Extra Chapter 9
The Peace Activist
Under the leadership of Bill Clinton, consumer confidence was high and the country was at peace. Throughout his presidency, the Republicans spent millions of dollars investigating his every move. There were headlines about a scandal connected to the Clinton’s travel agency, which the Republicans called Travelgate. Republicans accused him of killing Vince Foster, his friend who had committed suicide. Republicans spent untold millions investigating her for a land deal called Whitewater. When all these efforts failed to produce indictments, the Republicans got a woman by the name of Linda Tripp to befriend intern Monica Lewinsky, who was giving President Clinton head. To prove it, Tripp stole Lewinsky’s dress from her closet and took it back to the Republicans for DNA testing. When Clinton told the country, “I did not have sex with that woman,” the Republicans impeached him for lying. The impeachment failed, but the political fallout made the effort worthwhile.
Al Gore ran for president in 2000. His opponent was the Governor of Texas, George W. Bush, the son of the 41st president. Gore was an Ivy League blowhard, and Bush, though he had gone to Yale, was positioned as a charming Texan who “shot from his hip.” W. also was favored by the law-and-order evangelical Christians. In 1998 he had refused to commute the death sentence of Karla Faye Tucker, even though she had found God, and Bush declared June 10 as “Jesus Day.” Bush was so popular he was asked to run for president. Said the evangelist Billy Graham, a friend of the family, “I believe in the integrity of this man.”
Bush beat Gore for president in 2000 after a disputed vote count in Florida. His brother, Jeb, the Florida governor, had allowed his secretary of state, Katherine Harris, to keep 250,000 black voters from the polls because they had the same names as convicted felons. When the Alioto-led U.S. Supreme Court upheld the vote count, George W. Bush became the 43rd president.
After the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Bush declared a “religious war.” He said, “We the Christians will strike back with more force and more ferocity than they will ever know.”
Bush was the first neo-con president. It’s the ultimate in capitalistic Republicanism. “The government means nothing. American corporations are everything. Our laws mean nothing. What we want to do means everything. And if you don’t agree with us, you are our enemy.” To solidify his presidency, George W. Bush did all he could to remove all checks and balances. It’s not PC to call him a dictator, but until the American electorate returned the Senate and House to Democratic control on November 7, 2006, for six years Bush did as he pleased with no one or nothing to stop him.
Among his neo-con supporters were vice-president Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Norman Podhoretz, Paul Wolfowitz, Elliott Abrams, and Eliot Cohen. Their call was for “American global leadership.” Though Saudi Arabians had attacked us, Bush was focused on attacking Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. To President Bush, Hussein was “the guy who tried to kill my dad.” Regime change in Iraq became his goal.
On June 2, 2002, he told a West Point audience, “New threats require new thinking.” When Gen. Brent Scowcroft said he feared an attack would destabilize the whole region, Bush called Scowcroft a “pain in the ass.”
Bush, the Bible-quoting Christian, used his Bible to promote war – exactly like the Islamists who used the Koran to for the same purpose. Bush talked of the parable of the Good Samaritan. In that story Jesus tells of several travelers walking along the road and encountering a man who had been robbed and lying wounded at the side of the road.
President Bush saw the story as a question of moral responsibility as it related to war. What should we do, he wondered, if we had gotten to the wounded man fifteen minutes earlier? To Bush it was clear: attack his attacker.
On March 16, 2003, Bush told Hussein to resign if he wanted to avoid war. Hussein refused. On March 19, 2003, Bush invaded Baghdad.
From her Brooklyn headquarters, Charlotte Phillips, co-founder of the Brooklyn Parents for Peace, sees madness. She has worked to do all she can to stop what she believes has been a disastrous, needless war.
Charlotte Phillips: “We moved to Pierrepont Street in Brooklyn in 1969. Oliver could walk across the bridge to the Health Policy Advisory Center, and I took the 4 or 5 train and then transferred to the 6 to go to Lincoln Hospital, which was in the South Bronx.
“When I finished my pediatric residency at Lincoln Hospital, I became a chief resident. During that time I was involved in organizing the Lincoln Collective, an attempt to both address issues of health care and community access to health care in the South Bronx. We saw that the process of training itself was alienating and tended to de-idealize those who had gone into medicine for idealistic reasons. Many who finished their training had lost most of their idealism, and we felt that could change that if we changed the hospital’s training methods.
“I had chosen Lincoln because it was in the center of a low-income area of the Bronx. I could have gone to Jacobi Hospital in the north Bronx, a middle-class area, but I wanted to go to Lincoln because it had more of the type of patients I’d really wanted to get to know.
“What I found there was a two-tiered system in U.S. medical education. One tier was for U.S. graduates and a second tier was for international graduates, who were recruited from underdeveloped countries and provided a huge labor force to the health care system. The U.S. graduates were offered the chance to study at Jacobi Hospital, while the international students were funneled to Lincoln in the poor part of the South Bronx. I had been unaware of this practice, and it was kind of shocking.
“When I applied, I was steered to Jacobi, but I chose Lincoln. I was the only U.S. graduate there at the time, except for one other.
“At Lincoln I found Dr. Arnold Einhorn, a pediatrician extraordinaire. The chief of pediatrics, he was originally French, came here during World War II, had gone to Lincoln. He had built up the pediatrics department into a really respectable program, but he had no U.S. graduates.
“I and a few others went to Dr. Einhorn and said, `We can fill your program with U.S. graduates. Let us devise, develop, and promote a community pediatric program, and we’ll do what we can to get U.S. graduates to come.’
“He said, `Go ahead.’ And we developed a program that included a big component of out of hospital time in the community, providing services to the community, and we did recruit U.S. graduates.”
“The next few years were very exciting and tumultuous. Although our program did make many important improvements in service which remained after we left, the program itself didn’t last long. Most of the people who came with the Pediatric Collective left. I had my first daughter in 1975, and I didn’t want to work full time; at the same time Albert Einstein lost the contract for professional services in 1976, which for me meant that working part-time was not an option. So I left in January of 1977. I didn’t practice pediatrics again until 1991.”
Dr. Phillips left medicine to raise a family, but she resumed her life as an activist in the fall of 1983 when the U.S. invaded Grenada.
“I founded Brooklyn Parents for Peace with Carolyn Eisenberg, who also came out of the anti-Vietnam War movement. Rusti – we call her Rusti because she has bright red hair – lived around the corner from me. We met through mutual friends. Our daughters were the same age. My second daughter and her oldest daughter enrolled at the Open House Early Childhood Center, and it was for that reason that we were standing on a street corner when the U.S. invaded Grenada, and we said, `Oh my God. This is awful. What should we do?’ And we both felt we needed to respond somehow, so we decided to get together and talk about it, and we’ve been together and talking about it ever since.
“We called a meeting at the Open House Early Childhood Center. We put an announcement on the bulletin board to see if there were any other like-minded parents who wanted to talk about it, and people responded. We said, `What can we do?’ and we began having meetings and discussion groups. At that time the Navy began to unveil its plans to put ships armed with nuclear-capable cruise missiles in a “homeport” in Staten Island. That gave us our initial organizing focus. We said, `What should we call ourselves?’ `We’ll be the Brooklyn Parents for Peace,’ because we were parents and because at the time that was the central identity.
“The narrow argument against the ships carrying nuclear weapons docking in Staten Island was its environmental impact. The Navy was required to present an environmental impact study. There were public hearings. And people came to testify. Our main argument: what is there’s an accident and radiation leaks out?’ The Navy said, `No problem. We have an evacuation plan.’ And we showed how ludicrous the idea of an evacuation plan from New York City was.
“We also focused on our elected representatives. Steve Solarz was one representative from Brooklyn who had initially voted for the homeport. He thought it would bring a lot of construction money into the city and the economy. I’m not sure he had even thought about what the impact of it would be.
“We began to demonstrate at his office, trying to get him to change his vote, as well as the office of Howard Golden, the Brooklyn borough president. Eventually Golden did withdraw a large measure of his support for the project. In the end the Navy decided it wasn’t worth it, and they went elsewhere, to Norfolk, Virginia. They are now sailing around the world with their nuclear-capable cruise missiles ready to be used at a moment’s notice, and that’s still what the U.S. policy is. Our government feels justified using nuclear weapons for a preemptive first strike. So in a larger sense, we didn’t win.
“Unfortunately, I have to say we didn’t really didn’t emphasize the foreign policy implication of this plan to have a nuclear-capable home port. We didn’t really use the occasion to let people know about that and to focus on that.”
Brooklyn Parents for Peace had twelve core members then. It now has more than four hundred members and an outreach mailing list of more than three thousand. The organization is dedicated to protesting militarism, protecting inner city students from the incessant recruitment ploys of the armed forces, finding a peaceful solution in the Middle East, stopping the genocide in Darfur, and finally, raising money to help children around the world through UNICEF.
Charlotte Phillips: “Once the homeport was gone, we turned from the issue of U.S. foreign policy and focused more on domestic policy. We had parenting workshops on how to educate our children in a militaristic culture, adding issues like what to do about toy guns. We focused on how the military budget impacts on domestic policy. We tried to address the peace dividend at the end of the Cold War. We discussed the welfare law reforms and how they would impact people, and we did some work on exposing American intervention in Central America.
“And then 9/11 happened. Brooklyn Parents for Peace had name recognition and a mailing list, so people looked to us for leadership for what would be a non-military response to this tragedy. At the same time we began using computer-based technology for outreach and organizing. One of our members who did film editing learned to do website design, and she developed a website for us. My second daughter came home from college in 2001 with her computer, and I stared at it for a while, until I decided to try it myself. I got hooked up, and I got someone to teach me how to use it. My daughter had friends who needed part-time jobs, and I hired them to teach me and to work with us. By that time I had gotten back into pediatrics. I went back to practice in 1991. I figured I’d better get back into it before it was too late. I now have a full-time job doing out-patient pediatrics in Bushwick, Brooklyn, in the New York City public hospital system. It’s very intense, but I don’t carry it home, and I have my evenings and weekends free to work on Brooklyn Parents for Peace.
“The Iraq War has been a disaster. Before the war broke out Brooklyn Parents for Peace issued a manifesto of ten reasons why we should not go to war with Iraq, and every one of them turned out to be true. One, we said, it’ll make the world more dangerous, not less dangerous. There will be a tremendous loss of civilian life in Iraq. It won’t make us any safer. Those were the main arguments.
“After September 11, we issued a manifesto calling for a non-military response, saying, `We have to use international law and tools like that to address the issue of who did this, getting to the bottom of it.’ We said a military response would hurt the wrong people and wouldn’t solve the problem, and that also turned out to be correct. Many many lives later we are no further ahead. In fact, we are very far behind where we were no September 11.
“As for whether Bush, Chaney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz should be punished, our group has not taken a position on that. I personally think they are all guilty of war crimes. They have allowed torture. They have allowed people to be jailed indefinitely without any due process. They have allowed wiretaps without warrants. I personally think Bush should be impeached. I’m not sure I would put that forward as a major organizing focus, but I certainly think that would be the appropriate response to what he has done. Our government has spent billions of dollars for war, but still there is never enough money to provide decent health care for the poor. I see that all the time as a practicing pediatrician. It’s just a shame to see what’s going on.
“And even though the whole country wants this war to end, amazingly enough, that’s no guarantee it will. We are trying to generate phone calls, letters, faxes to our senators, telling them not to give Bush a blank check. We would have preferred they didn’t put any money at all in the bill he recently vetoed and certainly to put in a timeline for withdrawal of troops from Iraq, but Bush wants a bill with no strings attached. We are trying to maintain as much pressure as we can here in Brooklyn for them not to give in to him.
“One of our ways of organizing is old-fashioned street outreach with leaflets to the public. There’s a lot of internet organizing going on from moveon.org and groups like that. It’s certainly very effective, but I think there is a very important need for feet on the ground, face to face conversation, people to reach out to our neighbors. We need to do a lot more of that. That’s what we’re doing at the very moment.
“Three years ago Brooklyn Parents for Peace developed a structure of forming committees to address individual problems relating to peace. We have an outreach committee. A big emphasis of our work is reaching out, talking with people who don’t automatically think about these issues in a political way. We try to engage them in dialog and conversation, and hopefully do what needs to be done to lead people to feel these issues do affect their lives, and that they can take action.
“We have an anti-recruitment committee that focuses on our trying to dry up the stream of high school recruits to the military in Brooklyn. I’m unhappy to say Brooklyn has one of the highest rates of military recruitment in the country. They target kids in the low-income and mostly of-color schools.
“We’re out there trying to let students and parents know that they don’t have to have their education paid for by the military, that there are other ways to leave home and have an adventure without joining the military. We’re trying to have a presence on career night at the high schools to say that the military should not be allowed free access to students. If they are at a school, they should be there for a specific purpose, for a specific student who might want to meet them. They shouldn’t be allowed to roam the hall looking macho and impressing kids that it’s cool.
“The No Child Left Behind Act says any public school district must release personal identification and contact information of their eleventh and twelfth grade students to the military recruiters -- unless the student or the parent objects. We’re letting people know about their right to opt out.
“We have a Darfur crisis committee. We’re trying to educate people as to what’s happening in Darfur and to use citizen pressure to get U.S. foreign policy to stop the killing. The U.S. should really take a strong stand on this. We do what we can in the national arena.
“There’s an Israel-Palestine committee. That’s very touchy. For a long time we have steered away from the issue because it’s so divisive. People feel that anything that is critical of Israel is de facto anti-Semitism. It’s taken us a long time to work out a position on Israel-Palestine that would represent us. Our position calls for a two-state solution, and affirms Israel’s right to exist, but also calls for justice for the Palestinians as well. Occasionally we get hostile phone calls from people saying, `You’re calling for the destruction of Israel.’ But that isn’t so. We believe that for Israel to have a secure future, it will have to come to terms with what is justice for the Palestinians; what’s happening there now with the occupation in the long run will prove to be counterproductive.
“Another committee is our UNICEF committee. Two years ago we felt we needed to have a concrete way of engaging children and of helping parents talk to their children about peace. We felt that UNICEF was an effective way to do this. Part of our own childhood was going out on Halloween with our orange UNICEF boxes; these boxes had disappeared from Brooklyn, so our idea was to bring back the tradition of trick or treating for UNICEF. Since 2003 we have also organized an annual Peace Fair which includes many children’s events which promote the culture of peace.”