Thirteen Fools and a Golden Arch

by Michael I. Niman, ArtVoice, April 18th 2002

The toughest part about being a columnist is that there are some columns I’d just rather not write.  It goes something like this:  I sit down, start writing, and I just don’t like where things are going.  So I turn the computer off, maybe get on my bike, maybe crack open a beer, but in any event, I stop writing. 

Often these columns have one of two characteristics – they’re either about the Arab-Israeli conflict, or about Buffalo Common Council Member At Large Charlie Fisher.  The Arab-Israeli conflict always poses a lose-lose scenario for journalists.  Write a bad story, and supporters of one side in the conflict will hate you.  Write a good story, and both sides will hate you.  Most of us go through life trying not to be hated.  This strategy, however, just doesn’t work for journalists.  But nobody looks forward to hate mail.

Is Charlie Fisher Wacky?

And then there’s Charlie Fisher.  Twice I had him in my sights.  First, he was quoted by the Illuzziletter, speculating that Arab-American deli owners in Buffalo were linked to Al Qaida.  Then there was his speculation that Buffalo was high on a list of terrorist targets because, get this, our city hall was the second or third tallest in the country – as if would-be terrorists consulted the Guinness Book of World Records when searching out targets.  Fisher backtracked on the deli statement.  It seemed out of character for a person with his anti-racist credentials to level such an attack, so I let it slide.  And his speculation about City Hall’s vertex luring suicidal hijackers?  Well, I just wrote that off to the fact that sometimes Charlie’s just a tad bit wacky.

On the positive side, Fisher has a long history of standing tall in support of oppressed peoples, no matter which way the winds of public opinion are blowing.  He’s walked the line in support of striking workers, spoken at anti-GATT and anti-WTO demonstrations, stood up for victims of toxic contamination at Hickory Woods and elsewhere, spoken out against human rights abuses, and actively signed on to support struggles for peace around the world.  In short, he’s the best of what City Hall has to offer.  

So naturally I was pretty disappointed to hear that Fisher was the author of a recent City Council resolution supporting the construction of a colossal anti-abortion monument on the city’s waterfront.  But it gets worse.  Fisher’s resolution, which the Council passed unanimously 13 to zip, not only places the city council firmly in the anti-choice camp, but also crashes a speeding semi full of hogs right through the ever-thinning wall separating church and state.  This week I have to write about Fisher.  Sorry Charlie.

A Public Call for Conversion

The monument in question, bearing the weighty name, “The Arch of Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and International Shrine of the Holy Innocents,” is first and foremost a religious shrine.  That in and of itself is not a problem.  Religious shrines make up some of Buffalo’s greatest architectural treasures.  What’s problematic is Fisher’s resolution, which reads that the city supports constructing, “a monumental shrine in keeping with the tenets of the Catholic faith, which is the religious heritage of the majority of the residents of Buffalo…”  The shrine’s developers say, “it will serve as an international signal call to conversion .”  Now the line’s getting blurred. It’s further blurred by the fact that the religious shrine Fisher’s resolution supports building, would be built on public land. And the majority-minority implication goes against core American values concerning religious pluralism. But this isn’t the main problem here. 

The next paragraph reads:

“WHEREAS, the proposed shrine would also encourage increased respect for human life, including prior to the birth of the individual, a value much needed in the present day notwithstanding that there are differing opinions on the issue of  “pro-life” versus  “pro-choice”…”

Yes, we do need to think about the value of human life.  Especially now in the age of “ethnic cleansing” and the “War on Terror.”  But, that’s not what this shrine is about. This is pretty clear-cut.  The council voted unanimously to support not only the building of a monument, but the propagation of an ideology as well.  The notion of life prior to birth fits in with the “unborn” and “pre-born” lexicon of the anti-abortion and anti-choice movements.  Where do we draw the line?  Do we disrespect “life prior to birth” by aborting a fetus?  What about a zygote?  How about using a birth control pill?  What about pulling out?  How about not having gone out drinking that night?  What about celibacy?  What exactly are our council members telling us?

Indians and Communists Not Welcome

For the sake of clarity, I went directly to the Arch of Triumph Yada Yada website to see what kind of company our council members were keeping.  The monument, a sort of cross between the golden calf of biblical times, and today’s golden arches, is not simply about the abortion debate.  According to the project’s sponsors, the arch also celebrates the triumph over “atheistic communism.”  At its base would be a Shrine dedicated to the memory of “Our Lady of Guadalupe,” who the sponsors claim is responsible for “converting millions of Indians” to Christianity and precipitating the end of the Aztec Empire.  In actuality, however, it wasn’t Our Lady of Guadalupe, but Spanish arms, horses, and most important of all, treachery, which brought about the destruction of the Aztec culture and religion, and the so-called “conversion” to Christianity.

In any event, the City Council has no business making references to supporting a majoritarian religious belief; supporting a politically divisive movement that seeks to deny women their civil right to make their own reproductive choices; or celebrating a supposed “triumph” over communism or atheism, which is a minority religious belief.  And they certainly have no business offending Buffalo’s already oppressed Native American community by supporting the construction of a shrine memorializing the brutal and vicious destruction of a Native American nation and culture. Such a move is offensive to the non-Catholic Christians, followers of other religious traditions, atheists, pro-choicers, native peoples and Dino the communist – In short, most of Buffalo.

Asleep at the Wheel

I interviewed Charlie Fisher.  He wrote the resolution and brought it before the council.  Perhaps, I thought, he could explain what was on his mind.  No dice. I mean, he tried, but the more we spoke, the more confusing the conversation became.  Fisher, it seems, undeterred by the reality of his own resolution, still thinks of himself as being “pro-choice.”  This despite the fact that the monument’s developers claim it will symbolize the “detestation of abortion.”

Fisher was quite upset at the suggestion that folks perceived him as being anything but pro-choice.  Concerned about abortion, yes.  Maybe even anti-abortion, but always in support of a woman’s right to make such decisions for herself.  Of course, I suppose, such decisions shouldn’t conflict with the rights of the pre-born, unborn, unconceived and undead.  Many of the council members who supported this resolution, in fact, received campaign contributions from pro-choice groups.   Many, no doubt, still see themselves as being pro-choice.  And this is the greater problem.  These folks truly are asleep at the wheel.

In an effort to assess the zeitgeist of the Council, I interviewed Delaware District Council Member Marc Coppola.  Coppola was quite critical of Fisher’s resolution, passionately pointing out that the council resolution clearly supports the “pro-life” (anti-abortion) movement and, he added, violates the principles of separation between church and state.  Marc explained that he strongly supports both a woman’s right to determine her own reproductive future, and is an ardent supporter of maintaining the separation of church and state.  But what about the fact that he voted for, not against, Fisher’s bill?  “Well,” he explained, “it’s really embarrassing… we vote on a lot of stuff.”  As it turns out, this particular vote was a mistake.  An honest error.  Coppola was concentrating on his next vote and this one just sort of slipped under the radar.  It wasn’t until later in the day, he recalled, when someone explained to him what he just voted for, that the realized his mistake.  Now he’s upset with Fisher for introducing such a resolution before the council. 

And it was at this point, when I was on the telephone talking with Marc Coppola, that I started feeling bad about writing this column.  I mean, these are really nice guys.  They mean well.  They have good hearts.  But come on.  They just unanimously passed a highly symbolic controversial resolution without fully comprehending what they were voting on, or in Fisher’s case, what he was writing.

Arch of Babble

At 700 feet (proponents say seven is the “mystical number of perfection”), if the proposed monument is built, it will be almost 50% taller than Buffalo’s Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (HSBC) building.  That’s almost twice the height of City Hall, almost three times as tall as the Central Terminal tower, and 70 feet taller than St. Louis’ Gateway Arch (seven, again, being the “mystical number of perfection”).  And since few people seem to be able to talk about it in any comprehensive manner, it clearly has biblical significance – as an arch of babble.  If it’s built it would ensure that Buffalo would become a Mecca for the anti-abortion movement – a permanent stage for perpetual protests and confrontations.  And like the “Spring of Life” protests that Jimmy Griffin invited to Buffalo over a decade ago, it promises to turn Buffalo into a battleground that we just plain can’t afford to police.  Only this time, nobody’s leaving town.  It’ll never end.

Coppola, however, reassured me that hopefully there’s nothing to worry about, explaining, “there’s very little chance this thing’s gonna get built.”  If there’s little chance it’s going to get built, however, then there’s another concern here.  The Common Council just gave it’s blessing and legitimation to a golden arch that at least one council member thinks will never be built – but one whose developers are actively soliciting funds for.

It’s clear there’s just not a whole lot of thinking going on these days in City Hall.  Oh yeah, there’s one more thing.  Remember those mysterious “Evacuation Route” signs I wrote about last month?  Well, they all seem to be leading away from the proposed site of The Arch of Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and International Shrine of the Holy Innocents. 

Dr. Michael I. Niman’s previous ArtVoice articles are archived at  As always, hate mail can be sent to

copyright 2002 Michael I. Niman