BETWEEN THE LINES: So, explain the process that ended with the result you wanted.
RACHEL WEBER: So, starting this past summer, our chapter started sending out public records requests to towns and agencies covering several counties – from the Berkshires out to Worcester, from the Connecticut border to the Vermont border. And through those records requests, we ended up learning that in December of this year there was going to be a counterterrorism seminar for law enforcement in New England. And one of the places we had sent a records request to said, “Well, we’ve never gone before, but we just got this invitation about something coming up in December.” So once we learned that there was a specific training coming up in December, we than sent out new public records requests asking specifically if folks were going to this particular seminar. And of all the places we sent requests to, the only “Yes” that we got back was from the Northampton chief of police, Jody Kasper.
We found out on Oct. 19 that Jody Kasper was going on this trip, and the trip was supposed to be happening from Dec. 2 to Dec. 11. And so, once I received that email – since I live in Northampton I was the one who sent out the records request for Northampton. So once we got that information, then our core organizing folks came up with a strategy – also working in tandem with some of the organizers working on the national End the Deadly Exchange Campaign – where we wanted to see if we could have a private meeting with the mayor to address some of our concerns, because what we feared – and what turned out to be correct – is that he simply saw that the ADL was sponsoring the training, and his thinking was, the ADL is a wonderful organization. Why wouldn’t I say “yes” to this? There wasn’t much thought put into the implications.
So we assembled a team of folks who represented a broader swath of the community. So we had two different city councilors – one of them, Alisa Klein, who had lived in Israel, served in the Israeli military, and has been doing anti-occupation work since then for decades. We had Rose Bookbinder, who’s an organizer with the Pioneer Valley Workers’ Center, which is an immigrant-led advocacy organization. They’ve been doing amazing work around protecting immigrants in this community. We also had Michel Moushabeck, who is an internationally known Palestinian musician and book publisher. And we had Vijay Prashad, who founded a thinktank called TriContinental. One of his offices is here in Northampton, but they are around the globe, and he’s been covering affairs in Israel/Palestine for the past 30 years or so. So we had a range of interests in the room.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Wow, Rachel Weber, you really had the A-list on your side!
RACHEL WEBER: And we had a meeting with the mayor, and he invited the police chief. And we had an hour-long meeting where we really got into the heart of what our concerns were. And then followed that up asking some select folks to send emails to him about why this was important to them, and that brought in additional voices from the community – folks involved in different aspects of the Jewish community, other professors who teach at Smith here in town, other people who work and own businesses and live here in Northampton, so we tried to really show the mayor that this wasn’t an issue that was only of concern to a small group of people, that this really was of huge concern to a wide array of people in the community.
And then we heard about a week after our meeting that he canceled.
BETWEEN THE LINES: So, Jewish Voice for Peace has been working on this End the Deadly Exchange Campaign for a while, and now you got these two victories on two consecutive days, where the director of the Vermont State Police had planned to go, but cancelled on Nov. 26, and the mayor of Northampton cancelled the participation of his chief of police the next day. Are these the first successes you’ve seen?
RACHEL WEBER: To JVP’s understanding, this is the first time that anyone has withdrawn participation due to public pressure as a result of the End the Deadly Exchange Campaign.