On Oct. 9, 2012, the Legislature of Albany County, N.Y., approved a proclamation calling upon Congress to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, cut the U.S. military budget, and use the savings to fund vital public programs at home.
This official demand for new national priorities—by a county of 304,000 people—was not entirely novel. Within the past year or so, the U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a similar resolution, as did the governments of numerous cities, including Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Hartford, and Portland. Even so, the idea of “moving the money” from war to peace had largely fallen off the political radar screen. The Albany County Peace Dividend Proclamation, as it was soon dubbed, has helped bring it back to public attention.
Yet significant factors weighed against the possibility of success.
The Albany campaign began this past July, when—in my capacity as a national board member of Peace Action, America’s largest peace organization—I learned that the city of Philadelphia had just passed a “move the money” resolution.
As Doug Bullock, a long-time friend of mine in Albany’s peace and social justice community, was a member of the Albany County Legislature, I passed along this news to him, suggesting rather casually that he might want to promote a similar resolution on the Albany County level. He replied that he’d be happy to try it, but needed a public campaign to back him up.
Could we put one together?
Actually, we could. I was well connected within the Albany region’s peace community, serving on the steering committee of Upper Hudson Peace Action and dealing frequently with the leaders of other local peace groups.
In addition, I had strong credentials in the local labor movement, serving as executive secretary of the Albany County Central Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO), as a member of the executive committee of the Albany chapter of United University Professions, and as a long-time activist in the Solidarity Committee of the Capital District (an independent organization rooted in the local labor movement).
Moreover, in recent decades, Albany’s peace and social justice community had grown ever more intertwined, amassing a good deal of overlap in membership and a strong movement culture among the region’s various progressive organizations. And with national polls showing the general public fed up with the Afghanistan War and preferring military cuts to cuts in social spending, the peace movement was more in tune with popular sentiment than ever.
Yet significant factors weighed against the possibility of success. Although Albany County is heavily Democratic, much of the local Democratic Party is controlled by machine politicians who might just as well have been Republicans. Doug’s strong antiwar stance has not been the norm. Indeed, in 2008, when he tried to get the Legislature to pass a resolution opposing the Iraq War, the legislators not only strongly rejected it, but banned all future resolutions!
Despite the obstacles, we decided to move forward with a Peace Dividend Proclamation campaign—one that would involve getting a majority of Albany County’s 39 legislators to sign an official statement on behalf of the county.
After securing volunteers from Upper Hudson Peace Action and the Solidarity Committee, we conferred with staff members from Peace Action of New York State and national Peace Action, who helped us pull together the relevant statistics and wording for the proclamation. Once the proclamation was in final form, Doug circulated it to potentially sympathetic legislators and—to our delight—secured six additional co-sponsors.