Occupation Project

(L-R) Pat Friesen and Pat McEneny, aids to Rep. Gillibrand, Leland Lakritz (back to camera) and Pete Looker of the Saratoga Peace Alliance, and Jim Fulmer of Veterans of Peace

The Occupation Project made its first appearance in the North Country on Thursday, February 8th when a dozen supporters arrived at Representative Kirsten Gillibrand's Saratoga Springs office. A number of the peace activists went inside to meet with Rep. Gillibrand's Director of Communications Rachel McEneny and aide Pat Friesen, while the others picketed in front of the Broadway office.

The purpose of the meeting was to pressure Rep. Gillibrand to vote to defund the current war in Iraq. Specifically Rep. Gillibrand was asked to co-sponsor House Resolution 508, the Bring the Troops Home and Iraqi Restoration Act which calls for bringing the troops home within six months while providing economic aid and a framework for stability.

The tenor of the hour and half long discussion was serious but respectful. Ms. McEneny and Ms. Friesen for the most part listened and took notes. Among the other issues that were raised were; the importance of fully funding the Veteran's Administration, insuring that returning injured veterans will be properly cared for; concern that the Administration will attack Iran, inventing another Gulf of Tonkin incident to justify itself; concern that the results of the mid-term elections, that by all accounts were driven by growing anti-war mood of the electorate, will be ignored by the Democrats now that they are in power and concern that as we continue to pour billions of dollars into Iraq much of it wasted or missing, American society continues to suffer as schools, healthcare, public transportation and other parts of our own infrastructure deteriorate. Ms McEneny promised to send off a report to Rep. Gillibrand by that evening. It was interesting to note that both aides at different times said that they could not state exactly where Rep. Gillibrand stood on an issue "at this moment." However Ms. McEneny must be given credit for inviting the media into the meeting. One doubts if other elected officials, past or present, would be willing to engage in a discussion on a controversial issue with constituents in front of reporters.

Because of the name of the umbrella group, The Occupation Project, print and TV reporters showed up, almost outnumbering the peace activists. Considering how little coverage actually appeared in their respective editions and broadcasts, one can only assume that their primary assignment was not to gather news, but to cover a potential sit-in or other form of Civil Disobedience.

Nationally, the Occupation Project has been organized by Voices for Creative Nonviolence, which describes the Occupation Project as "a campaign of sustained nonviolent civil disobedience aimed at ending the U.S. war in and occupation of Iraq. The campaign will begin the first week of February 2007 with occupations at the offices of Representatives and Senators who refuse to pledge to vote against additional war funding".

The peace activists at the meeting belonged to various local organizations including the Saratoga Peace Alliance, Veterans for Peace, the Green Party and the Democrat Party. The local Occupation Project affinity group expects to hold follow up meetings with Rep. Gillibrand or her staff . They will be meeting with Tracy Brooks, an aide to Senator Hillary Clinton at her office in the Federal Building in downtown Albany on February 22 at 2:00 pm.