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THE ALBUQUERQUE EXPERIENCE www.stop30billion.com
COALITION TO STOP $30 BILLION TO ISRAEL
February 2010This is a history of the New Mexico-based Coalition to Stop $30 Billion to Israel campaign that has taken place in Albuquerque over the last two and one-half years. This account will hopefully serve as a useful guide to others who may be considering a similar campaign. Each community is different, of course, and each undertaking will evolve in its own way, possibly utilizing some elements of the Albuquerque experience but not others.
This narrative focuses, in particular, on the billboard campaign that was mounted by the Coalition in April 2009; these ten boards were replaced by one large billboard that is currently in place.
Although groups in many communities throughout the U.S., including Albuquerque, have erected billboards in the past, the current effort may hold particular promise as a model for organizations elsewhere.
Over the past few years several occurrences have contributed to an increasing public awareness of the substance and origins of the Israel-Palestine conflict. First, perhaps, was the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel (BDS), which was launched in July 2005 and which has now burgeoned into a rapidly-growing global movement.
The publication of “The Israel Lobby” by Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, which first appeared in the London Review of Books in March 2006 and expanded the following year into a best-selling book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, attracted much controversy and not a small amount of praise, as has President Jimmy Carter’s Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, published in November 2006.
Although groups in many communities throughout the U.S., including Albuquerque, have erected billboards in the past, the current effort may hold particular promise as a model for organizations elsewhere.
There continues to be outrage over “Operation Cast Lead,” the 22-day Israeli massacre in Gaza, which took place in December 2008-January 2009. The attack resulted in the killing of 1400 Palestinian civilians, of whom more than 400 were women and children; more than 5300 Palestinians were wounded, and more than 4000 residences were totally destroyed.
Finally, there is the “Goldstone Report,” so named after Justice Richard Goldstone, a Jewish South African chosen by the United Nations Human Rights Council to lead an independent factfinding mission to investigate international human rights and humanitarian law violations related to “Operation Cast Lead.”
The mission’s final report, released in September 2009, accused both Palestinian militants and Israel Defense Forces of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. The report
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recommended that the sides openly investigate their own conduct; should they fail to do so, the report further recommended that the allegations be brought to the International Criminal Court.
The Israeli government rejected the report as prejudiced and full or errors; Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, initially rejected the report’s findings, but then urged world powers to embrace it.
In November 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution denouncing the report as “irredeemably biased and unworthy of further consideration or legitimacy.”
The time is ripe for an aggressive nation-wide billboard campaign to protest U.S. military aid to Israel; this aid is currently scheduled to total $30 billion over a 10-year period through Fiscal Year 2018.
I. FOCUS ON U.S. MILITARY AIDThe campaign began in the summer of 2007 when the Albuquerque-based Middle East Peace and Justice Alliance (MEPJA) decided to focus on opposing U.S. military aid to Israel as its primary political project. This was in addition to MEPJA’s other activities, including raising funds for
humanitarian projects in Palestine, sponsoring a steady stream of speakers from out-of-state, general lobbying, outreach and education.
Earlier in the year MEPJA members had considered initiating a divestment campaign in New Mexico which would center on the $15 million in Israeli bonds held by the State of New Mexico.
However, because MEPJA had only enough members to undertake one major political campaign, the divestment project was abandoned and the decision was made, for the following reasons, for the campaign to focus entirely on opposition to military aid (a “sanction” in the BDS framework):
a. a military-aid project would spotlight higher-visibility national policy, whereas a divestment project would involve lower-visibility New Mexico state policy;
b. a military-aid project would target generally higher-profile national Congressional leaders in New Mexico rather than state government leaders;
c. calling for an end to military aid would be more easily understood by the public than calling for divestment; and
d. opposing the give-away of taxpayer dollars to a foreign country would be more easily accepted by the public than would opposing the investment of taxpayer dollars in foreign bonds.
Although not fully appreciated at first, it also became apparent that compared to the arguments for divestment (or boycott), which deal very broadly with Israel’s behavior, the arguments in favor of cutting U.S. military aid could be more narrowly defined and defended – namely, that the largest share of aid goes to a small and economically well-off country, that Congress is violating U.S. law in aiding Israel, and that such aid is not in the U.S. national interest.
Another factor influencing the choice of the military-aid campaign was the national effort against such aid being led by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (USC). In addition to providing a structured nation-wide movement with which New Mexico could coordinate, the USC had available a variety of supporting materials such as fact sheets, petition forms and postcards.
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II. CREATING A COALITIONFor the first nine months of the campaign MEPJA members circulated, at a variety of political events, petitions which publicized the proposed campaign. Then in May 2008 a committee was formed to investigate the possibility of establishing a broad coalition of existing New Mexico organizations which would sponsor the campaign. There were three reasons for doing this:
a. to secure representation from a diverse range of community groups,
b. to enlist more workers, and
c. to concentrate attention on a single political task, rather than on the variety of tasks that MEPJA was undertaking.
In September 2008, drawing on the mailing list of the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice, invitations were sent to over 80 groups in the New Mexico peace-and-justice community to attend an organizational meeting. The meeting was held on November 15, and the Coalition to Stopwas created.
$30 Billion to Israel
The Coalition consists of 16 groups from the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim communities of New Mexico, as well as from local veterans and human-rights associations:
Pax Christi New Mexico
Pax Christi Saint Bernadette (Albuquerque)
Social Concerns Committee, Albuquerque Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Another Jewish Voice (Albuquerque)
Another Jewish Voice (Santa Fe)
Muslim Women Outreach
Veterans for Peace (Albuquerque)
Veterans For Peace (Santa Fe)
Amnesty International Chapter 101 (Albuquerque)
United Nations Association, Albuquerque Chapter
Middle East Peace and Justice Alliance
University of New Mexico Coalition for Peace and Justice in the Middle East
Irish Freedom Committee
New Mexico People’s Weekly Forum
Stop The War Machine
A sustained recruitment effort would very likely enlist a number of additional members.
Over several months, by-laws were adopted, officers chosen and committees established. A bank account was opened, a post-office box rented, a website constructed (www.stop30billion.com) and a listserve developed. Although the Coalition has an Employer Identification Number (EIN), it has not yet applied for tax-exempt non-profit status. Committee structure evolved, eventually settling at five standing committees: Research, Outreach, Media, Advocacy and Direct Action. A Coordinating Committee was formed and was composed of a chairperson, secretary and treasurer, and the chairs of the five standing committees and of any ad hoc committees.
The Coalition then embarked on a variety of activities, including the production of a PowerPoint document on ending military aid, to be used in presentations to community groups. The
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CoalitionCoalition helped found an active student organization at the University of New Jewish-American pro-Palestinian activist, author and public speaker Anna Baltzer. It also lobbied elected officials and met with a number of religious leaders to urge interfaith tolerance on the part of their congregations.
In addition, the Mexico and financed the trip of two students to a BDS conference at Hampshire College in Massachusetts. Coalition members also participated in a variety of demonstrations, including a number of mass actions during the attack on Gaza, a memorial service one year later, a weekly rally throughout 2008 and 2009 for ending military aid to Israel, which was held on Albuquerque’s main street, and several months of a weekly interstate overpass action (called a “Living Sign”) to
“STOP ISRAELI APARTHEID.”
III. THE FIRST BILLBOARDOn April 8, 2009, under a two-month contract with Lamar Outdoor Advertising, the Coalitionerected ten 5-foot x 11-foot billboards throughout Albuquerque with the message “Tell Congress:
STOP KILLING CHILDREN. No More Military Aid to Israel.”
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The message was deliberately provocative and was intended to elicit a strong reaction from the opposition, which we hoped would lead to the type of controversy that generates publicity in the local media. This approach is designed (1) to raise awareness of the issue with the general public, (2) to serve an educational function, and (3) to ultimately lead to the broad-based political pressure that is essential if any fundamental change is to occur in U.S. policy regarding Israel.
After the Coalition issued a press release about the billboards, the blog Mondoweiss posted a supportive article that immediately spread through the Internet. In the days that followed, comments both pro and con flowed into the Coalition’s website from around the world. A number of generous donations were received. The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs printed an article about the billboards. Sean Hannity led off one of his daily radio shows blasting the signs.
On April 21 a dedication ceremony featuring Cindy Sheehan took place in front of one of the billboards. Local newspaper and television coverage continued, along with letters to the Albuquerque JournalCoalition’s efforts to restore the signs continued to be received on the Lamar Outdoor Advertising took down all the signs, after only three weeks of the two-month contract period. Lamar’s local manager said that “the advertising was removed due to numerous complaints questioning the facts.” He further stated that Lamar had erred in approving a design that was “factually inaccurate or misleading.”
Within days, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation issued an action alert calling on their members to contact Lamar’s Albuquerque office in protest; Lamar reported receiving up to 200 emails and 10-12 phone calls per hour. Expressions of outrage over Lamar’s action and of support for theCoalition’s Coalition and Lamar, and it was agreed that Lamar would put
Negotiations were held between the the signs back up with the same photographs and a milder message (“Stop Giving Weapons to Israel With Our Tax Dollars!”), and that the Coalition would request its many supporters to stop contacting Lamar. Two weeks later, however, Lamar’s corporate office in Baton Rouge, Louisiana ordered the Albuquerque office to retract the new agreement and cancel the contract with the
CoalitionCoalition rejected Lamar’s Louisiana office and objecting to their decision to re-erect the billboards. Lamar’s Albuquerque office then said they would be willing to erect a replacement sign with the message “Tell Congress: Stop Giving Money to Israel” but that the sign would not be allowed to include any photographs. After considerable internal discussion, the offer on the grounds that such a message would be too severely compromised; a minority of members, however, argued that any billboard opposing aid to Israel was better than none. Lamar issued a full refund, and the matter was closed. There were no grounds for legal action against
Lamar because the contract specifically allowed the company to “reject or withdraw any copy, either before posting and after posting.”
The Coalition printed postcards featuring a photograph of the billboard, and large color placards of the billboard were also printed with the heading “CENSORED BY THE ISRAEL LOBBY”;
these placards were used in street demonstrations and tabling.
On November 3, 2009, two of New Mexico’s three Representatives in the U.S. House, representing Albuquerque and Santa Fe, abstained from the 344-to-36 vote that condemned the U.N.’s Goldstone Report. It is possible that the Coalition’s efforts, and the billboard campaign in
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particular, helped persuade the two Representatives not to go along with the majority.
IV. THE SECOND BILLBOARDIn the Fall of 2009 the Coalition found another company – Del Outdoor Advertising, a regional company based in Yuma, Arizona – which was willing to put up a billboard protesting U.S. military aid to Israel. The full-sized billboard emphasized the bread-and-butter issue of taxpayer dollars going abroad during a period of economic hard times: “Tell Congress: Spend Our $$ At
Home, NOT ON THE ISRAELI MILITARY!”
The 10-foot x 30-foot billboard went up the morning of December 2, 2009. Within an hour the sign was taken down, after the owner of the auto transmission business on the site complained that he had already received “three or four angry calls from customers.” The sign was relocated to a less desirable site a few blocks away.
The Coalition asked Del for a more visible location for the billboard, and after six weeks the billboard was moved to a busy street (401 Wyoming Avenue, NE), which is used by the many hundreds of employees who commute to work at Sandia National Laboratories, one of the nation’s primary nuclear weapons labs.
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It is important to note that even during the period when the billboard was in a much lessYouTube. Photographs were emailed to many listserves. Three thousand advantageous location, its “virtual vi sibility” far ec lipsed its physic al visibility.
immediately posted on pre-addressed postcards featuring a photograph of the new billboard were distributed to activists to mail to New Mexico’s national senators and representatives. Business cards with a color photo of the billboard were printed for members to distribute.
Articles appeared on national blogs such as Mondoweiss and Muzzlewatch. The Washington Report onplanned coverage. Cindy Sheehan and Retired U.S. Army Colonel and State
Middle East Affairs
Department official Ann Wright endorsed the new sign. Individuals in several large U.S. cities expressed interest in erecting similar billboards, and organizing efforts started in Seattle and San Francisco. And the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation decided to promote a national billboard campaign, which was inspired, in part, by the Albuquerque project. All these activities started during the initial six-week period when the billboard itself was not in a highly visible location.
V. BILLBOARD DETAILSThere are many outdoor advertising companies, and it is advisable to approach as many
Selecting a Company and Negotiating a Deal
companies as possible; in that way, one can compare prices and be in a good position to negotiate the best deal possible. The company’s initial offer should be considered the starting point toward a mutually acceptable final agreement. Because of the current economic downturn, it may be possible to obtain substantially lowered rates; some companies offer reduced prices for non-profit groups or for billboards containing Public Service Announcements (PSAs.)
Because of the controversial nature of the Israel/Palestine issue, it is best to describe one’s project in generalities, without being too specific; this approach should help to facilitate the negotiating process. An organization should identify itself as a community group intending to erect educational billboards about the Middle East conflict. Once a deal is negotiated, a contract will be signed; the contract will include the price, the time period, the number and size of boards and, often, the locations where the billboards will be erected.
Lamar Outdoor Advertising is one of the larger national firms, with offices in forty states. Clear Channel is another large firm. There are also many smaller regional and local firms. The rate chart for Clear Channel (http://www.clearchanneloutdoor. com/rates/ index.htm) reveals a veryrough correspondence between population size and billboard rates, with striking inconsistencies.
For example, the rates for San Francisco are more than double the rates for Albuquerque, whereas the rates for Seattle are more than triple the rates for Albuquerque even though the listed Seattle viewership is much smaller than that of San Francisco. (The population of the Albuquerque metropolitan area is approximately 900,000.)
The size of the signs also determines the cost. In Albuquerque, the ten 5-foot x 11-foot billboards
(the April 2009 billboards) cost $770 for the printing of the adhesive paper (enough for twenty separate signs) and $1200 per month rental fee for all ten signs. The adhesive paper is not reusable, so extra paper was printed to allow billboards to be erected in ten new locations in subsequent months, replacing some or all of the original locations, in order to reach different audiences.
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The one 10-foot x 30-foot billboard (the December 2009 billboard) cost $600 for the printing of the vinyl “skin” plus $350/month rental fee. Because the vinyl skin for the larger board can be moved from one location to another, the sign can be moved around monthly or bi-monthly without incurring additional printing charges. (The skin drapes around the four edges of the flat steel backing of the billboard structure. The four edges of the skin have sleeves into which wooden rods are inserted. Hooks are placed around the rods and are attached by adjustable straps to girders on the back of the billboard frame.)
Much of the cost of the Albuquerque billboards was covered by the gifts of two Albuquerque residents who each contributed $1000. It is likely that similar donations can be obtained in most other communities, particularly after the billboards are erected and their visual effectiveness can be appreciated.
Designing the BillboardSlogans and images should be selected by the group and given to the graphics designer at the billboard company. Images may be purchased from online stock photography websites such as http://www.dreamstime.com/ and http://www.sxc.hu/. To find suitable illustrations one can
search these sites for “Palestine,” “Israel,” “Gaza,” “West Bank,” etc. The cost of each image is usually $10 or less; it is advisable to acquire high-resolution images.
The two photographs that were selected for the Albuquerque billboards can be seen at
http://www.dreamstime.com/merkava-mk-3-baz-main-battle-tank-image5093100 (Israeli tank)
and http://www.sxc.hu/photo/867014 (Palestinian girl). The photograph of the girl was taken in
Jerusalem’s Old City by Katya Medler-Boym, who saw the girl and her mother walking along the street and asked the mother’s permission to take the girl’s picture. (Because the photographer did not get their names, the girl remains anonymous.) The Coalition had initially hoped to use a widely-publicized photograph of a boy in front of an Israeli tank, but the Associated Press would only sell the rights to use the photo for one month in one location for a fee of $700.
After the Coalition decided on the pictures, the wording and the formatting of the billboards, the in-house designers at Lamar and Del produced the final layouts as part of the initial printing package; the designers modified the images, text and background colors for maximum impact.
Once the artwork was approved by the Coalition and by the billboard companies, the billboard material was ordered. Printing took 1-2 weeks.
When designing the billboard, it should be kept in mind that the advertising company will usually require that the sponsoring group include their name after the phrase “Paid for by” at the bottom of the billboard. This text thus becomes an integral part of the entire lay-out, both in terms of message and of format, and can therefore affect other elements of the design.
Selecting a LocationThe proper selection of the billboard locations is essential to the effectiveness of the campaign.
The sign company will inform the client about available sites. In evaluating potential sites one should take into account such factors as the volume of traffic, the demographics of the viewers, the general visibility of the billboard, surrounding obstructions and distractions, and the signs’ orientation to the sun. Many billboards are equipped with artificial lighting, which considerably extends the hours of visibility.
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Other PointsAlthough a website is not essential, it can be a feature which enhances the impact of a billboard, as it enables viewers to read supporting information, email the sponsor, and donate money via check or PayPal.
Expressions of thanks sent to the billboard company and to the owner of the property where the billboard is located can go a long way toward neutralizing protests from the opposition.
It is important to anticipate that members of the opposition may pose as sympathizers and may try to solicit information about your group’s plans.
Opposition to the billboard – including defacing the billboard, complaints in the media, and even removal of the signs – can serve a constructive purpose by publicizing the issue.
VI. TAILORING THE PROJECT TO OTHER COMMUNITIESThe sponsor of a billboard campaign can be several people acting in concert; it can be a single Organizational Structure existing organization or a newly-formed group; it can be a handful of groups acting in a loose ad hoc alliance; or it can be a broad coalition of numerous organizations. The success of a campaign does not necessarily depend on the number of people involved in the effort.
MessageThe billboard message can focus on any number of themes: a sanction, such as stopping U.S. military aid to Israel; a boycott of Israeli products, cultural events, academic exchanges or athletic events; a divestment of funds from Israeli entities or companies which profit from the Occupation; or other aspects of the Israel/Palestine/United States relationship.
Whatever the theme, the message can vary in intensity, from high-intensity (“Stop Killing Children”) to medium-intensity (“Support of Israel is Not in America’s National Interest”) to low-intensity (“Spend our Tax Dollars at Home, Not on the Israeli Military”).
Billboard graphics can make use of previous efforts, such as the Albuquerque billboards’ pictures and color scheme, or the design can be an original creation of the group.
Supporting Actions A group can focus solely on its billboard and website or it can undertake a variety of other taskssuch as lobbying, conducting research, sponsoring speakers, educating local groups, distributing literature, raising funds and participating in street actions.
Range of OptionsIn summary, a billboard campaign can range from a low-effort project (a temporary assembly of several people using an existing design with no website and no group activities) to a high-effort undertaking (a broad coalition erecting original billboard designs, backed up by a website, with ongoing fundraising and a variety of other group endeavors).
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Contact Us If you have any questions or if you are considering undertaking a billboard campaign in your own community, please contact us:
Sue Schuurman: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hebah Ahmed: email@example.com
Armen Chakerian: firstname.lastname@example.org
Video was. Lamar cited an intense telephone campaign by the opposition directed at theirwebsite, including an offer of help from Medea Benjamin of Code Pink., both for and against the signs. Then on April 28, with no advance warning, sponsored visiting speakers and held a leadership-training workshop which was led by. Ten small billboards protesting U.S. military aid to Israel were erected in Albuquerque