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 naïve 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, www.dutchesspeace.org, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the web site, www.dutchesspeace.org.