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Keywords: County Lej meeting, Rochesterians Against the Misuse of Pesticides, seven peace activists not guilty, People in Black, educating against misogynist violence

Homeless revolution

Pause now for a Michael Moore moment.

            Through a crowd of homeless and their supporters at last week's County Lej meeting strolled Mrs. New York State, accessories --- tiara and sash --- included. Melissa Ognibene received a proclamation from the Lej recognizing her work on behalf of people suffering from depression.

            Meanwhile, three floors below --- outside the County Office Building --- about 60 homeless and their advocates chanted and cheered, demanding the county "stop the war against the poor."

            The protest was organized by Poor People United, made up of the poor and those "in solidarity with poor people's issues," according to organizer Charles Kellum.

            The group's immediate demand is for an emergency hypothermia shelter. The larger issue is the treatment of the poor in the county budget, Kellum says, citing cuts in social services.

            Around 35 speakers ate up more than 90 minutes of the Lej meeting, relaying stories of the homeless and suffering.

            "Schools are failing. Jobs are gone," one woman said. "You give a person a crumb and think you've done something. You've done nothing."

            Kellum chastised legislators for failing to respond to his proposal for the emergency shelter.

            "Do you care that people are going to freeze this winter?" he asked. "We cannot back down. We have nothing to lose."

            County Executive Jack Doyle was present for the beginning of the meeting and scooted out a back door as soon as it was announced that 35 people had signed up to speak.

Toxics thumbs up, down

Rochesterians Against the Misuse of Pesticides --- the group that's alerted communities to threats from things like arsenic-laden pressured-treated wood --- has issued its annual "Hall of Fame" and "Hall of Shame" awards. This year, the Famers outnumber the Shamers.

            The Hall of Fame has welcomed Paradigm Environmental Services, a lab that's done testing for RAMP; the City of Rochester and Parks-Rec staffer Jim Farr, for cleaning up the contaminated Maplewood Park playground; activist Lila Bluestone, who's done much educational work on lawn pesticides and more; County Legislator Lynda Garner Goldstein, who's tried to get the Lej to pass a local "neighborhood notification law" regarding toxic spraying; and Mitje Raschi, who's worked against the use of herbicides in Conesus Lake.

            The Shamers? The Conesus Lake Association, for promoting the use of a herbicide to control vegetation; Monroe County government, for tabling the neighborhood notification law and continuing to spray herbicides on roadways; and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, for allowing some utilities to spray pesticides on wetlands.

Not guilty verdict

On October 16, City Court Judge Ann Pfeiffer found seven peace activists not guilty in connection with a gathering at the Federal Building last spring. The "Ash Wednesday 13," motivated by religious and ethical beliefs, went there as a witness against the Iraq war. They were arrested for trespass after declining to obey what turned out to be an improper order to leave.

            The 13 --- two were convicted some time ago and paid fines, and four were scheduled to appear in court later this year but now have been exonerated --- have also been addressing criminality. But their charges against the federal government rest on better grounds than did the charges used against them.

            For example, in a prepared statement to the court, Catholic Worker activist Tom Malthaner said the nation is violating the UN Charter and the Nuremberg principles by waging an aggressive war and killing innocent civilians. He quoted Martin Luther King Jr.: "The choice today is no longer between violence and nonviolence" but between "nonviolence and nonexistence."

            In her written statement, defendant Jan Bezila said "liberated, whole people exercise their right... to speak freely, congregate freely, and to proclaim through their actions that 'just war' is a contradiction in terms, a euphemism for a justified slaughter of their brothers and sisters." She noted the Iraq war violated even "traditional 'just war' standards" --- that is, it was not a legitimate war of defense, and so forth.

People in Black

The day after the Ash Wednesday 13 trial ended, a peace presence came to the Four Corners.

            In the shadow of the office towers, a half-dozen men and women calling themselves "People in Black" witnessed against the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Descended from the "Women in Black" --- Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel who hold weekly Friday peace gatherings in Jerusalem --- the local People in Black say they'll stick with the effort.

            The weekly gatherings are "a symbol of a much larger resistance" to the occupation, said local participant Ayala Emmett, a native Israeli who teaches anthropology at UR and has written an important book on the Israeli-Palestinian women's peace movement.

            "They're still standing there," said Emmett of her sisters in Jerusalem, who've been at it consistently since 1988. She also expressed regret that discussion of Middle East issues in this country is "completely shut to voices of peace."

Guys fight violence

Hank Shaw and Daniel Hoh, local advertising professionals who've made a vocation of educating against misogynist violence, have done it again.

            Some years back, the duo put out a short book, It's Time for Guys to Put an End to This, which told how men could help turn things around. Now, with illustrator Ketchum, Shaw and Hoh have created a large brochure, This World is Rated XXX for Violence Against Women and Girls, which furthers the message.

            The brochure quotes UNICEF: "Violence against women and girls is the most pervasive violation of human rights in the world." Say the authors, who've done their work pro bono: "It's time to end this crime wave." For information about the brochure, contact Shaw at 325-4772, or e-mail

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