Can Speaker Corey Johnson Do the Right Thing for New York City and Humanity?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Council Member Danny Dromm, and Speaker of the City Council, Corey Johnson, St. Pats For All Parade, 2018 (Image by By Anthony Donovan)

by Anthony Donovan, Pressenza, June 7, 2021

Part 1:

A City Council resolution, the cynics tell us, is “just words.” But the words in Resolution 0976-2019—which has languished for more than a year without a vote—very much matter. They point the way to a better and safer world.

The resolution calls upon New York City to divest from nuclear weapons manufacturers in public employees’ pension funds. The city’s five pension funds have holdings of about half a billion dollars in companies involved in the nuclear-weapons industry, representing less than .25 of the system’s total assets. The resolution also calls upon the United States to support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which became international law and entered into force in January.

Divestiture represents a small step toward a nuclear-free world at a time when the trillion-dollar arms race is galloping along, largely ignored, if not misrepresented by the mainstream media. But it’s a vital and important step.

It’s extremely rare that one has an opportunity to save a life, never mind help save all human life.  Speaker Corey Johnson could allow the City Council to pass this resolution now to prove the priorities of our city, and do its part for the future of humanity.

In April 2018, after being introduced to advocates, the Finance Chair of the City Council, Daniel Dromm wrote a letter to Comptroller Scott Stringer requesting NYC pension funds divest from those that profit from nuclear weapons companies.   See link document

“Our divestment would send a clear signal to financial institutions and corporations around the world that hard working New Yorkers refuse to derive monetary benefit from this sordid and arguably illegal industry.”

After repeated asks, as of today, Memorial Day 2021, Scott Stringer has done nothing toward our City Council Finance Chair request.  Scott is running for NYC Mayor, and now Corey wishes to take his NYC Comptroller position, with a congruent history of non action for the same.   Worse, Speaker Johnson has actively prevented this popularly supported resolution from its fulfillment.

Comptroller Stringer and Council Speaker Johnson both speak of role models, who they claim inspired their lives.

As a child Scott would witness his mother and her cousin, our laudable U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug in action.   When it crossed his desk, he ignored this prime issue Bella was passionately devoted to;  nuclear weapon abolition.   In 1961 Bella helped found Women Strike For Peace (WSP), an organization that held the largest national women’s demonstration in the last century, demanding a stop to the nuclear arms race.  To this end she continued to be our champion building bridges with women of the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Speaker Corey Johnson could show that he indeed honors his proclaimed hero and great inspiration, the late Bayard Rustin, our great New York City civil rights giant, pioneer of LGBT activism, and to the point of offering his life, our fully devoted trailblazer in ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

Rustin was a leading opponent of these devices from the 1940s.  In 1955 he was arrested outside City Hall with Dorothy Day and others for opposing the nations acquiescence with the insanity and false security of entering shelters during mandatory nuclear attack drills.  They well knew then what the government still refuses to admit to the public;  There is no shelter, no safety, no security, and no sense.   Before the City Council of which Corey Johnson serves as Speaker, in City Hall’s Public Hearing on this resolution, Bayard Rustin’s partner, Walter Naegle, had noteworthy personal testimony:  “Were he [Bayard] with us today, I know he would be urging the City Council to move forward on these initiatives.”

According to the legislative office of Finance Chair Danny Dromm (after repeated requests for Danny to respond directly), Speaker Corey Johnson has held up allowing the vote, without explanation.  They describe a Speaker who will not budge.  Neither will Danny follow through with his stated commitment to us.    We all understood the delay, and the backlog of bills due to the priority of Covid-19.   I myself am an active nurse throughout this grave challenge still unfolding before us.   But, a year and 4 months has transpired since that vital Public Hearing.

With Corey Johnson asking city residents to entrust him to fill Scotts Comptroller position, his example of back room delay and obfuscation caused us to pause in supporting someone we in other ways admired.  Allowing a vote for this resolution would expose and clarify the positions of the few he states are influencing his concerted inaction.   This would be invaluable to not only the majority of Council Members who support resolution 0976, but to all New York voters considering him to fight for our financial priorities.

Nuclear weapons are one vital issue we can actually do something concrete about, today.  We make them, with political will, we can dissemble them. Reference our Indian Point Power Plant.

If the resolution is not passed in the next few weeks, it will have lost its original sponsor to retirement, and have a very tall order to be reintroduced into the next City Council with its new leadership and membership. Council Member Danny Dromm, who is not seeking reelection, and who once described his legislation as a priority most dear to him, who had pledged to see it through to its end, has not, yet.

He asked to mobilize hundreds of New Yorkers to call and lobby in support of the resolution, which as a result soon became widely successful, gaining quickly a supermajority of co-signing Council Members, and a huge outpouring of fact based witnesses filling the City Hall’s Public Hearing with intelligence and, common sense.   CM Dromm and other co-sponsors, including Council Member Ben Kallos, now running for Manhattan Borough President, have an obligation to expend political capital to gather their colleagues and call for the Council to arrive to a vote.

To continue a legacy of public service, now is the time for both CM Dromm and Speaker Johnson to take responsibility and follow through.  If not, may it be duly noted and publicly recorded that two and half years of encouraged community effort have been cast onto the political scrap heap by them, without accountability to citizens, without the basic courtesy of explaining a justified reason.   Recent months of respectful phone calls and emails have gone unanswered.

All advocates and activists benefit by stepping back from being “single issue”.   However, the issue of nuclear weapons will return again and again until either we answer it, or civilization ends.   The cost of this one issue is a setback to all other pressing priorities.

The two core issues we are irresponsibly leaving our grand children to face are:  the tremendous burden of our Climate/environment, and these beyond horrific devices of annihilation.   They are intimately related existential threats, both of which summon all our clarity and energy.  The adverse effects of any level of nuclear detonation, by error, cyber attack or nuclear exchange would be an immediate and irreversibly devastating setback to all environmental goals, and human life.

Without hyperbole, the avoidance, and inaction of these current NYC leaders supports the misleading propaganda of a runaway military industrial complex we’ve gotten used to.  This silence adversely counters all established scientific, medical, and legal knowledge about the nuclear industry and its effects.  Some of our brave retired Generals who’ve headed up all our Strategic Forces (nuclear weapons) admit the futility of these for any legitimate or useful military purpose.

This silence enables and thereby advances the current nuclear weapon arms race, a race without citizen involvement, nor democratic process.  As another renown New Yorker, Reverend Dan Berrigan made clear in court in 1980 for the first Plowshares action, “These things belong to us. They are ours….”  He left the judge and jury with one final word. “Responsibility.”

Silence is what allows the deeply flawed and long outmoded theory of nuclear deterrence to flourish, as well as the complete myth that we will be “lucky forever”.   It’s called “magical thinking”.   The majority of NYC’s Council Members have not only broken through to see the light, but showed the wisdom, courage and common sense to do something about it.  The majority of NYC Council Members, as the Council did in decades past, have aligned with this new brilliant international law supported in this resolution.

Our Council Speaker is listening to someone he has not identified.   If he is stopping this community accomplishment at the Council level, what stops him from doing the same as Comptroller?   And if passed, we would not want a resistant Comptroller dragging his feet like Scott Stringer did with fossil fuel divestment.

On our behalf, the NYC Comptroller is called to be fiscally responsible, to keep a close eye on our “fiduciary responsibilities”.  It’s the job, a vital service.  CM Danny Dromm as the Finance Chair of the City Council and the introducer of resolution 0976 was fulfilling his requirement to be fiscally responsible as well.

Speaking of responsibility, let’s highlight a national bank founded and based here in NYC for the past 98 years. There was a good reason Amalgamated Bank sent a Senior VP to testify to the word and deed of Resolution 0976 at the Council’s Public Hearing as to why divestment from the nuclear weapon industry is a win win for the city.  Amalgamated testified as to why calling to support the Nuclear Ban Treaty helps with the banks and our goals of investing in a sustainable city, and planet.  Yes, for this bank the reality is, our city, nation and world are inseparable, and interdependent. When it comes to Climate, nuclear weapons, and racism, it is one small, precious, interconnected world. We need to advocate for it and invest in it.

Please read as to why Amalgamated Bank has firm polices to not invest in or allow transactions with nuclear weapons companies, and why they see it as smart, responsible, and profitable on all accounts.   New York City can be proud of the first U.S. bank to lead in this way:

Part 2:

New York City Hall joint committee hearing on Nuclear Ban and Divestment on January 29, 2020 (Image by Davd Andersson)

On voting day, June 22nd, we’d want a Comptroller, a Mayor and a Council to herald and expand these values and this model in our town.

Are nuclear weapons a worthy priority during this crisis time of Covid?  Of course!  This remains not only an imminent life and death issue, but ignoring it deliberately obscures the much needed priority funds for our city’s  needs.  NYC residents taxes alone are paying billions to the secretive weapon industry.   It remains an issue immersed in common sense.   It’s a critical movement that when successful will have a prodigious, positive effect in our city, nation, and in the world.  It will stop the sheer waste.

Resolution 0976-2019 can only help awaken, guide and educate our Representatives.  It exemplifies genuine leadership in challenging times, and invests in insuring our future.  It not only afflicts the horrific deceptions of the industry, but exemplifies solidarity with all humanity.   It stands up to the insidious deep racism of the industry, and would be a key in our responsibility to prevent irreversible beyond catastrophic destruction.  It aligns with another worthy Council Resolution that calls for moving our money and mindset from sheer militarism, to more pragmatic and ethical solutions and outcomes, Resolution 747-A.

The January 28th, 2020, fully packed City Hall Public Hearing on Danny Dromm Res. 0976 proved a NYC once again ready to lead the push back on a completely runaway nuclear arms race, a race this time that the corporate main stream media purposely ignores, keeping citizens largely unawares.

Leadership rightfully calls not only for divestment but supporting a long overdue, historic Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Just one of the thousands of nuclear devices on hair trigger alert will in minutes turn all, all we love, value, all we know, all of us, to ash.   As President Eisenhower in 1960 famously put a verb to the industry, “theft”, this “theft” of incalculable resources, skill sets and monies occurs while we struggle to help small businesses survive, pay for Covid response and medical care, plead for fair housing, for good education, for needed infrastructure, for rising to our dire climate/environmental challenge, and the many urgent political/social reforms calling us.

My districts Council Member, one of the first to sign on to this resolution is CM Carlina Rivera.   When asked months ago, she would say, “Yes, let’s call a vote!  This is a no brainer.”

The link to the resolution and hearing contains the video recording of oral testimonies, and the .pdf file of all the written submissions:

This past February 11th, on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, Speaker Johnson paradoxically responded to a callers question and encouragement to move on this measure:   “I do support it [the resolution] 100 %,  … [but] it becomes a little strange when the New York City Council is weighing in on international issues….   In this moment of Covid, we have really been focussed on what’s been happening here in NYC….   I just think the question is … does this set a precedent for us to keep moving on resolutions that are outside the jurisdiction of a local legislative body…. ”

The Brian Lehrer team was contacted a few times to please follow-up on Corey’s promise on the show to speak with Danny.  None have directly responded.

As to Corey’s answer, let us set aside the question of whether the annihilation of human life on earth is a local or international issue.   The truth is at the time of that February call, a quick review indeed found some sixteen NY City Hall other measures involving “international issues” during the time of Covid.

The city of New York has a long and proud history of “weighing in on international issues.”  One related action that instructs us was the Council calling for divesting from companies doing business in South Africa—as the New York City Employees’ Retirement System did in 1984—and was an essential element in the fall of the apartheid regime.  Fossil fuel divestment which Scott Stringer finds opportune to hang his hat on, is also a global issue.

The city’s legislative body has introduced and passed well over a dozen resolutions over the decades specifically on the grave dangers and waste of needed resources of the nuclear arms race.

From 1963 to 1990 alone, our City led the nations moral agenda with 15 NYC resolutions calling for the end of the nuclear arms race.  They called the “enemy parties” to negotiate instead, to pull back from this acute danger and the spending of our treasure.   When President John F. Kennedy broke the ice in the Cold War calling for the first nuclear weapon Test Ban Treaty, NYC Council did not hesitate a moment to support it with a resolution.  His ban was to be the first step toward total disarmament.   All the nations were present in the UN General Assembly that Sept 1963 as the representatives erupted in rare spontaneous applause when JFK spoke of it.   The people have always been ready.

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