On Jan. 8, my wife Lynn and I attended the Nassau Unity Town Hall at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Central Nassau in Garden City. Our interim senior minister Ned Wight, social justice coordinator Claire Deroche and congregant Angela Cesa also attended.
There were about 80 people there from various UU congregations, the community and nonprofits who since the election of Donald Trump have spoken up for vulnerable groups on Long Island, including Muslims, Hispanics, African Americans and women. Newsday’s Valerie Bauman did a good job covering the event; Newsday has covered several anti-hate rallies and meetings since President Donald Trump’s election. It is hoped that the town hall will be a catalyst for future meetings which will focus organizers on communicating their priorities to lawmakers.
The purpose of the town hall was to bring together community members and leaders of all backgrounds and life experiences to share how the 2016 presidential election impacts them. The group committed to defending people’s dignity, safety and humanity regardless of race, income, religion, immigration status, politics or affiliations. It also committed to long haul organizing by pledging to form and join town action committees. And it vowed to connect members with resources, volunteers and organizations that can help them defend their rights and safety.
The meeting was facilitated by Nora Bassett, coordinator of the Parent Leadership Initiative of Long Island. It featured, among others, civil rights attorney Fred Brewington; Silvia Finkelstein, director of the Nassau County Office of Immigrant Affairs; Gloria Glantz of the Holocaust Museum and Tolerance Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove; immigrants’ advocate Walter Barrientos of Make the Road New York; Shayne Larkin and Karla Bradley of Planned Parenthood; Eileen Buckley of the Long Island Advocacy Center and Juli Grey-Owens of the Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition.
Bassett broke us up into small groups, and members discussed incidents of bias, hate crimes and other incidents that they’ve witnessed or were told about since Trump’s election. Bassett said, “We thought it was very important to have principles of community so people in vulnerable communities can see that not everybody agrees with the principles of the incoming administration.”
In my group, a person said a customer recently had berated a Hispanic employee at a Syosset delicatessen. Another said at a Stony Brook grocery store she heard somebody tell a Hispanic employee, “You should speak English now; it’s Trump’s America now.”
Another member of my group said, “The environment of ‘Make America Great’ seems to hark to the 1950s, where power has to be male/white and so people are less reticent to express feelings that aren’t politically correct.” A high school teacher in my group said she heard a white student tell a Hispanic student, “You’re out of here, now.” The teacher had a social worker talk to the Hispanic student. Another person in my group said there was a swastika painted on a boys’ bathroom wall at Schreiber High School in Port Washington.
A woman told my group that since the election, “I think all the feelings people had and were afraid to say out loud are being expressed. At least it gives us a platform to address it. I think this can help us to a really good place…It’s good to be with others and know that we are not alone. There are a lot of others that feel the same way…You have to say ‘I stand with my neighbors.’ ”
A woman said she liked the part about forming town committees because “It’s good to hold officials accountable. People have to stand up and say, ‘this is not OK.’ “
Danielle Asher of the Parent Leadership Initiative said her group teaches civic engagement and how to craft a message, giving students a free foundation for how to get involved as activists. She mentioned that the LI Civic Engagement Table does voter registration and leadership and civic engagement training. Finkelstein urged attendees to report bias incidents and hate crimes to her office and that it will investigate them without asking the immigration status of the reporter. Helen Turner of the Holocaust Center said, “we’re receiving more calls for [anti-bullying] programs than ever.”
Larkin said if Planned Parenthood is defunded under Trump, “we wouldn’t be able to provide services for low-income people who need them.” She said the group is planning a “Day of Action” in Albany on Jan. 30 to lobby for continued funding.
I am a 1966 graduate of Chaminade High School in Mineola, NY. I graduated from Nassau Community College in 1968 and Hofstra University in 1970. I was a sports reporter at Newsday from 1966-1999, covering 5 Super Bowls and 9 Stanley Cup Finals. I was a features desk copy editor from 2000 to Dec. 31, 2014, when I retired. I am married to Lynn, a social worker, since April 9, 1978, We have one son, Peter, 33, an air traffic controller in Ohio.