The Village Halloween Parade is not nearly as political and outrageous as it used to be – the goal is to be an expression of creativity and if anything, good will and spirituality. But still, there were a few standouts. Notably, a whole group of Gays Against Guns, and a group calling itself “Rise & Resist” wearing costumes and carrying signs with the message, “The Emperor Has No Clothes!” Indeed, the entire parade wound up being a form of resistance against the terror attack that occurred just hours before and less than a mile away – as one parade regular put it, “a giant F-U to the terrorists.”
Just a few hours and less than a mile away from where a 29-year old used a rented pickup truck to mow down cyclists and pedestrians on the West Side Highway bikepath, killing eight and injuring 12, thousands were gathering in costumes for the 44th annual Village Halloween Parade. With high confidence that the terror attack was by a lone wolf and not coordinated, the decision was made for the parade to go on, albeit with enhanced security. Even with the counter-terrorism officers draped in military-style assault weapons, vests and helmets, and with the heightened sense of security, the police were accommodating and the mood of marchers and viewers alike more playful than seditious.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill DiBlasio and NY Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill marched with the parade – which brings out one million people who line the mile-long route along Sixth Avenue and tens of thousands of marchers, giving a shout out for New Yorkers to defy terrorism by going on with their lives.
While the terrorist committed mayhem, Governor Cuomo said, “He did not stop New Yorkers from being New Yorkers.”
Speaking to Anderson Cooper on CNN, Cuomo said, “This was an attack that was designed to create terror, and it — it killed and frightened people. It was despicable. But, New Yorkers are resilient, New Yorkers go on. We learned the hard way on 9/11 that we are a target, we are the international symbol of democracy and freedom and we understand that. And since 9/11 we’ve lived with this and we’ve put together the best security force on the globe in my opinion, and we worked together and the response was great. But this afternoon was terrible.
“Tonight we’re at a Halloween parade to say you didn’t win and you didn’t affect us and we’re out and celebrating and we’re doing what New Yorkers do and we’re living our lives because we’re not going to allow the terrorists to win, period. And that’s why I’m here marching in the parade, not because I have a great costume.”
“They are trying to divide. The point is to unite, to show normalcy. To politicize this event [as Trump did immediately] is wholly unproductive,” Governor Cuomo said later in a press conference.
Trump, predictably and unlike the reaction to the Las Vegas massacre which killed 58 and injured hundreds, ridiculously blamed Senator Schumer, and called for a travel ban and even more extreme vetting, in contrast to the call “this is not the time to politicize a tragedy” in response to the most lethal massacre in modern history. (Interestingly, he did not bother to call Governor Cuomo or Mayor DiBlasio as every president would have done after such a heinous event, spending his time tweeting out attacks on Democrat Sen Schumer for a diversity visa program adopted 20 years ago and signed by George HW Bush when Schumer was in the House; Schumer and the “Gang of 8” in their grand attempt to devise comprehensive immigration reform, proposed changes but Republicans blocked consideration of the immigration bill.)
Down Sixth Avenue, you could see the Freedom Tower that rose from the shattered Twin Towers, lighted red, white and blue.
“One World Trade Center was 9/11,” Cuomo told Anderson Cooper. “It was the darkest day that we went through in New York, but what we did is we got right back up and didn’t let them win. and we built back bigger, better and stronger than ever before, that’s who we are. If you think you’re going to beat us, you’re wrong. If you think these terrorist attacks are going to put a dent in the New York spirit, you’re wrong. And New York, America is about freedom and it is about democracy and will always be. And whatever attack you think you can bring is going to fail because our spirit is stronger than theirs.”
Indeed, none of Trump’s bigoted, racist anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant policies would have prevented this tragedy: not The Wall (this guy came into the US in 2010 through JFK), the travel ban against predominantly Muslim countries (Uzbekistan, though accounting for a large proportion of ISIS fighters, is not one of the countries excluded); or ending sanctuary cities (he was not undocumented or “illegal” but had a green card). While the pro-gun lobby is fast to blame any massacre on mental health rather than political or terror motive (like Dylann Roof or the guy who shot up a Planned Parenthood office), a “suicide by cop” or other derangement is never taken into account if the perpetrator is a Muslim or non-native.
But what is Trump’s solution to terror? He is threatening to cut off funds to New York City for anti-terrorism and policing, the #1 terror target in the US, because of New York City’s stance on making undocumented immigrants feel secure if the New York City does not abandon its sanctuary city policy. Indeed, this guy, who had nothing more than a traffic ticket during his time in the US, was radicalized in this country, and very likely Trump’s policies had something to do with why he was receptive to ISIS propaganda. Obama had a much more effective program to stem and stop this sort of homegrown, self-radicalized, lone-wolf terrorism – working in immigrant communities, forging relationships, making people feel secure and a part of American society with a stake in it, so they report suspicious behavior and do not fall under the spell of radicalism.
But in the end, it is impossible to completely stop such acts of terror. It is mind-blowing the speed with which authorities are looking to harden communities against such attacks — making bikelanes more secure – and yet, completely ignore the pervasive terror of gun violence that takes 33,000 lives and maims thousands more each year.
Those positions were on view during the Village Halloween Parade, which is an opportunity for people to express themselves in creative, even humorous, ways.
Nearly 200 Long Island activists turned out for a demonstration that took up two corners of the busy Jericho Turnpike and the Walt Whitman Boulevard in Huntington Station to show outrage at the blatant racism and violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, causing the death of a 32-year old woman and sending 19 others to hospital.
The rally was organized by Ron Widelec of Long Island Activists, in conjunction with Long Island Progressive Coalition, NY 2nd District Democrats (Republican Peter King’s district); Action Together Long Island, Get 2 Work Long Island, Suffolk Progressives. Widelec posted the event on moveon.org and the Indivisible site, where it was listed among many protests, rallies, vigils taking place throughout the metropolitan area, to give people, hungry for a way to express their horror at what befell Charlottesville, a means of expressing their outrage.
Drivers in a steady stream of cars honked in support; a few used hand gestures to express their opposition.
The gathering was also notable for a whole slew of Democratic elected officials and candidates, including New York State Assemblyman Charles Lavine, Assemblyman Phil Ramos 96th district, Brentwood newly elected Assemblywoman Christine Pellegrino (who won her seat for State Assembly in a district that Trump won by 18 points), and Nassau County Legislator Arnie Drucker, who was elected to fill the unexpired term of Judy Jacobs, plus a potpourri of candidates for Huntington and Oyster Bay supervisor and town council.
“Impeach Twitler… Never Again,” read the hand-drawn sign held high by Erica Fladell of Bethpage. “United against hate.” “Silence is deafening and can be dangerous”. “Stop Fascism Now.” were among the other banners.
Indeed, Trump has shown more venomous outrage in tweets against political opponents, the press (“fake news”), even Merck CEO Kenneth C. Frazier, who quit a White House business advisory panel over President Trump’s statement blaming “many sides” for the violence in Charlottesville, Va., as well as the “fire and fury” threat to North Korea that he said was not “tough enough,” than he does against the White Supremacists, KKK and neo-Nazis.
And Trump only belatedly – two days later – acknowledged the murder of Heather Heyer, giving no mention at all to the other 19 victims, while expressing sympathy for two state troopers killed in a helicopter crash and reaffirming his campaign pledge to “restore law and order.”
Indeed, his first statement was a kind of disclaimer of responsibility for these groups who have not just come out of shadows and fringes, but have been emboldened even validated by his ascension.
The protesters who have taken to the streets in hundreds of rallies around the country, took exemption to his statement, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence” as hollow by adding “on many sides, on many sides,” as if to equivocate the level of responsibility and source of violence.
And in a classic Trumpism of denying all responsibility, he added, “it has been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama, this has been going on for a long, long time.”
The protesters though, saw it differently.
“The hoods are off. They don’t feel the need to cover their faces,” one woman declared. “White nationalism is a political position to have now.”
Indeed, in Charlottesville, former KKK leader David Duke, said, “We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump.”
The chant on Jericho Turnpike went up:
“No Trump. No KKK
No Fascist USA”
Trump “doesn’t even denounce or condemn these hate groups..but will appoint White Supremacists [like Steve Bannon, Steve Miller, and Sebastian Gorka, who has ties to a neo-Nazi organization in Hungary] to his administration. That’s why we’re here,” declared Liuba Grechen Shirley, founder of NY 2nd District Democrats, to challenge Republican Peter King, who has been staunchly anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim under the guise of national security.
“Some of us are here because our father fought a war against Nazism,” said Virginia McNulty of Plainview. He would be horrified.”
Indeed, though Administration toadies tried to proclaim that Trump had, in fact, denounced racist violence, neo-Nazis took aid and comfort in his remarks, hailing his statement as an endorsement.
“He didn’t attack us,” The Daily Stormer, a white supremacist website, exulted in response to Trump’s statement on Saturday: “Refused to answer a question about White Nationalists supporting him. No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”
I come up with my own chant:
“No Fear. No Hate
No American Fascist State”
Great Neck Vigil
Later, I joined another gathering, this time in the Old Village of Great Neck, in front of the US Post Office.
People came from as far as Levittown, West Hempstead, Whitestone to the Old Village of Great Neck to register their horror and outrage at the blatant show of force by White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis that led to the death of a 32-year old woman in Charlottesville, Virginia. With just a few hours notice, dozens came to demonstrate their somber support of the founding principles and values of America.
The vigil was organized by Karen Ashkenase and David Zielenziger who posted on moveon.org and indivisible sites.
“We are standing in solidarity with Charlottesville. Join us. Bring a candle. We honor the dead, hope for recovery for the injured and demand Trump explicitly condemn alt-Right extremism and violence!”
With just a few hours notice, the vigil had drawn almost 3 dozen who came from as far as Levittown, Bellerose, West Hempstead and Whitestone.
“We wanted Great Neck to hold a vigil… to protest this outrage, killing, violence and Trump,” said David Zielenziger.
He was incensed after Trump failed to denounce White Supremacists, the KKK and the Neo-Nazis who flooded into Charlottesville, even holding a flaming torch march through the University of Virginia campus, to protest taking down a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
He specifically wanted a demonstration in the Old Village (as opposed to the more trafficked areas like Great Neck Plaza) because the Village of Great Neck, along with Kings Point and Saddle Rock on the Peninsula, voted for Trump in significant majorities.
“For the community to do nothing, was outrageous.”
The Great Neck Peninsula had recently formed a new progressive action group, North Shore Action.
“Even the skin-heads came from immigrants, and if they don’t realize we’re a country of immigrants – that we’re all here together… I won’t let [Trump’ divide us,” said Joseph Varon of West Hempstead, holding a poster of the Statue of Liberty and a portion of Emma Lazarus’ poem that is at its base, “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The message of the vigil, he added, is that “even though disheartened, we need to act locally, write letters, come to demonstrations, and vote. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”
“This can happen openly because of an environment the Trump administration has established: condoning anti-Semitism, bigotry. The environment he created,” said Shelley Sherman of Great Neck.
Compare the protests at Ferguson, Missouri last summer after an unarmed Black man, Michael Brown, was gunned down by police, where a militarized police force came with tanks and tear gas to suppress Black protesters, while self-proclaimed vigilantes patrolled with assault rifles, she noted. In Charlottesville, the White Supremacists came with assault weapons strapped to their bodies, with helmets and shields and home-made pepper spray, and flaming torches.
“The Trump Administration created an environment that has enabled people to say, ‘Heil.’” Indeed, after Trump won election, Richard Spencer, an alt-right leader, at a Washington DC conference led the crowd in “Hail Trump” cheers and Nazi salute.
Three generations of Emru women came from Levittown to protest: Christina Emru, a 70-year old grandmother; granddaughter Sofia, 8 years old, and Dara, her daughter.
They each brought hand-written signs. Christina’s read, “I can’t believe I’m 70 years odl and I’m still fighting the same hate and racism from the 1950s.”
“The hate, the fact that all of this hatred is made acceptable, when it’s not,” exclaimed Julie Eigenberg of Great Neck. “they are making it acceptable for people to treat each other badly, that they can march through UVA with flaming torches. That’s not free speech. It’s intimidation.”
“I’m fearful it will take so long to undue the damage to our culture,” said Debra Michlewitz of Bay Terrace. “
The next day, Trump came out with a speech clearly crafted for him in which he
“Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to all that we hold dear as Americans,” he said rather begrudgingly, as if in a hostage video. He has expressed no condolence for the 32 year old woman who was killed, nor any concern for the 19 mowed down by James Alex Fields, Jr., of Ohio.
His words were clearly scripted for him – the phrases, let alone the themes, are alien to the way he actually speaks. They were certainly not from his heart, let alone his mind. And they probably were accompanied by a furtive wink-and-nod. His peeps know his true heart.
Eight-year old Sofia’s efforts were not in vain, though. What the protests, did was put Trump and the Republicans on notice, forcing Trump to make this declaration and even forcing Attorney General Jeffrey Sessions to take a stand to prosecute Heather Heyer’s murderer.
While defending Trump’s comments following the car-ramming attack in Charlottesville which took Heather Heyer’s life (he knows better than to cross his leader), Attorney General Jeff Sessions promised the Department of Justice would take “vigorous action” to defend the rights of Americans to protest bigotry.
“Well [Trump] made a very strong statement that directly contradicted the ideology of hatred, violence, bigotry, racism, white supremacy — those things must be condemned in this country,” Sessions said on the TODAY show on Monday. “They’re totally unacceptable, and you can be sure that this Department of Justice, in his administration, is going to take the most vigorous action to protect the right of people, like Heather Heyer, to protest against racism and bigotry.”
In response to President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo joined California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., and Washington State Governor Jay R. Inslee in forming the United States Climate Alliance, a coalition that will convene U.S. states committed to upholding the Paris Climate Agreement and taking aggressive action on climate change.
“The White House’s reckless decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement has devastating repercussions not only for the United States, but for our planet. This administration is abdicating its leadership and taking a backseat to other countries in the global fight against climate change,” said Governor Cuomo. “New York State is committed to meeting the standards set forth in the Paris Accord regardless of Washington’s irresponsible actions. We will not ignore the science and reality of climate change which is why I am also signing an Executive Order confirming New York’s leadership role in protecting our citizens, our environment, and our planet.”
New York, California, and Washington, representing over one-fifth of U.S. Gross Domestic Product, are committed to achieving the U.S. goal of reducing emissions 26-28 percent from 2005 levels and meeting or exceeding the targets of the federal Clean Power Plan.
“The President has already said climate change is a hoax, which is the exact opposite of virtually all scientific and worldwide opinion,” said Governor Brown. “I don’t believe fighting reality is a good strategy – not for America, not for anybody. If the President is going to be AWOL in this profoundly important human endeavor, then California and other states will step up.”
“I am proud to stand with other governors as we make sure that the inaction in D.C. is met by an equal force of action from the states,” said Governor Inslee. “Today’s announcement by the president leaves the full responsibility of climate action on states and cities throughout our nation. While the president’s actions are a shameful rebuke to the work needed to protect our planet for our children and grandchildren, states have been and will continue to step up.”
Together, New York, California, and Washington represent approximately 68 million people – nearly one-in-five Americans – and the states account for at least 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. California will continue to work closely together with other states to help fill the void left by the federal government.
With input from all participants, the U.S. Climate Alliance will also act as a forum to sustain and strengthen existing climate programs, promote the sharing of information and best practices, and implement new programs to reduce carbon emissions from all sectors of the economy.
New York’s Climate Leadership
Greenhouse Gas Emission Reductions: Established ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction targets to reduce emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. These targets have made New York a leader across the country in fighting climate change.
Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI): Spearheaded the formation of the successful RGGI cap-and-trade program between northeast and mid-Atlantic states, led effort to reduce RGGI’s carbon emission cap by 45 percent in 2014, and recently called for an additional cap reduction of at least 30 percent between 2020 and 2030.
Reforming the Energy Vision: Established a comprehensive energy strategy to make the vision for a clean, resilient, and affordable energy system a reality, while actively spurring energy innovation, attracting new jobs, and improving consumer choice.
Clean Energy Standard: Established the most comprehensive and ambitious clean energy mandate in the state’s history, requiring that 50 percent of electricity in New York come from renewable energy sources like wind and solar by 2030.
Clean Energy Fund: Established a $5 billion fund that is jump-starting clean-tech innovation, mobilizing private investment, capitalizing the nation’s largest Green Bank, and helping eliminate market barriers to make clean energy scalable and affordable for all New Yorkers.
Coal-Free New York: Committed to close or repower all coal-burning power plants in New York to cleaner fuel sources by 2020.
Offshore Wind: Approved the nation’s largest wind energy project off the Long Island coast in 2017 and made an unprecedented commitment to develop up to 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030.
(MINEOLA, NY) –Nassau County Democrats are raising alarms about what repealing the Affordable Care Act would mean for county residents and appealed to County Executive Ed Mangano to compile a comprehensive report that would quantify the impact on residents and the county’s budget.
Minority Democratic Leader Kevan Abrahams and Legislator Laura Curran stood with their democratic legislative colleagues, along with local healthcare advocates including Long Island Progressive Coalition and Nassau County Planned Parenthood calling upon the Nassau County Executive, commissioners, and administrators to compile a comprehensive report that measures the impact of what looks like the inevitable repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
According to a report issued by New York State’s Office of the Governor on January 4, 2017, Nassau County stands to lose $17,866,829 in direct funding which “goes directly to counties and helps to lower property taxes”.
Under the ACA, Nassau County saw a 33% decrease in the number of uninsured according to the most recent U.S. Census. The number of uninsured people on Long Island has declined rapidly over the last decade, while the proposed GOP healthcare bill will undo that work by putting 24 million at risk of losing coverage, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The American Health Care Act proposed by the Republican Party may affect more than 1 in 4 Nassau residents. Those at risk of coverage changes include, but are not limited to, the 204,681 Nassau seniors enrolled in Medicare and 133,324 residents who enrolled on the Affordable Care Act’s open marketplace.
“After making inroads for more affordable healthcare access, the proposed law could force counties to choose between supporting low-income residents who rely on Medicaid for health services,” said Minority Legislative Leader, Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport).
“President Trump is leading us down a very dangerous path and County Government is going to be left holding the bag while taxpayers’ costs could skyrocket. Trumpcare is no longer a campaign talking point but an imminent threat to the financial and physical health of our community, and we must be prepared,” said Legislator Laura Curran (D-Baldwin). “Repealing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with Trump’s alternative is going to drive a massive hole in the County budget while leaving more residents uninsured and without the benefits of preventative care. So that the County is prepared for these massive changes, County Executive Mangano, County Commissioners, and Department Administrators must immediately start preparing a report that outlines the real impact of losing the Affordable Care Act and what it will mean for Nassau taxpayers.”
Today, Nassau Democratic Legislators called upon the Nassau County Executive, county commissioners and department administrators to prepare an impact study that outlines the real impact losing the affordable care will have on Nassau County residents and the services they receive.
Such a study was just announced by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and is being undertaken by county governments all over the country, Lisa Tyson, Executive Director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, said.
“The repeal of the Affordable Care Act will deprive Long Islanders’ access to affordable healthcare that can be a matter of life-and-death. Nassau County residents deserve to know how losing the Affordable Care Act might affect their family both financially and physically,” she said.
The repeal of the Affordable Care Act. could be detrimental to citizens of Nassau most in need: low-income families, young adults, seniors and those in need of mental health care and substance abuse treatment. All these programs are at risk of being affected as the legislation currently stands.
“Repealing the Affordable Care Act will have real consequences for our community and we need to know how many of our neighbors will be affected and what costs will fall to the County. Obvious questions are whether our Medicaid costs will rise, and by how much; how increased emergency room visits will affect Nassau University Medical Center; whether the workload and costs of the County’s Department of Health will skyrocket; whether the County’s drug abuse rates are likely to soar due to diminished treatment options; the projected costs that will result; and many more. Governor Cuomo estimates that 133,000 Nassau residents (one out of ten residents) would lose coverage, and that should serve as a chilling wake-up call to every stakeholder in government and healthcare. Our taxpayers deserve to know exactly how much they will be affected by Washington’s costly decisions, and the County’s planning must start now,” said Legislator Curran.
Older residents will see a rise in healthcare premiums, with a projected 20-25% increase for those in their early 60s, given the current proposed GOP tax credit structure, which does not take income into account. For Nassau’s poor and working families, the halting of Medicaid expansion coupled with rising premiums will disintegrate any chance of affordable healthcare.
“Repealing the Affordable Care Act and defunding Planned Parenthood will mean that many women – across the country and right here in Nassau County –who receive their care at Planned Parenthood health centers won’t receive care at all. We are calling on congress to stop these political attacks, but, until they do, Planned Parenthood will leave no stone unturned in fighting back for our patients and ensuring that our doors stay open,” said PPNC President & CEO JoAnn Smith.
For Long Islander Rachel Siehs, not having healthcare at a most crucial time in her life could have been a matter of life-and-death. After Rachel was laid off from her job in October 2015 she battled the very same conflict so many do when they lose their health insurance – in this case, she gotten it from her previous employer. “I was on the fence if I should buy health insurance? I couldn’t afford Cobra. Plus, I am young and healthy and thought I could wait to start a new job and acquire insurance that way,” said Rachel Siehs. “After discussing the issue with my parents, they encouraged me to find coverage on the Affordable Care Act marketplace and thankfully I did – I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma only two months later and would fight cancer for most of 2016.”
Since then, Rachel, 28 years old, has successfully fought Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She was able to see doctor because she had health coverage through the Affordable Health Act. Like many Americans, she risks losing health insurance again after the repeal.
“I don’t know if I would be here today if I didn’t seek coverage on the ACA marketplace. I would start a new job in January 2016 but my health insurance would not have kicked in until April. But also, who knows if I would have scheduled the doctor appointments if I would have had to pay completely out of pocket for them. The impact is real here in Nassau. Health care is important. It needs to be well thought out and studied and shouldn’t be a rushed vote. This is people’s lives,” said Rachel Siehs of Melville.
While County Executive Mangano has already indicated his disinterest in undertaking such a study, which he decried as purely political, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo did provide some indication of the impact on New Yorkers of the American Health Care Act – 2.7 million New Yorkers would face substantial loss in their health care coverage from what they have now, while quality and availability of health services across the state would be jeopardized. Also, an amendment just introduced by Chris Collins, an upstate Congressman (and Trump spokesman) and John Fasio, which would apply solely to New York State, would ban federal reimbursement for state Medicaid funds for local governments outside of New York City, cutting Medicaid for these local governments by $2.3 billion. When added to the $4.5 billion cost of the ACHA over the next four years, the total cost to the State would rise to $6.9 billion.
Tom Suozzi’s town hall, his first as the Congressman representing New York’s 3rd District, was Standing Room Only, but he handled it with grace and aplomb, managing to organize what could have been an unruly outpouring of frustration, consternation, anger and anxiety into a productive discussion.
He presented the four key issues he believed most people wanted to discuss – Obamacare (Affordable Care Act), Trump-Putin ties and conflicts of interest, the travel ban, immigration and the environment – then held it up to a vote to ask if that met with approval. Then he picked four or five people to ask questions before moving on to the next topic.
Who wants to stay until 8:30? 9:15? 9:30? All night? 9:30 was the decision.
That’s how it went throughout the night with a return to key points: this is what democracy looks like. Let’s be realistic: I’m a junior Congressman from a minority party. And finally: it is up to you. Your voice. Your activism.
Most ingenious of all: he divided up his 3rd Congressional district into 16 neighborhoods – “The Third Will be Heard” – and tried to recruit people to join committees to stay active – write letters to local newspapers (the media with the most trust, he said), go door to door if necessary, engage in conversations with friends, family and others, instead of that old-saw of politics being a taboo subject.
Whenever someone introduced themselves as an expert – such as the scientist with Feinstein Institute who is a member of a newly formed Science Advocacy of Long Island (who have much to be concerned with as the Trump Administration destroys data on climate change and looks to shut down NASA’s Climate monitoring activities) – he would recruit them onto the committee. The high school fellow too young to vote whose friends are completely apathetic? You’re recruited. Get your friends engaged.
“Take that energy, that excitement and use it in a constructive forum to win the battle,” he said.
With the debate swirling over whether Democrats should be as obstructionist as the Republicans were during Obama’s presidency, Suozzi clearly appreciates that “politics is the art of the possible” (as Hillary Clinton said, much to the consternation of the Bernie Sanders ultra-left progressives who likely were among the 92 million voters who did not come out and vote, handing the reins of power and policy to the exact opposite of Obama/Clinton).
Indeed, Suozzi as Congressman is functioning exactly as he said he would during the campaign: as someone who prefers to find common ground in order to accomplish something.
He told the packed audience that filled the room to capacity that he is a member of a newly formed (can you imagine?) Problem Solvers Caucus, consisting of 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats. They are trying to find some consensus on issues such as infrastructure and tax reform (good luck with that).
Interestingly, when Suozzi asked for a show of hands of people who had never been politically engaged before, an estimates 40% of the room raised hands.
Some of the questions and comments were extremely moving: the woman whose husband is being treated, thanks to Obamacare, for cancer “he’s on the verge of being cured, but if Obamacare is repealed, he would have a preexisting condition”; the son whose father has advanced Parkinsons, who lost his job and if Obamacare is repealed, faces the dilemma of providing quality of life for the father or the family.
A woman speaking haltingly because of her disability, fearful of proposals to cut Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security and instead to send money to states to use as a block grant, a fear echoed by parents and of siblings of disabled people, who declared “I’m tired of people characterizing us as lazy”.
An immigrant man whose college-age son can’t get an internship because of his status; the woman who migrated from India 28 years ago as a 15 year old, who described the “extreme vetting” then, which has only gotten more intense under Obama; and people who asked what can be done to alleviate the anxiety in their communities over sweeps.
Suozzi noted that as Glen Cove Mayor he fought against having local police become defacto ICE agents because of the importance of the community having trust in its government and law enforcement and the value of “community policing”.
He also acknowledged when someone brought up something that he was not aware of – like the problem with a local pre-school that serves special needs children which has to negotiate individually for grants from state and county government, and has seen only a 2% increase in funding over the last six years.
“The Third Will be Heard”
Suozzi did not disguise the surprise at the turnout, noting that in his years as an elected official (Mayor, Nassau County Supervisor) well accustomed to holding town halls, he has never seen anything like this.
He asked what groups were represented: a number were newly formed in response to Trump’s election including several Indivisible groups, who came with pre-printed signs “Agree”, “Disagree” (an effective mechanism to communicate with the Congressman. Others included Reach Out America, Moveon.Org, Science Advocacy of Long Island, Long Island Together, Every Child Matters, Planned Parenthood of Nassau County, 10100, NY Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Campaign, NOW of Nassau-Suffolk, Code Pink Long Island, Long Island OptOut, Huntington Democrats, among others.
One of reasons Democrats lost is because they didn’t mobilize locally, he said, which is why he hopes to try to keep the energy going, and why he kept going back to the need for the people to get the change they want.
He started off with some of his own comments:
Travel Ban? We are less safe, he said, and putting the ramifications of the Muslim ban and curtailment of immigrants and refugees, he said. “There are 80,000 people worldwide in organized terror groups. There are 65 million refugees, due to climate change, civil war, feminism. This is a nation of immigrants, a nation dedicated to two propositions: all men and women are created equal and entitled to respect and dignity.”
The enhanced sweeps of undocumented immigrants (unfurled in a way that shows the lie of only going after the “bad hombres”) “makes us less safe when communities distrust their local police force. People turn to gangs for protection when they are afraid of law enforcement.”
He was asked about the Stop Arming Terrorists Act that Tulsi Gabbard has proposed. “I have to research further,” he said honestly, adding, “It’s true the US funded Osama bin Ladin against the Russians, and Saddam Hussein, and funded the Syrian regime before, and we are still funding the Saudis who fund terror groups. We did it to have access to oil.
“But, for the first time 50 years we are not dependent on oil from the Mideast. This is an opportunity that is not likely to be seized on by the Trump Administration.”
Had Trump not reversed all the Obama policies that bolstered homegrown, clean renewable energy, the US could have said to these dictators, “We don’t want your land your oil. But we need to move more to clean energy to make this happen.” (Trump, in his speech to the CIA the day after the inauguration, as the Women’s March was going past the White House, said that he thought we would have a second chance at taking Iraq’s oil, because he had been taught that “to the victor belongs the spoils.”)
Obamacare: Mend It Don’t End It
On the first topic, Obamacare, a man said he was walking proof of the problems, because his wife suffers from cancer, and over the past two years, one insurance company after another pulled out, until the hospital where his wife was being treated said they would not treat her because there was no carrier in the exchange. Now, his wife has a pre-existing condition.
Suozzi said, “There are problems with ACA. But we need to mend it, not end it.” He said he supported single-payer (essentially Medicare for All), but that wasn’t possible under Obama, who instead bent over backwards, even picking up on the right-wing Heritage Foundation’s model that preserved for-profit health insurance companies as the intermediary for obtaining health care which had been put into place in Massachusetts under Governor Romney. Obama was unable to get a public option. But even after bending over backwards to accommodate Republicans, not a single one voted in favor of ACA, but instead, spent six years voting 60 times to repeal it, even forcing a government shut down.
People raised concern about the proposal to tax people differently for health care based on age, not income, a scheme to cut $216 billion in spending ; of capping how much employers give to employees for health insurance which then would be taxed as income.
“It’s time to get out the Uzzi and go after Price [the new Secretary of Health & Human Services, whose 2015 bill repealing Obamacare is the most likely model]. Go after Republicans for raising taxes.”
A young man described how his father had advanced Parkinsons and then was laid off and lost his health insurance. Now he has a pre-existing condition. Repealing Obamacare, he said, “would force our family to choose between my father’s well-being and our family’s.”
Suozzi responded, “This is real life, the devastating effect of repealing Obamacare.”
Turning next to the Trump-Putin and conflicts of interest topic, Suozzi said he would support a bill to require Trump to release his taxes, and would support an independent (not just bipartisan) commission to investigate his ties to Russia and possible collusion of his campaign with Russian agents to swing the election.
“This is why you are so important,” he said. “I don’t want you to understate what you are doing. It’s working. We need reasonable Americans to put country ahead of party. Since McCarthy, Republicans have tried to paint Democrats as unpatriotic. This is a generational opportunity to change that dynamic.”
Travel Ban: Guns Kill, Not Refugees
A man noted that none of the 7 countries under Trump’s ban has had anything to do with terrorism in the US since 1975 (on the other hand, terrorist acts were committed by people from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia and none of these were included in the ban), using the premise of public safety. But 34,000 people are killed each year by gun violence.
“Guns kill, not refugees,” a woman said.
Suozzi said that even when he brought together gun rights advocates with gun control advocates, there was general consensus on the need for universal background checks (instead, the Republicans just overturned Obama’s requirement for mentally ill people receiving services from Social Security to be included in the database). The reason there is no commonsense gun regulation is the same that reasonable health care is blocked: moneyed interests. “It’s always about the money.”
But the focus on Trump’s use of fear and under the guise of “national security” push through anti-democratic policies (such as his threat to “send in the feds” to Chicago and use military precision to round up undocumented immigrants with expedited review so that their cases are not properly adjudicated, his attacks on free press and an independent judiciary and reestablish private prisons) prompted a woman to remark, “Be afraid. The America you know won’t exist in 15 years. Republics disappear. Commitment is important. We should be afraid that America will slip away from us, we must persevere.”
This raised the issue of campaign finance reform and gerrymandering and voter suppression. Suozzi confessed his inability to significantly change any of that, but that it is up to the people to get people out to vote, which is another compelling reason for his neighborhood-based activism. He said his office would be engaged in voter registration campaign.
Rachel Carcalelli of Great Neck Plaza, an environmentalist, noted that Superstorm Sandy cost $75 billion. “We need to rebuild infrastructure in sustainable ways – public transportation, water systems, renewable energy, sanitation.”
Instead, Nassau County will see $6.5 million cut in bus service.
In each case, Suozzi went back to his go-to – that people need to stay active and engaged, to join his neighborhood teams in order to spread the word.
Challenged by a Sanders supporter to reject everything the Republicans propose, Suozzi said, “I’ve been in politics 20 years. I won a lot, lost a few. JFK described himself as an idealist without illusions. I’m not a sucker. I still believe in this country, the power of people. Politics is a noble profession. I will remain an idealist as long as I can, but with eyes wide open.”
A woman noted that many in the audience “are new to politics, to this forum” and might be helped to have more realistic expectations of what Suozzi and the Democratic party, being essentially powerless in the House, can achieve.
Indeed, Suozzi offered a dose of reality to many of the speakers, such as when he was asked to solve the eons old problem of campaign finance reform and gerrymandering. “Nice idea but it’s not realistic for junior member in minority party,” he told one speaker. “All the stuff coming over transom – there’s no free time.” He listed what he is engaged in so far: foreign affairs committee, armed services committee,. “I want to focus on important things in the district- the Northport VA, the North Shore plume (the Navy and Grumman are the responsible parties to clean up a 40-year old site estimated at $500 million to clean up); airport noise in northeastern queens, two major research centers (Cold Spring and the Feinstein Institute), a Coast Guard facility. I decided to make the Problem Solvers Caucus one of my big focuses –if I could get Republicans interested in campaign finance reform and gerrymandering.”
The youngest speaker of the evening, Zachary, about seven years old, stood on a chair to say, “Impeach Trump. He’s messed up. How did we get into this mess?”
One of the older speakers of the evening, Harry Arlin, wearing an Army baseball cap, said, “I lived briefly under Hitler, had to run; lived under Mussolini and was incarcerated, then under Stalin and had to flee… Now I am living under Trump. Impeach Trump. I’m too old to run again.”
Though the issue of the alarming increase in anti-Semitic incidents across the country since Trump’s election was not specifically raised in this Long Island community with a significant Jewish population, Suozzi acknowledged at one point that the town hall was being held in a Jewish Community Center in Plainview, and JCCs have received over 50 bomb threats in recent weeks.
Suozzi periodically would stop and poll the audience again to get their sense of whether to move on to the next topic. It was remarkable to see how he could actually offer a wide opportunity for people to air grievances, questions, comments in such a large and energized group and have something constructive come out of it: namely, a better understanding of issues and concerns, and also to gauge where constituents are on these key issues.
It wasn’t even close: the 3rd Congressional district wants to retain and improve Obamacare, overturn the travel ban but okay to vet, end the terror and insecurity in immigrant communities and provide a path to some kind of legal status, protect the environment, protect the integrity of the election from foreign influence while protecting the ability of people to cast their ballot.
Gabby Giffords Mocks Republicans Dodging Town Halls
Suozzi’s town hall was very different from what many Republican Congressmen are experiencing around the country – Long Island’s Peter King didn’t even hold one during this President’s Week when traditionally Congress members return to their districts to hear from constituents. Trump and his sycophants have accused those coming out in force to protest the repeal of Obamacare as “paid liberal activists” or, as Trump told CPAC, “the losing side” (neglecting to mention there were 65 million voters, three million more than his side).
And ironically, many of the Republicans are citing fear of their constituents as the reason, prompting Gabby Giffords, who was a Congresswoman until she was shot in the head while holding a public availability at a shopping center in Tucson, to write:
“As a member of Congress, I believed that listening to my constituents was the most basic and core tenet of the job I was hired to do. So I was a little surprised yesterday to hear Congressman Louie Gohmert invoke my shooting as a reason not to face his constituents at a public town hall.
“I was shot on a Saturday morning. By Monday morning my offices were open to the public. Ron Barber – at my side that Saturday, who was shot multiple times, then elected to Congress in my stead – held town halls. It’s what the people deserve in a representative.
“So to Congressman Gohmert and others who are abandoning their civic obligations, I say this: Have a little courage. Face your constituents. Hold town halls.
“Many of the members of Congress who are refusing to hold town halls and listen to their constituents’ concerns are the very same politicians that have opposed commonsense gun violence prevention policies and have allowed the Washington gun lobby to threaten the safety of law enforcement and everyday citizens in our schools, businesses, places of worship, airports, and movie theaters.
“In the past year, campaigning for gun safety, I have held over 50 public events. And if I am still willing to do it, they should be too.”
“Resist Trump” was the chant by some 300 environmental activists who rallied outside Senator Charles Schumer’s Long Island office in Melville during a statewide day of action, February 2. Similar rallies were being held at all eight of Schumer’s offices throughout New York State to demand that he show bold leadership to protect public health and the environment by telling Senators to use every tool at their disposal to challenge the corporate takeover of our democracy and reject Trump’s nominees and policies that would decimate the climate and the environment.
“Schumer’s announcement on January 30 that he will vote against several Trump nominees is a sign that he is hearing the message coming from the grassroots. Voting against oil and gas insiders is just the first step to resisting Trump’s anti-environmental agenda—bigger battles over drastic EPA budget cuts, clean air regulations, climate change, and fossil fuel drilling are on the horizon,” stated Eric Weltman of Food & Water Watch, the leading organizer of the Long Island rally.
“Donald Trump has wasted no time in setting out a clear agenda that threatens fundamental environmental protections. With clean air and water under attack, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer must lead his colleagues in standing strong against Trump’s science-denying Cabinet appointments and his climate-destroying plans,.
Weltman declared, “As the nation’s most powerful Democrat, Schumer must lead the resistance. He must vigorously oppose cabinet appointments, lead the charge against Trump’s plans to slash EPA budget, dismantle the EPA, resist plans for the Dakota and Keystone pipelines. He must motivate his fellow Democrats.
“Each day, we are sicker, more depressed, more fearful,” said Lisa Oldendorp, National Grassroots Organizer for Moveon.Org. “As difficult as these days have been, we are more worried about the days ahead. The small gains in climate action will be overturned, we will go back 70 years to the point of no return…
“Trump’s friends are not concerned about our future of the country or the planet. Their only god is profit. They are determined to frack more land, pollute more air. Make America Great Again? No, make a small group of millionaires even richer, plundering our lands.
“You may have said you are tired of fighting. That it’s hopeless. But you must continue to fight for environmental, economic, racial, social justice. Turn your anger into action for change…. A Small group of citizens can change the world. One person becomes a group, a group becomes a crowd. People power grows exponentially. Don’t tell me people’s protests don’t matter. They build consensus, a movement.
“The anti-Trump movement already eclipses the Tea Party at its height by 20 points. Democrats are finding our voice. Dissent and protest is happening on a greater scale. The New York Times in an editorial said Democrats simply cannot play by the old set of rules now that the Republicans are playing by new ones. [Neil] Gorsuch doesn’t deserve confirmation [for the Supreme Court] because the process leading to his nomination was illegitimate.”
Democrats have to mobilize for the local elections in 2017, try to flip the House and/or the Senate and take more state positions in 2018.
“We’ve had a few weeks to mourn the election. Not it’s time to get off the pity pot and take action.”
Ryan Madden, sustainability organizer for the LI Progressive Coalition, said the Trump election is a Trojan horse for corporate interests. “Pruitt, Sessions, Perry – every one a threat to the climate, the environment and our institutions… Attacks against environment, climate have the worst impacts on folks with the least ability to do something about it.” It’s a matter of economic and climate justice.
Jane Fasullo of the Sierra Club said simply, “There is no alternate planet. You can’t eat or drink money – maybe you can burn it for heat. Schumer, do your job.”
Dave Denenberg and Claudia Borecky of Clean Air Water Soil declared, “We want leadership from Schumer… We thought fracking was over in New York State. It might be coming back.” The Navy was the responsible agency for cleaning up the Grumman plume at Bethpage, Trump wants to walk away from paying for clean up, he said.
People carried signs such as “Tax Carbon. Trump Too.” “Tell the Con Man in Chief: You Can’t Fool Mother Nature. Take Climate Action.” A young boy held a sign, “Please don’t break my planet.” Others urged Schumer to “Resist Trump” and “Be a Leader.”
The group then marched through the parking lot to the front of Schumer’s Long Island office and a few of the leaders, who had appointments, hand-delivered petitions, reporting back that they were well received. “We’ll be back,” he said.
The simultaneous actions took place at all eight of Schumer’s New York offices (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Binghamton, Albany, Peekskill, Melville and Manhattan), as well as in Washington, DC.
Sponsoring organizations include: Food & Water Watch, Long Island Progressive Coalition, Sierra Club, NYPIRG, MoveOn, Long Island Activists, Reach Out America, Slow Food North Shore, iEatGreen, 350.org, Long Island Clean Air Water & Soil, Public Citizen, Greenpeace