This short history was prepared by Pat Beetle in preparation for our 25th Anniversary celebration, March 2007. Upper Hudson Peace Action began as the Upper Hudson USSR/USA Weapons Freeze Campaign.
In reviewing our history by going thru old files, I’ve been impressed by how we got the Upper Hudson USSR/USA Weapons Freeze Campaign up and running. On Sunday February 14, 1982 the Times Union had a front page spread on what would happen if an atomic bomb dropped on Albany’s Ground Zero at the Capitol. The immediate destruction and circles of radiation spiraling out in all direction for miles.
We took out an ad in the Times Union
This article and map galvanized a small group already concerned about nuclear weapons; we met again the next week joined by many more people. Our first project inspired by George Saxton, of Physicians for Social Responsibility, was an Ad in the TU inviting others to support the Freeze, by contributing time and money to the effort. Many responded.
Earlier, some of us had been involved with efforts of the Capital District Anti- Nuclear Alliance and Americans against Nuclear War. The latter group was responsible for getting the NYS Assembly to pass a resolution calling for the U.S. and the USSR to stop testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons. Assemblyman Maurice Hinchey, then Chair of the Environmental Conservation Committee helped, considerably.
11,000 Signed Our Petition
Many of us strongly supported John Dow’s candidacy for Congress opposing the incumbent Sam Stratton who was against the Freeze. Unfortunately, Sam won. Some months later when we presented him with 11,000 petitions calling for a Freeze he said,”These don’t mean anything. You’ll have to vote me out of office.”
Pastor James Van Hoeven of First Church had offered to help and he and I became co-chairs of the Campaign. Our first office was at Albany Friends Meeting House, 727 Madison Ave. and our first staff person was Geralyn McDowell, who served as communications specialist. We connected with the National Nuclear Weapons Freeze Clearing House, then in St. Louis, Mo. and made plans to join in some of the nationally coordinated actions.
One Million People Protest in Central Park
The first effort was major peace demonstration in New York City. June 12, 1982. Wave after wave of groups of all ages, walks of life, from all parts of the country carried huge banners against the arms race and for the Freeze in a mammoth march to Central Park where 1 million people gathered. It was exhilarating and hopeful to be with so many people devoted to peace in the world.
In November, Freeze referendum were held in 444 New England town meetings., as well as in 9 states and the District of Columbia. The vote showed the voters favoring US/USSR Freeze as a first step toward mutual reduction of nuclear arsenals. Support kept growing- endorsed by thousands of prominent citizens, 56 county councils, 276 city councils, hundreds of national and international organizations, more than 200 Senators and Representatives as well as 140 Catholic Bishops and 19 national labor unions.
Mash House Parties
As a way to raise money for lobbying efforts nationally, House parties were organized around the country on the same day Feb. 28, the last episode of MASH ( #4078). In this area Geralyn organized 54 House Parties with over 650 people attending. 126 participants offered to become active in the campaign gave the names of 300 friends and contributed about $3000. Now House parties are routine but that was an innovation.
Buses to Washington
Another national effort, was a major lobby day March 8, 1983 in Washington, DC. We sent two full buses from the Capital District. People of all ages slept on a gym floor and were briefed on the arguments. Some met with Reps. Stratton and Solomon who both strongly oppose the Freeze despite strong support in their districts.
The 1000 members of the New York State delegation found Senator D’ Amato’s office empty but when his aides reached him in Albany, he flew back and met with the last few. After many tries we finally got a meeting with Senator Moynihan. A day after our arrival the House the Foreign Affairs Committee voted favorably and had an historic 13 hour debate on the Freeze. In May the House voted in favor of the Freeze by a 2 to 1 margin.
On October 1 1983, Freeze walks were organized all over the country. Our staff person, Jeanne Casatelli, organized walks in 8 communities in the two local Congressional Districts, including in Albany, Troy, Schenectady, Delmar, Voorheesville, Altamont, Clifton Park, and Saratoga. Walkers sought sponsors and contributions. During the walks they handed out flyers and spread the word.
National polls showed that that more than 70% of Americans supported a Freeze but the politicians continued to throw billions into the Arms Race: funding the MX, Pershing II and Cruise missiles; the B1 bomber and space weapons.
In the summer of 1983 the Seneca Army Depot was the site of a major demonstration supported by many groups from around the state protesting against the Pershing II and Cruise missiles being sent from there to Europe. A number climbed over the fence and were arrested. Also that summer the Women’s Peace Encampment set up near the Seneca Depot on property they had purchased. Women came from all over the country to become empowered and to speak out about war and violence against women.
In 1984 the Freeze focused on political activity to elect a new government- president and Congress setting up a PAC Freeze Voter ’84 through which efforts were channeled. In 1986, one of our members, David Burtis, took part in a major push against nuclear weapons testing by traveling to the Nevada Test site for protests there. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was finally signed by President Clinton, but has never been ratified by the Senate.
Each year we would organize events to commemorate the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 1985 we participated in the Ribbon Project. People all over the country made cloth panels illustrating what they could not bear to lose in a nuclear war. Many of they were very beautiful. On August 4th 25,000 panels arrived in Washington DC, enough to stretch 15 miles. The human chin of ribbons surrounded the Pentagon, White House and Capitol. It was a wonderful feeling of connection with all humanity.
Also in 1985 we made shadows for the first time. These were outlines on the sidewalk of human figures, representing those vaporized by the atomic blast. We did this at five different locations. Several participants were arrested.
Over the years we marched to the Knolls Atomic Power plant in Niskayuna; had a large community picnic in the Corning preserve, where we made lanterns to launch in the Hudson river to remember the dead. More recently we have participated in the Grafton Peace Pagoda Remembrances. In addition, at the Capitol, we have set up large displays of the effects of the nuclear blast and related issues.
Move to Social Justice Center
For several years we worked out of an office on Morton Avenue. Our staff there included Jim Murphy and Steve Segore. Then, in the spring of 1986, we moved our office to the Social Justice Center, where we have remained to this day. Over the years, while always being concerned about nuclear weapons, we have taken on many other peace issues.
In later half of the 1980s, as the US increased Arms Sales abroad, we participated in campaigns, developed by the Freeze focusing on Central American countries and East Timor. One such effort was our sale of tee shirts-“Arms Dealers Make a Killing.”
Often on April 15 we have advocated for economic conversion and developing a peace economy. Some years we conducted a penny poll on the street asking passerby to put pennies in jars representing how they would like their tax dollars spent. Invariably they choose more life affirming programs.
The Freeze Became Peace Action in 1993
In 1987 the Freeze campaign joined with the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy and became SANE/ FREEZE for some years. After the fall of the Soviet Union, in 1993 a name which described our broader agenda seemed in order and Peace Action was selected.
Weekly Vigil for Peace
Since Sept. 11, 2001 Peace Action in cooperation with Albany Friends Meeting has held a Vigil for Peace in front of the Capital each Wednesday noon calling for peace and an end to war.
In May 2003 Doug Rokke, a leader in the campaign against Depleted Uranium Weapons, spoke at the Albany Medical College. This led to the development of DU educational network which has been instrumental in advocating for Veterans affected and getting the NYS Legislature to pass a bill calling for a Task Force and registry of national guard personnel to be screened thoroughly and treated for toxic effects of DU.
In May 2006, David Easter began staffing our office in the Social Justice Center. We now are publishing Peace Action News three times each year. We have a new website, www.peaceact.org with information about our activities and organizing resources.
We now have five Upper Hudson Peace Action branches: Troy Peace Action, Schenectady Neighbors for Peace, Guilderland Neighbors for Peace, Southern Rensselaer Neighbors for Peace and Pine Hills Neighbors for Peace. These groups hold weekly vigils, show films in the area library, bring speakers, do counter recruitment leafleting and participate in regional peace activities.
In January 2007 we established the Student Peace Action Network, which brings together representatives of area high school and college peace and justice groups to support each other and plan joint activities.
Another new group is Upper Hudson Peace Action’s Iran Working group, which has a local speaker’s bureau, brings Iran experts to speak, writes letters to the area papers and contacts elected officials.
(Pat Beetle is the Chair of Upper Hudson Peace Action.)