A People’s Media: The Best of Love and Rage’s Utica Coverage

by Love and Rage Team

Since late 2014, the collective media project called Love and Rage has devoted much of its time to providing alternative approaches to not only how to engage in journalism locally, but also putting an analysis to that coverage which was sorely missing.

It was a rally in the summer of 2014, organized by local activists to stand in solidarity with the people of Gaza, which prompted the need for Love and Rage. Rather, it was the poor media coverage. A rally of over 100 people in Utica, most of them local Palestinian refugees and others from Albany and Syracuse, which turned into a march and yet only ever got a 75-word write-up in the local paper (complete with misspelled words). Void of context,

The ensuing two years featured an experiment in community-based alternative news. A horizontal structure guided the decisions, submissions were published via consensus and ideas were discussed for collective feedback. We reported where we could and when we could, limited mainly by time. We re-published other articles and ideas to expand the scope of discussion and perspective in Utica and, despite always wishing we could do more, we stand by our contributions.

As Love and Rage gets set to refocus its efforts, Utica will no longer be the priority as we seek to venture into broader coverage of news and radical political perspectives. Despite this, we are working to initiate another project in collective alternative media for Utica, thus the original intent of Love and Rage will be split with respective energies being funneled in both directions to more fully serve each purpose.

To mark the occasion of growth, we are presenting a list of our best and most popular original work from the past two years. The following articles and photo galleries best convey our contributions to the community and provide a glimpse of how cooperative initiatives can succeed locally.


Teachers, Public Ed Advocates Rally Against Reforms – January 24, 2015

(Photo: Derek Scarlino/Love and Rage)

(Photo: Derek Scarlino/Love and Rage)

One of the first reports for Love and Rage revolved around local efforts to resist New York State’s changing education standards, both for students and teachers. The Opt-Out initiative took off statewide and has had a large local contingency.

Indeed educators, administrators and parents alike should be raging over Cuomo’s proposed reforms for public education which effectively mitigate local control over already controversial evaluations, increase the dependence on standardized tests, increases funding for the unproven charter school model, closing low-performance schools in a state already notorious for uneven allocation of aid and several more.


A Utica Student’s Open Letter to CuomoMarch 4, 2015

cuomo2

Current Yalie, Trinh Truong, an activist who was a senior at Proctor Senior High School in 2015, submitted an open letter to the governor that while published elsewhere, was first submitted to Love and Rage. At over 30,000 reads, it would be our most widely read article of 2015.

The population of our school district has increased by 900 students within the past decade. However, state funding has decreased, and continues to do so. We are in a unique situation—pervasive poverty, increasing enrollment, a weak tax base, and the emergence of charter schools. I cannot stress enough the importance that state aid plays in sustaining and fostering my local school district. Every student in New York State has the right to a “sound, basic education” as per the New York State constitution.


Or Does it Explode? Thoughts on the Ferguson Police ShootingMarch 12, 2015

(Photo: Lawrence Bryant/St. Louis American via Reuters)

(Photo: Lawrence Bryant/St. Louis American via Reuters)

One hardly needs to be introduced to what Ferguson, Missouri means to the American public. A topic that still yields sharp divides in opinion, this opinion piece by a member of the collective came as analysis in the wake of shootings of police officers in Missouri after months of unrest and malcontent over events stemming from the shooting death of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in August 2014. The author’s prescription for resolving the conflict remains poignant to this day.

It took a riot and months of protests before anybody in power pretended to give a damn. Years of complaints and suffering did nothing to change the oppressive system in Ferguson. The people who could have done something, the ones in power (city government), the “good apples” (police), either stood by and did nothing by choice or through ignorance. Both are equally damning.

Ferguson isn’t changing because the system finally caught the problem and is acting accordingly. It is changing because the pot began to boil over. As any cook can tell you, when a pot boils over, it burns. It scalds. It makes a mess. Sometimes even the contents inside are ruined.


We Ain’t Gonna Stop, ‘Till Our People Are Free! The Battle Against Education Austerity in UticaMarch 16, 2015

(Photo: Stephanie Inserra/Love and Rage)

(Photo: Stephanie Inserra/Love and Rage)

As the local Opt-Out movement grew, we devoted a lot of initial coverage of the activities being taken by students and teachers alike throughout the area. This article came on the heels of a march and rally in Downtown Utica in which over 500 students, teachers, parents and administrators participated.

But what started out as a rally here and there after the financial crisis erupted has evolved into a constant frenzy of political action and discourse. Public forums, letter-writing, speak-outs, pickets, Common Core test opt-outs, and marches and rallies, like the one held on March 5th, have given a new meaning to what it means to be both a teacher and a student. Today, to be a teacher, and one who supports and is active in their union, is a decidedly political stance. Similarly, when students stand up, speak out, and fight back against austerity they are redefining what it means to be a student in modern society. No longer are students passively accepting this most recent crisis in capitalism. They become agents of social change when the stand up and speak out.


Utica Nano has Devil in the DetailsAugust, 27 2015

(Photo: Mike Groll/AP)

(Photo: Mike Groll/AP)

Amid the excitement that the nano center planned for Utica was finally taking shape, this article took a closer look at the deals being done with respective clients like General Electric, taking the company’s notorious record on pollution and applying it to the conversation for the first time.

Utica is already tainted by the environmental scars of industry. From Bendix in South Utica to a lead contamination level of epidemic proportions — the latter being a focal point of research for local activist Lana Nitti. While jobs are certainly welcome, also welcome would be a gesture of cooperation with the local community, as well as New York State, by General Electric to continue and finish its Hudson River cleanup and take measures which reduce the likelihood of more contamination in Utica given the company’s track record. As for tax breaks, these should be conditional and based on living up to better environmental standards. Again, GE hasn’t earned anything, they’re simply using the desperate economic climate to their advantage. Uticans are supposed to be proud that they’re getting worked over?


An Iraqi Revolutionary’s Journey to the United States September 25, 2015

The Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf, Iraq - the city where Ahmed Abbas is from.

The Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf, Iraq – the city where Ahmed Abbas is from.

Sarah Abbas is an Iraqi refugee living in Utica with her family. In this interview of her father, Ahmed Abbas, conducted by Sarah herself, he recounts his own path to asylum in the United States without his family.

SA: How were you able to escape Iraq?

AA: I paid money for a passport (bribed one of the officers) that was done right away and took a bus to Jordan without my wife (who was pregnant) knowing. I left taking a big risk, not knowing whether I’d get caught and killed or escaping freely. The government at that time said anyone that escaped the Gulf War and participated in the Intifada must either have one of their ears cut or they’d be killed.


Oil Transport Trains Put the City of Utica at RiskOctober 1, 2015

(Photo: The Canadian Press)

(Photo: The Canadian Press)

For environmental advocacy groups in the city, the issue of “bomb trains” which carry highly explosive materials through Utica have been a pressing issue for years. In this article, local activist Kevin Nugent draws attention to the dangers posed to communities through which these bomb trains often pass.

The danger posed by oil trains is best illustrated by the Lac-Megantic derailment, but there have been many, many others. Just last week, a train carrying ethanol derailed and caught fire in South Dakota. Two catastrophic failures of oil transport tankers occurred in February of this year alone; one in West Virginia which required more than 100 residents to evacuate their community, and another in Ontario, Canada just two days earlier. Over the last few years, serious oil train accidents have occurred in Alabama, Illinois, North Dakota, New Brunswick, and New York, among others. Is Utica next? The local rail industry has a less than spotless reputation for safety, considering the freight train collision at the Utica Boehlert Transportation Center just two months ago.


The Lead Catastrophe in UticaNovember 14, 2015

Lead poisoning levels in Utica. (Photo: Oneida County Health Department)

Lead poisoning levels in Utica. (Photo: Oneida County Health Department)

After presentations of original research at both the Mohawk Valley Freedom School and TEDx Utica, collective member Lana Nitti presented her case for declaring an emergency over levels of lead toxicity in the city.

Utica is nestled in Oneida County, one of the most impoverished areas of New York State. Poverty indicates increased instances of renting as opposed to home ownership, decreased access to quality healthcare and diets that are lacking in nutritional value. These three factors alone increase a child’s chance of becoming lead poisoned. However, the number one trait shared by children affected by lead poisoning is race, regardless of income level. Poor Black and Brown children are more than three times as likely to be diagnosed with elevated blood lead levels as their poor white counterparts. In New Jersey, where the childhood lead poisoning issue mirrors that of New York, prominent thinkers, such as Dr. Peter Simon the retired director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, have begun referring to it as a product of institutional racism.


Councilman Vescera’s Refugee Moratorium Down for the CountDecember 5, 2015

uticacityhall

When a moratorium on accepting Syrian refugees was proposed by both a member and former member of the Utica Common Council, Love and Rage devoted considerable attention to it including this report from the night where the moratorium was voted down by the rest of the council members.

In a direct quote to Love and Rage after the meeting, Vescera said, “My legislation is in support of those people who want to [seek asylum] legitimately.” Though, the actual wording of the moratorium brings up issues that seem to be veiled by a broader concern for security.

Other council members had differing opinions on the matter. Councilman At-Large, Jack LoMedico, who served as commander for Charlie Company 403rd Civil Affairs in northern Iraq, said, “Until you’re on the ground, and you see the suffering that these people are actually going through, not everybody there is in Daesh, 99.9 percent of these people just want to take care of their family — take care of their children — and get them out of harm’s way.”


What Do You Hope to Change? Travels through Mexico and Cuba I, II, III, IV and VAugust 2015 – November 2015

An encampment and protest of teachers, union members and activists with the APPO in Oaxaca City.

An encampment and protest of teachers, union members and activists with the APPO in Oaxaca City.

In this series of travel dispatches, Brendan Dunn chronicles the summer of 2015 which he spent traveling though Mexico and Cuba gleaning important lessons for organizing and resistance from the people and places visited, including Zapatista territory in Chiapas, Mexico.

“Si, aqui,” the taxi driver nodded. An older Mayan woman who was sitting in the back of the taxi next to my partner Michelle opened the car door and walked away. Michelle and I stepped out, grabbed our backpacks, paid and thanked the driver and stood in the middle of the road as the taxi sped off. In front of us was a gate with a small shack on either side of it. An older Mayan woman was standing guard. She wore a black ski mask on her face, like so many other Zapatistas do. Michelle and I looked at each other, not sure what was in store for us in the village of Oventic. We slowly approached the gate.


The Problem with the Utica Phoenix January 13, 2016

us-muslims-labeled-as-terroristsAt the end of 2015, a spate of anti-Islamic sentiment stemming from terrorist attacks in Paris as well as the refugee crisis emanating from a war-torn Syria caught on locally as a moratorium was presented to the Utica Common Council to halt immigration from Syria. A serious blow to the integrity and reputation of the city as a tier-two refugee relocation center, the city’s alternative newspaper, the Utica Phoenix, once a voice of progressive perspective, also began publishing a series of inflammatory articles about Islam.

Here in Utica, Muslims regularly denounced terrorism and war in Cassandra Harris-Lockwood’s own newspaper on countless occasions under the monthly column the Islamic Corner. In May of 2015 Imam Najeeulah, in the Utica Phoenix stated, “The Muslim Community Association of The Mohawk Valley  are United in our stand with those who condemn the brutal and indiscriminate murder, rape, and violence against innocent men, women, and children committed anywhere in the world. We further condemn the religious extremism of groups, including ISIS and Al-Qaeda, perpetrated in the name of Al-Islam and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). This includes the invitation extended to Muslims to join their inhumane and un-Islamic terror campaigns that destroy  the private properties and the houses of worship of Christians, Jews, Muslims and others.” This was not the only statement like this.


Storefront Socialism: A Roadmap for the Green Party and the LeftFebruary 15, 2016

A lecture on social movements being given at the Mohawk Valley Freedom School in Utica in 2014. (Photo: Derek Scarlino/Love and Rage)

A lecture on social movements being given at the Mohawk Valley Freedom School in Utica in 2014. (Photo: Derek Scarlino/Love and Rage)

This piece, by Christopher Casey of the Herkimer-Oneida Green Party, follows up on the idea that there is a real need on the left and within the Green Party to begin focusing more energy to building solidarity networks in the community as opposed to such focused electoral campaigns. Casey’s formula was later chosen to be presented at the Green Party National Convention in Houston in August.

To cut to the chase, I believe strongly that, in addition to ongoing union organizing (admittedly more than ever an uphill challenge in this economic and political era), we need to focus on real base-building in the community. The old fashioned Marxist economic contradictions are only going to worsen over the next two decades, and the Left needs to position itself so that it can play a critical role in addressing same. We need to stop wasting our energy every four years supporting capitalist politicians, and instead become more service-oriented by growing roots in the community, and engaging in real base building. But this also means that the Green Party needs to invest as much money and time in creating these community centers as we do in trying to get people elected.


An Injury to One is an Injury to All – Nurses in Utica Stage PicketMarch 19, 2016

(Photo: NYSNA)

(Photo: NYSNA)

The ability to engage in gonzo-style journalism has always been an advantage in reporting for Love and Rage, and here Brendan Dunn gives an account of both observer and participant in a NYSNA strike which took place early in 2016.

Again, a chant boomed through the megaphone and reverberated through the picket line:

“What will you do?”
“Fight back!”
“For all our patients!”
“Fight back!”

Family members, friends, children, and even workers from other unions and workplaces came out to show support for the nurses. Several teachers from New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) also walked the picket line. Two local politicians showed up to express their support for the nurses. State Assemblyman and Democrat Anthony Brindisi, who has been out to countless union pickets over the years, shouted, “You can throw one hell of a picket!” He pledged his support to the union workers and said, “I will stand with you and do whatever I can to support the nurses.” City Councilman Joseph Marino was also present and echoed Brindisi’s remarks. “Our council and city support you and all that you do.” He later posted some pictures form the rally online and proclaimed that he was “Proud to stand with NYSNA nurses today to fight for safer increased staffing for patient care in Utica. It’s a selfless act when a group comes together, not for increased pay or benefits for themselves, but for the proper care of others.”


Area Verizon Strikers Stand Strong: Fighting for Dignity and Middle Class LivelihoodApril 28, 2016

(Photo: Derek Scarlino/Love and Rage)

(Photo: Derek Scarlino/Love and Rage)

The first few months of 2016 were filled with pickets, rallies for political candidates and also counter demonstrations. In April, local Verizon workers took part in one of the largest labor stoppages in recent US history. Collective member Derek Scarlino reported from the scene of a picket in New Hartford.

One of the brighter spots during this time has been the solidarity shown to these workers and their families by other unions. Locals from UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers) and NYSNA (New York State Nurses Association) were also in attendance, donning red shirts for the cause. The MVCC Professionals Association, an ancillary of NYSUT, the state teachers union, along with members of the IWW (International Workers of the World) showed their support by marching as well.

Dawes spoke about the solidarity:

“We’ve had unbelievable support. The CNY Labor Council has been coordinating everything for us … we have steel workers here today … we’ve had multiple teachers unions on the picket lines on Broad Street.”


The Unspoken Dangers of Urban Development: Lead Poisoning, Ghost Factories and Gentrification May 11, 2016

utica

Following an appearance on WUTQ’s Talk of the Town radio show, Lana Nitti hit back once again against the dangers glossed all too often glossed over when speaking about revitalization in the city of Utica.

Along with the lot that is of interest to developers, there are two other important sites. The first being the site a former secondary lead smelter located at 115 Broadway. This is denoted as “Site 9” in the Brownfield Opportunity Area Study. Chemical analysis of the soil at this lot showed levels of lead as high as 17,000 parts per million, as well as elevated concentrations of cadmium and arsenic, indicating the practice of lead smelting. The Environmental Protection Agency states that 400 parts per million of lead in soil is hazardous to humans. The second is the site that used to house Tartan Textiles at 300 Oriskany Street denoted as “Site 15” in the study. Both of these lots are owned by Charles Street Property Management, Inc. and sit directly adjacent to the lot slated for redevelopment. The Tartan Textiles property was identified in the Brownfield Opportunity Area Study as a top priority.


Community Takes Action Against Desecration of Bosnian Muslim GravesJune 22, 2016

(Photo: Derek Scarlino/Love and Rage)

(Photo: Derek Scarlino/Love and Rage)

When local activists were notified of the activities undertaken by staff at South Utica’s New Forest Cemetery who were desecrating the graves of Bosnian Muslims, an escalation campaign was kicked off in order to deter these actions from continuing. In a widely-shared report, Love and Rage covered the action first-hand.

As the group marched up Oneida Street to the door of the cemetery’s office, the superintendent on duty did not back down, repeatedly citing the cemetery’s policy, accusing the group of trespassing, threatening to call the police and at one point even demeaning the Bosnian immigrants in attendance.

“You know, you’re supposed to assimilate into our society and accept our rules and regulations, not break our rules and regulations.”

As activists and family members faced off with the superintendent, handing him a letter of demands, other friends and family members could be seen wiping tears.


Update: Black Lives Matter and the UPD, Views from the Bottom-UpJuly 28, 2016

armadillo

Comprised of activists, the need for Love and Rage to be utilized for the defense of its own members has presented itself at times. Such was the case during the summer of 2016 when, upon planning to organize a Black Lives Matter chapter in Utica, several of those involved began getting calls and visits from officers with the Utica Police Department. Love and Rage became the only platform trusted to give the other side of the story as local media failed to press the police for justification.

One such instance, which began a trend lasting for several days, occurred at one former organizer’s family business. As recounted by the person’s mother, as the police pulled up into the building’s driveway and as she began down the stairs to see what the matter could be, she was startled by very loud banging on the door.

What ensued was a series of questions about her daughter and people that she organizes with, on what issues and where. Eventually the person of interest was contacted, being shaken by the event.

Another organizer, based in Cornhill, noted that her home had been visited while she was at work. Officers banged on the door in much the same fashion. Upon getting in touch with the UPD, it became known that the police had her work schedule on-hand which raises questions as to why her home was visited when her teenaged children were home alone.

When this person spoke with the investigator, she recalled being asked about several names that the UPD claimed to have on a list of people associated with initially planning the demonstration on July 30.


Our Pauper Mayor and His Court: Proposed Salary Raises Questions, Brings Attention to Lingering IssuesAugust 24, 2016

(Photo: WUTQ FM)

(Photo: WUTQ FM)

One of the focuses of Love and Rage has been to highlight the disparity between Uticans living in certain parts of the city, noting the deep segregation which both exists within the city and is constantly overlooked in talks about revitalization. In this op-ed piece, the Mayor’s request for a pay increase and the reasons behind it are criticized while pointing out some glaring socio-economic oversights in Utica.

“Overall, I think we’re paying too low salaries in the city and we’re losing great people,” says Bill Phillips, who represents the city’s poorest and most segregated district of Cornhill. He would add, “People want to make a decent living.”

A fine sentiment, but let’s examine the evidence first.

As it is, Palmieri’s salary in the context of other mayors seems low, but the proposed law would increase the salary to $98,000.

Meanwhile, the median income in Utica is $31,000. For added context, the median income in the United States is $51,800.

Councilman Phillips’s argument that the mayor has to make nearly twice the median amount for the country, and over three times that of the city, to “make a decent living” is selling the issue a bit high.


What’s an Anarchy? A Response to ‘Delusion’ Among AnarchistsOctober 7, 2016

anarc71

In response to an article by another Utica-based politics site called The Hitch, Derek Scarlino dissects the argument proposed which seeks to link the shortcomings of American-style right libertarian thought with that of anarchism.

“People, if left to their own devices, will cooperate, live relatively peacefully, and come to important societal decisions without any kind of elected government or hierarchical authority. The problem is that there is no reason and nothing in history to even remotely assume that this would be the case.”

Except that there most certainly is! There’s a fundamental misstep on the understanding of human nature with stating that there’s no “reason” to believe that humans are capable of cooperative initiatives and models of organization. In fact, anthropologists argue that humans, among other primates, are inordinately cooperative, and among several large groups, the most altruistic of those would outcompete others. The concept of groups and altruism factors heavily into anarchy and will come up again later.


“They knew what they were doing.” Utica Police Department Escalates Campaign of Intimidation Against Activists – November 26, 2016

In our most popular article of 2016, Brendan Dunn delves into not only the disruptive activities of the UPD which continued from the summer into the fall, but also the historical precedent of disruption in US history. Weaving local reports with personal experiences and historical examples, a narrative is created which heeds a warning that these activities can and do happen in Utica.

The next day I got another call from the same activist who let people into the church. For security reasons, her real name will not be used in this article – she will be referred to as “Julie.” The police called her family member on the phone for no other reason than to intimidate and harass. Her family member was so distraught about the phone call and worried so much about her safety that Julie ended up staying home that evening. The police tactics of harassment to prevent Constitutionally protected free speech activities of local residents seemed to be working. There were a few other people who were at the church the night before who also did not show up to the rally the next day. The UPD seemed to be repeating what transpired over this past summer with the agency’s reaction to a Black Lives Matter (BLM) rally that was planned but never got off the ground. I’ll explain that in more detail in a moment.

The post-election rally had a heavy police presence which was both covert and overt; this was a radical shift from past policing practices in Utica. At least a dozen different police cars were parked at or near the rally or drove by. One was parked throughout the evening in the private parking lot of Cornerstone Community Church, while at least one other was spotted parked across from, and facing, the home of one of the organizers of the rally.


As we prepare to re-organize and cease our Utica-centric coverage, we involved with the Love and Rage Media Collective would like to send our deepest thanks to those who have contributed to this experiment with original articles, photographs, stories and accounts.

There is still so much more that isn’t included on this list, and we encourage those interested in learning about radical and left political perspectives in the Utica-area to peruse the archived articles and photo galleries on the site.

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