The idea of "Sister Cities" within the American Voices Abroad
Coalition of American peace groups outside the United States was born at the first conference of AVA in Berlin in July, 2003. The idea was to promote contacts and cooperation between our groups abroad and peace groups in the USA.
Munich American Peace Committee (MAPC) was paired with New York City at the suggestion of Beatrice and Jeff Schevitz, our two delegates to Berlin. Other AVA groups were paired with US cities, too, but nothing seems to have come from it. Bea took up the idea and ran with it, starting last year on a four-day visit to NYC to organize contacts to groups and plan a combined German-American activist group trip to NYC and to nearby Croton-on-Hudson, a small town as a contrast to the big city. It was due to her hard work and determination that the idea was successfully realized. Everywhere we went we were welcomed by leaders of the groups and radio stations, churches, etc., and Bea had everything so well planned that we were always expected and well received.
The group consisted of four Americans from MAPC, Bea and Jeff Schevitz, Marion von Hofacker and Marie Voss, three Germans from Munich, Bernd Michl of attac, Traudl and Paul Kleiser of Sozial Forum and three Germans from the region, all friends of Schevitzes, Dr. Thomas Melcher of the Kaufbeuren peace group and Helga and Günther Lehner of the Füssen peace group. Another American from the Berlin AVA group, Elsa Rassbach, joined us for one day.
Monday, May 16:
Our group outside the UN
Tour of UN building: a uniformed policeman wouldn't let us go in as a group wearing PACE scarves--we took them off and put them back on after we entered. Bernd had a whole stack of PACE (peace in Italian) scarves with him and everywhere we went he presented our hosts with a scarf.
An unexpected addition to our program after the official tour: Bea and Jeff spoke to a Japanese man who was overseeing a photographic exhibit with pictures of Hiroshima after the A-bomb had fallen, and he agreed to talk to us. He is a survivor of the catastrophe and happens to be a German specialist, so could give his talk in German, making it easier for Helga and Günther. He was 16 at the time. He was in the city, 4.5 kilometers from the site where the bomb fell, and managed to make it to his home in a dazed state, but didn't notice any health problems until five years later, when he had serious complications. He gave a very moving account, especially since we realized that this very young-looking 76-year-old was actually an eye witness and lived to tell the story. He recited a poem about the event very dramatically. It was a privilege to meet and talk to him.
Tuesday, May 17:
We went to the independent radio station WBAI, a member of the Pacifica Foundation, located, strangely enough, on Wall Street. We noticed the great number of police cars standing guard in the whole area.
It was interesting that all of the people working for the radio station were black. The head of the station was Bernard White, a huge, soft-spoken, eloquent man who took a lot of time to explain to us what the goal of the station is and to hear what we are doing in Germany. It had been very hard for Bea and Jeff Schevitz to establish contact with the people there by e mail, phone and snail mail letters. He was interested in getting reports and tapes from Jeff in the future about the peace work in Germany. The budget for WBAI is three and a half million dollars, which is 15 % of the budget of the Corporation for Public Radio, CPR. This is not enough to run the station, so they have fund-raising days when listeners contribute money. Pacifica Network has five stations: Besides WBAI , which broadcasts to the five boros of NYC, northern NJ, and Connecticut and has about 300,000 listeners.
Bea showing Bernard a Pace flag
There are stations in Washington DC, Houston, L.A., and San Francisco. By the way. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now got her start at WBAI. Bernard said of his work: "I would get paid a lot more at a commercial station, but here when I go home at night I know my day's work has been worthwhile. Other professionals are jealous of the freedom we have at WBAI". He quoted Martin Luther King, Jr.: "The bombs that fell on Viet Nam exploded in our communities." And Bernard himself says that the bombs in Irak represent another kindergarden, another school, another social program deleted because of lack of money. He recommended the CD-Rom "In Plane Sight", which poses serious questions about how much the Bush government knew about 9/11 before it happened. Marion told him about MAPC's monthly radio show which she does on American politics on the local private station, Radio Lora.
Wednesday, May 18:
Meeting in the Community Church of New York with representatives of NYC peace groups, two from Not In Our Name
, one from United for Peace and Justice
, and one from Women's International League for Peace and Justice
. Elsa Rassbach from AVA (American Voices Abroad) Berlin joined us. We first told them about what we are doing. Each of our group talked about a particular aspect of peace work that we are involved with: Bea and Jeff with video and radio reports, Marion with our monthly radio program on Radio Lora, Bernd with attac's program for careful globalization accompanied by fairness to the host country, Paul with the Social Forum, Helga and Günther and Thomas with their local peace group activities, Elsa and I spoke about military counselling for American soldiers.
Then they told us about what they are doing in the way of peace work. One young woman is a fulltime employee, others are volunteers. The one who impressed me the most was Molly Klopott of Womens' International League for Peace and Justice,
(WILPJ), 86 years old, daily early morning runner, longtime member of the organization, which itself has existed for 90 years,and was started by Nobel Peace Prize winner Jane Adams. It has had many illustrious members, for example, Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Molly told us about their activities, among other things, the chorus originally called the Raging Grannies, whose name now includes their singing daughters, and gave us a booklet of political lyrics they have written to old melodies. We had a five-hour session and it was very encouraging to meet people who not only complain about the Bush government but also are activists doing something about it!
Bernd giving Molly a Pace scarf
We had a delicious dinner at a Chinese restaurant with about 15 members of the Walkabout Clearwater Chorus
, including one member who is also a part of Nine-Eleven Families for Peaceful Tomorrows
whose young son was killed. She told us about the group's concept, that they are against the attacks on Afghanistan and Irak because revenge on innocent families doesn't bring their children back. After the meal we all walked to Dina Fisher's nearby apartment for coffee and songs. Two guitars and a banjo accompanied us when we sang with them, songs like "Freiheit" and "I'm Stickin' to the Union". We left with a wonderful feeling of encouragement. They may be coming to the Pressefest in Düsseldorf again in 2007. We would love to hear them in Munich again as we did in 2003.
Connie of the 9/11 Families and one of the bass singers
In the morning we went to the Firehouse Studio to visit the producers of Democracy Now
, a very important daily progressive syndicated radio, TV and internet news program. We were shown around the studio and also the rest of the old firehouse which will be renovated for expansion of the studio. Staff all white this time.
A very busy Amy Goodman talked to us for a while and then asked about our work. She is the moderator of the daily news program called Democracy Now, a very liberal and widely syndicated show. She is rumored to be a candidate for the Pulitzer prize. Jeff got in his plug for cooperation, and we hope something will come of it.
We went to the Tamiment Library
in the NYU library building. We were received by Dr. Nash, the director, and he described the history of this library and the archives of the labor and communist movement. The name was taken from camp Tamiment, earlier a summer camp for mainly Jewish families. We looked at their collection of books, pamphlets, posters and portraits. It was surprising to me how openly communist and Marxist history can be taught and students of Marxist history can use the facilities.
We met with peace group people from New Haven, Conn., friends of Bernd's who came all the way to NYC to meet with ús. We had hoped for a quiet place to talk, but the French restaurant next to our hotel turned out to be noisy and very expensive. (20% tips added automatically to the bill) The couple from New Haven was very pleasant, and they told us about their May 1 Labor Movement activities in Connecticut. They gave us nice T shirts with their logo, and were interested in our activities too. A little late a Viet Nam Vet for Peace and Against Imperialism came too. They had met him at their May 1st holiday and invited him to come to see us too. He is quite radical, says only revolution and creating a new society will solve our problems. He is very enthusiastic about the program of Call to Conscience. He doesn't advise GIs, but rather talks to young people before they enlist to make sure they know what they are getting into. Then they have to decide for themselves according to their own conscience. He asks them: Are you going to be able to square with your conscience the things the Army expects you to do? Very interesting, very intense discussion over hamburgers which cost $15.50 plus tax for one person.
Friday, May 20:
Marion left for Worcester, Mass. at lunch time. Unfortunately, Bernd's camera and bag were stolen from the hotel lobby.
We went to the Brecht Forum. They have independent programs that focus on social and political analysis and grassroots actions in NYC. They are, like the Firehouse studio, in the process of expanding. Three board members, one man from Viet Nam, one from India and one from the US, plus two staff members, described their programs in Marxist studies. I had planned to go to the demo in front of the Recruiting Office at Times Square but rain and cold discouraged me and I went home to have a somewhat cheaper but also good hamburger at the Morning Star and go to bed early. Thomas and Bernd went to the demo. It was a day when all recruiting offices in the US were closed so that the recruiters could have a day to reflect on "Army values." The head of recruiting in the US said on TV that it had nothing to do with the complaints made recently about recruiters fudging high school diplomas and hiding records of mental illness and drugs among the volunteers in order to reach the quota of two recruits a month.
Saturday, May 21:
We took the train to Croton-on-Hudson, had lovely weather and were met by Hannelore (Holly) and Mille and Carl Grimm (descendant of the Brothers Grimm), who took us to Croton Point Park. We met some of the Unitarian teenagers who were spending the weekend there with their mentors in lovely surroundings on the Hudson preparing for their alternative confirmation service (called coming of age) in church the next day. We sat in a circle on the grass and talked to them about what we have been doing in Germany. We considered camping there with them, but changed our
mind when we found out that the cabins were full and the tents tiny. It also rained later.
just so you know Jeff was along!
We went to the Watergate Motel (real name) which was quirky, but OK, but far away from everything for people without a car.
We went to visit Ellen Perlo, the widow of Victor Perlo, who had been the chief economist for the American Communist Party and wrote many books. Then we were taken for a drive around the area, for example on the Red Mile, where famous leftists like Jack Reed and Louise Bryant had lived in the thirties. Croton was an artists' and writers' colony back then.
In the evening we went to a local restaurant to eat. It was rather complicated, since Mille and Holly had to ferry us all back and forth from the motel. Thomas ordered a small pizza, which turned out to be a huge disc on a plate upon a pedestal. Lots of laughs at his dismayed face...
Sunday, May 22:
We went to church at the Universalist-Unitarian Church and were warmly welcomed. It was a very nice service, good hymns and a good choral performance, then the central subject, a coming of age service instead of a confirmation. The young people we had met on Saturday told about the various credos of the U-U church and said which ones were important to them. Most said they like the fact that they were encouraged as young people with the help of their monitors and other adults to find their own beliefs, rather than accept received credos. Tolerance is a central them of the Unitarians--you can be an atheist and still be a Unitarian. After coffee hour we talked about our work to some of the members who stayed to hear us. There is a peace group in Croton loosely connected to the Unitarian church.
We went to Mille's and Hannelore's house for drinks and snacks and a wind-up reflection on our trip. Mille's daughter-in-law came and we talked about Mille's son, who has been in prison for seven years for agreeing to give gov't secrets to South Africa in a staged FBI trap.
I left to go back to NYC to the hotel to leave early in the morning for Washington, and the rest stayed until the next day to leave for their various destinations for continuing their trip or going back to Germany. Bernd had friends from Williamsport, Pa. (40 miles from my home town) who came to pick him up and take him to beautiful central Pennsylvania.
We all felt that we had had an interesting and profitable stay, made new contacts and also had a lot of fun!