we talk over in the doorway?” The shade of the enclosed entrance area provides a bit of relief from the sun. We find a shaded spot, opposite the pile of markers and cardboard leftover from making signs.
People walk past us in both directions through the revolving-door vestibule. An asshole in a tucked-in polo with sunglasses walks by, much younger than the crowd of mostly retirees gathered, offering up a “Bomb everybody!” comment only when he is close enough to the entrance so as to quickly advance indoors without having to deal with any rebuking by this potentially hostile silver mafia.
“So tell me why you’re here,” I asked Mr. Tottey.
“Well I’m one of the associate leaders of the new organization called the Democratic Action Network,” he replies and continuing with, “We’re basically — uh — involved with progressive values, we believe in a bunch of progressive values, one is that diplomacy makes a heck of a lot of sense and war does not.” Tottey also clarifies that the Democratic Action Network, or “DAN” is “Mohawk Valley-based.”
“Do you have any knowledge on Hanna’s — Congressman Hanna’s stance on the Iran issue?”
“I have been told so far that his stance is that he will vote against the agreement,” Tottey says, his knowledge of the Congressman’s stance differing slightly from a statement put out by Hanna’s Binghamton office in response to another rally there:
“The ramifications of the deal will have a tremendous impact, and it deserves a full and complete examination. I am relying on input from experts and have been actively reviewing all documentation — classified and otherwise.”
While Congressman Hanna previously stated in July that “there’s a lot not to like” about the deal he, along with Democrat Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, withheld immediate judgement until he was able to read the entire thing. I for one find it re-assuring that our good Congressman would choose to brave the actual literature of a nuclear weapons treaty before voting on it.
A complex piece of negotiation, it reduces the number of Iranian centrifuges by two-thirds; limits research to just one facility in Iran; reduces, from 20 percent, uranium enrichment levels to 3.67 percent; reduce and maintain a uranium stockpile of only 300 kilograms, down from 10,000 kilograms among several other demands. The Iranians were brought to the table by a need to have current sanctions against a country that wishes to engage the rest of the world lifted. President Obama has been adamant that the lifting of sanctions is contingent on abiding by the agreement.
On these details, Mr. Tottey seemed well-versed, “One of the things that I think is very important, is that in the agreement, is at least a 15-year delay on Iran getting a bomb and some of the inspections go on for 25 years, and others go on in perpetuity — that is to say that they won’t end.” He mentions the small stipulation about abiding by the terms or else the US’s sanctions resume and says, “There’s a lot going on with it that people aren’t aware of, and that’s bothersome.”
Having been down at the rally for nearly an hour at this point, the mid-day sun was beginning to take its toll on the bodies of those in attendance with less swarthy skin. No sooner than Mr. Tottey and I had wrapped up the interview and a discussion on solidarity among community organizations in Utica, the others began to retreat into our shaded area to put away their signs and punch their civic engagement time-cards. These people showed up. Now it was time to go home.