The 2016 presidential election campaign motivated a South Setauket mother of two young children to become more politically active and teach others how to do the same.
Shoshana Hershkowitz, a registered Democrat who considers herself a Progressive, has become a familiar face at local political rallies while balancing motherhood and teaching. In January she founded the Facebook group Suffolk Progressives — a page with nearly 1,000 followers — in order to engage others in political conversations and educate them on how to become more active in government. The page includes discussions and videos viewable to those interested in learning what they can do to become more civically engaged, even if they’re busy.
Hershkowitz, a lecturer at Stony Brook University and conductor of the Stony Brook Chorale, said she credits her Israeli parents for her passion. She said her family was able to discuss politics, even with those who disagreed with them, without the discussions leading to arguments.
“I grew up at the dinner table talking about [politics] so that is something I always felt comfortable with and something we’re supposed to do,” she said.
Before her children were born, she volunteered for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, and knocked on doors, including in Pennsylvania, encouraging others to vote for him. After she gave birth to her oldest child, she said she didn’t have as much time to be as entrenched in politics as she would have liked. With the little time she had, she campaigned for local candidates and occasionally wrote a political blog, called Jew Kids on the Block.
“This election kind of re-galvanized me, I think which is true of so many people, and then it just kind of took off from there,” Hershkowitz said. “It started as a coping mechanism for me, and then it just sort of turned into what I thought would be an interesting opportunity to teach other people how to engage in political activism in a way that fits their lifestyle.”
She said when she was first trying to figure out how to make her voice heard, she started making calls to local members of congress including U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley). Zeldin has referred to the people who stake out his Patchogue office as “liberal obstructionists” in the past.
“I can make a difference at home in my pajamas,” she said.
Hershkowitz said she is also a big believer in writing letters to newspapers, something she had been doing before President Donald Trump (R) ran for office. She even helped to conduct a workshop about writing letters at U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi’s (D-Glen Cove) office.
“Now I realize that it’s a really important vehicle,” she said. “It changes the narrative in your community in a way that I think social media doesn’t. You can certainly talk to people you agree or disagree with on social media, but I still think that the newspaper has an outreach that social media does not at this point.”
More than a few of Hershkowitz’s letters have appeared in this newspaper.
She said she began taking her children to rallies during the last year, which has enabled her to become even more active on the local political scene. Her children have joined her at the January Women’s March on Washington in Port Jefferson Station, the March for Science at Stony Brook University and protests in front of Zeldin’s office.
Hershkowitz said she makes sure a rally will be a peaceful and safe one before bringing her children. She said she didn’t take them to a vigil in Port Jefferson the day after the Charlottesville protests, because she said she didn’t have the words to explain to them what happened in Virginia. She said she also limits their exposure to broadcast news.
“They see me call congress, they see me do all these things, and I will explain why I’m doing it, but I try to make sure their consumption of media is really limited in this time,” she said. “It’s hard to contextualize that for such young kids.”
Hershkowitz said the Suffolk Progressives Facebook page began as like-minded friends sharing thoughts on various topics. Among those friends is Stefanie Werner, who she met last year at a child’s birthday party.
“As someone who is also a strong supporter of progressivism and democratic values, it was amazing to form an instant kinship with a person who held the same beliefs and desires for change,” Werner said. “Shoshana is a powerhouse of energy and exuberance, resolving to revolutionize our political process and those who represent us.”
Cindy Morris, the Democratic candidate for Brookhaven Town Clerk, met Hershkowitz at a Democratic committee event for activists. Morris said Hershkowitz has made the grassroots efforts available to people with all levels of experience with her work that goes beyond marches and rallies. One example is Hershkowitz posting a video on Facebook explaining how to call local legislators and strategies once they’re on the phone.
“She has made politics less intimidating and more inspiring, galvanizing and easier to participate in than ever before,” Morris said.
Hershkowitz also has met many local lawmakers in her travels, including Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant. The mayor described Hershkowitz as a spitfire “who is finding her voice during a time when others are afraid to speak up.” Garant said the activist is persistent, yet never demeaning, when she speaks with others, even if their opinions differ.
“She’s exemplary on how we all need to be with one another, “ Garant said.
Hershkowitz said her mission is to continue encouraging others to speak up.
“I hope that people realize that this isn’t someone else’s work, this is all of our work, and it can be just a couple of phone calls every day and making that a ritual like brushing your teeth is enough,” she said. “Don’t wait for someone else to do that work right now.”