Friday, March 26, 2010

Poughkeepsie Journal on Rachel Corrie play

Play ignites political passions

Edward Meisel • March 25, 2010

Several weeks ago I was driving home from work very early in the morning and listening to the BBC World Service on the radio. The news reporter began discussing a civil action that was being launched against the Israeli defense ministry by the parents of Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old U.S. citizen who was killed while protesting the bulldozing of Palestinian homes in the Gaza town of Rafah.

What was intended to be a nonviolent protest on the part of Corrie resulted in her death when an armored bulldozer crushed her. A swell of controversy followed the incident — one side believing the driver was effectively given orders to proceed despite the protesters, the other maintaining that Corrie was not visible to the driver and furthermore had no business being on what had been designated a closed military compound.

With the early rays of the daylight breaking over the Hudson River, I found it hard for some reason to take sides. As I drove across the Mid-Hudson Bridge and home to my family, all I could think was — what a sad waste of a life. Did this young woman know she was going to die? Why didn't she scurry out of the way? Was her cause worth the wasted potential of her life unlived? At that moment I felt both sad and angry and very confused. Were her actions heroic or foolish?

Corrie's story seems to affect many people that way.

Actor Alan Rickman and journalist Katharine Viner combined and edited Corrie's own journals, letters and e-mails to create a one- woman play titled "My Name Is Rachel Corrie." The play was first staged in London in April 2005 and was met with great success. Political fireworks began, however, when the same company attempted to stage a New York production a year later. The production was postponed "indefinitely" with insinuations either implied or inferred that the political content could impede funding of the nonprofit New York Theatre Workshop at which it was to be staged.

It seems Corrie's views, expressed in her own words, are emotional and gripping to some and naive propaganda to others. The play has since appeared in New York as well as venues throughout the world. But it still seems to have a reputation of being booked and then canceled due to controversy — something very unique in our modern and "enlightened" age of theater.

What: "My Name is Rachel Corrie," starring Courtney Day Nassar; sponsored by Dutchess Peace Coalition, Grassroots Alliance for Alternative Politics and Middle East Crisis Response

When: 8 p.m. March 26

Where: Rockefeller Hall, Room 200, Vassar College, 124 Raymond Ave., Poughkeepsie

Admission: $10 suggested donation; free for students with ID

Information: Call 845-679-3299

My Name is Rachel Corrie performed at Vassar College

First picture is of Courtney with Sam, the artist who made the great banner.

Second picture is Paul introducing the play to a packed house at Vassar College.

Courtney got a standing ovation for her wonderful performance. She also led an interesting question and answer session at the end of the play. 

The room's capacity was 135, and almost every seat was taken. There were also lots of new faces, with many more community members than students.

(On March 16, 2003, Rachel Corrie, 23, was crushed to death by an Israeli Army bulldozer in Gaza as she tried to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home. "My Name Is Rachel Corrie" recounts the young woman's life from journal entries, letters, and e-mails she left behind. Courtney Day Nassar has performed this one-woman show at many locations including the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre, Villanova University and the University of Pittsburgh. "In terms of other productions, having seen the New York production, I can say that Courtney inhabits the role with such passion and conviction it can be almost overwhelming." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) 

Sunday, March 7, 2010

History of the Dutchess Peace Coalition


By Pat Lamanna

The Dutchess Peace Coalition was founded early in 2003 by a group of Dutchess County citizens concerned that the United States was preparing to invade Iraq, a country that had had no part in the September 11 attacks and was not a known threat to U.S. security.  The people who assembled at that first meeting at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Poughkeepsie represented a variety of political parties, religious institutions, and other organizations; hence the name “Coalition.”  However, in a short time the members of the group found that more and more they were acting solely as concerned citizens and not as representatives of a group, so we more often nowadays refer to our group simply as “Dutchess Peace.” 

Our hope, which now seems na├»ve and quaint, was that if a large enough number of outraged individuals across the country organized and participated in massive demonstrations, the planned invasion of Iraq would not occur.  As you know, the invasion began shortly after the founding of the Dutchess Peace Coalition.  This made our mission – to forestall the invasion of Iraq – moot, and we weren’t sure at first where to go from there.  We decided to continue meeting and to continue to protest the actions of the Bush Administration, which seemed both appalling and inconceivable at the time.    We joined in actions in New York City and Washington, D.C., and locally began a campaign to inform the public about the hastily-passed U.S.A. Patriot Act.  We joined a national organization, the Bill of Rights Defense Council, and participated in a number of Fourth of July and town parades at which we handed out literature with the provisions of the Act.  We  built an eye-catching “float” with the salient Articles of the Bill of Rights attacked in the Patriot Act painted in red, white and blue.  Some of us dressed as the Statue of Liberty or Uncle Sam and rode the float.   We almost got the Dutchess County Legislature to pass a resolution asking Congress to consider repealing those portions of the Patriot Act that violated rights and liberties outlined in the Constitution.

At some point, we made the decision that with the name “Dutchess Peace Coalition” we should return to our original mission: to promote peace.   Though we continued to work to protect civil liberties, we began to focus more on ending the war in Iraq and the conditions that brought it about.    At that time, we started showing or co-sponsoring movie screenings, such as “Uncovered: the True Story Behind the Iraq War” at the UU Fellowship, and “Dr. Strangelove” at the Upstate Cinema in Rhinebeck.   The March 20, 2004 march in New York City commemorating the first anniversary of the invasion of Iraq had huge representation from Dutchess County – Metro North added a whole train, which we dubbed the “Peace Train,” to accommodate the overflow. 

Over the years, we have continued some of our earlier activities, such as tabling at many community events (the Arlington Street Fair, the Beacon Strawberry, Corn and Pumpkin Festivals, and more); showing a wide variety of antiwar films; and participating in various larger demonstrations in Kingston, New York City, and Washington.  We’ve handed out anti-recruitment flyers at Poughkeepsie and Beacon High Schools. 

We discovered a book of poetry by prisoners of Guantanamo, and put together a creative and moving presentation in which members of our group, clad in orange jump suits and black hoods, read their poems and told their stories at poetry coffeehouses in the area.  We are currently working on a similar creative project involving dramatic readings on the subject of Israel and Palestine.

You’ll find video, photos and a great deal of information about the organization at our web site,, which is ably mastered by Fred Nagel.

This organization has had meetings where only two people attended; the maximum at any one meeting was probably no more than a dozen.  People have come and gone; only two remain of those who attended the first meeting.  Yet, it is remarkable how much this “small group of thoughtful, committed citizens” has accomplished in the few years it has been around.  Indeed, as Margaret Mead noted, it’s the only thing that ever has.

We welcome new members or anyone who would like to check us out and learn more about us.  We meet at 7:00 p.m. on the first Monday of every month, at the UU Fellowship of Poughkeepsie, 67 South Randolph Avenue.  For more information, email Pat Lamanna at or check out the web site,