Attendance drops at peace conference

Call it the price of victory or the revenge of a sunny day. Either way, attendance at the 11th Annua
Mary Finneran sells bumper stickers during the annual Kateri Tekakwitha Peace Conference in the Town of Mohawk Saturday.
Mary Finneran sells bumper stickers during the annual Kateri Tekakwitha Peace Conference in the Town of Mohawk Saturday.

Call it the price of victory or the revenge of a sunny day. Either way, attendance at the 11th Annual Interfaith Kateri Tekakwitha Peace Conference was down about 40 percent Saturday from last year, organizers said.

Event founder John Amidon of Albany said the annual conference examines issues related to social change through nonviolent means. He said last year’s conference had about 100 people in attendance, many of them motivated to protest the policies of President George W. Bush. This year, he said, about 60 people showed up to discuss the peace movement and social justice, mainly from a left-wing political perspective.

“The energy level of the peace movement has really been decreased with the election of President Obama. It’s a recurring phenomena. There’s heightened political activity before any election, and then there’s a little bit of a letdown. People are waiting to see what he’s going to do,” Amidon said.

“Another reason [for lower attendance is] we’ve had this really rainy summer, so I think people are using this first really nice weather we’ve had to do things they’ve been wanting to do.”

The theme of this year’s peace conference was “Harnessing the Winds of Change.” Several speakers referenced the importance of the election of Barack Obama, the county’s first multiracial president.

Bruce R. Hare, a professor emeritus in sociology and African-American studies at Syracuse University, discussed what he considers the giant step America took toward becoming a “post-racial” society by electing Obama.

“Racism is a mental illness. The idea of races is a social construction of reality that has no basis in science and a conspiracy of silence among those that know the truth but refuse to speak up,” Hare said.

Hare said American society has changed with the election of Obama but remains a society in need of more change.

“We are a highly individualistic, adolescent society that’s kind of egocentric and individualistic, and we have a very narrow notion of what our mutual responsibilities to each other are,” he said.

Sharon Shaughnessy of Albany said she attended the conference for the first time this year because her grandmother suggested it. Shaughnessy was one of very few people who appeared to be younger than 30 at the conference.

She said she liked Hare’s presentation on race and it made her consider new ideas.

“Especially what he said about Native Americans. He said if the Cleveland Indians or the Washington Redskins had a blackface [logo] and say they called them the Cleveland Darkies, society would never stand for that,” she said.

Lawrence Davidson, a professor of Middle East history at West Chester University, and Janet Kestenberg Amighi, who teaches anthropology at Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania, gave a presentation on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

The two praised Obama for being more diplomatic toward the regime in Iran than Bush had been, but they said he needs to go further toward resolving the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Davidson said Obama should abandon Bush’s stance of a two-state solution and embrace a one-state solution with Israelis and Palestinians living together in a combined state under one government.

He said one of the major obstacles to a one-state vision is the Jewish and Christian Zionist lobby in Washington, which seeks to maintain Israel as a predominantly Jewish state.

Davidson argued that American ideology has always evolved toward inclusive politics of expanding rights toward minorities, while the state of Israel is being exclusive of Palestinians in an effort to remain Jewish.

“President Obama has to get beyond rhetoric and really threaten the Israelis. For instance, what the Israelis are doing with their settlement policy is clearly illegal. It violates the Geneva Convention, aspects of the United Nations human rights declarations and it’s a clear threat to international peace,” Davidson said. “What usually happens to a country that behaves in a way that threatens international peace?”

Several members of the audience then answered Davidson’s question by chanting “sanctions and drones!”

Beverly Alves, a resident of Ephratah, attended the conference Saturday to discuss her support for a single-payer health care system in which all Americans would have the same health insurance through a government-financed but privately provided system.

She said she opposes the public health insurance option provided for in some bills being debated in Congress because it has “loopholes” and could prove too expensive for some people.

Alves also took issue with what she called a “one-sided, negative” view of Israel and Zionism at the conference.

“There’s a need for a Zionist state. Half of the Jewish people in the world were annihilated [during World War II]. For peace of mind, there needs to be a Jewish state where Jewish people can go to,” she said.

Amidon said his major criteria for inviting speakers to the conference is that they advocate nonviolent solutions.

He said the only types of conservatives he could foresee inviting to the event would be those similar to U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who has expressed an anti-war ideology.

“Would I run a right-wing conference? No, I’m not a right-wing person. If somebody wanted to come and talk about blowing up Iran, no — we work for peace,” he said.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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