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Rally

People at a rally in Old Bethpage held up signs signaling for a need for gun legislation. Photo by David Luces

Close to 200 people, including activists, survivors, faith leaders and elected officials filled a room at Haypath Park in Old Bethpage, Aug. 6, to call for common sense gun reform from Washington and to collectively voice ‘enough is enough’.

Moms Demand Action has been at the forefront of LI protests against gun violence. Photo by David Luces

The rally came in the wake of two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio that took 31 lives over last weekend.

“We are upset, heartbroken — and most importantly we are angry,” Tracy Bacher, of Moms Demand Action, an organization founded by a Dix Hills mother after the Sandy Hook shootings in 2012.  “In less than 24 hours our nation experienced two major mass shootings, this a public health crisis that demands urgent action.”

NYS Senator Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) said it’s time for federal government to act on common-sense gun reform.

“We are calling for Washington to take action, we have passed a red-flag law in the state we believe it’s going to save lives,” the senator said in an interview. “But if they can pass one in Washington it will save a lot more lives. We need to get guns off the street that are in the wrong hands.”

While the federal government has been stagnant in achieving more robust gun reform in recent years, individual states have taken it upon themselves to enact their own measures.

New York, in February, became the latest state to adopt a red-flag law, which is intended to prevent individuals who show signs of being a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or possessing any kind of firearm. It also allows teachers as well as family members and others to petition the courts for protective orders.

Sergio Argueta of S.T.R.O.N.G., a youth advocacy group that focuses against gang and gun violence, said all he and others ask is for the bullets to stop. He began his speech imitating the sounds of gunshots in front of the packed crowd.

“’Pop, pop, pop,’ in day care centers; ‘pop, pop, pop,’ in synagogues; ‘pop, pop, pop’ in houses of worship,” said Argueta. “… It is not fair that we have kids that walk into school that look like prisons. It is not fair that people that go out to Walmart to prepare their kids to start the new school year die.”

Family members of gun violence victims shared their stories.

Tracy Bacher of Moms Demand Action spoke at the rally about a need for gun legislation at the federal level. Photo by David Luces

“It is about time that we do something different, we have been here for Sandy [Hook], we have been here for Parkland and nothing changes,” said Rita Kestenbaum, whose daughter Carol was killed by a gunman in 2007 when she was a sophomore at Arizona State University. “Background checks are lovely, red-flag laws are lovely, but if we don’t get semi-automatic weapons banned, then all of this is for nothing.”

Shenee Johnson said gun violence is preventable. Her son, Kedrick, was killed in a shooting at a high graduation party in 2010. She was in Washington D.C. at a conference called Gun Sense University when she heard of the shooting in El Paso.

“For so many years, I’ve tried to hide my pain and shield my pain from others, but I’m dying inside,” Johnson said. “We can no longer go on like this, how many times do we have to go through something like this.”

Other speakers called for people to fight to end gun violence and the hate that fuels it.

“To eradicate hate, we must fight it with love and action,” said David Kilmnick, of the LGBT Network. “…We say by coming here together that this is not a normal way of life. This is not the America we know.”

Genesis Yanes, a student at Nassau Community College and counselor at S.T.R.O.N.G Youth, was one of many members who brought handmade signs to the rally. The non-profit works with individuals ages 11-21. A hand full of elementary and middle school students were at the rally.

“This is something that affects them directly and their communities, we just want to show them that there are people here who are advocating for this change,” she said.

Karen Bralove Stilwell offers supplies to immigrants at Juarez, Mexico, where immigrants were transferred. Photo from Melanie D’Arrigo

For the third time this month, Long Islanders on July 27 joined hands in Huntington to protest the mistreatment of immigrant children and families at the United States border with Mexico.  

Child promises to reject policies and practices founded in hate. Photo from Eve Krief

“This is not who we are,” they chanted and “Never again is now,” a reference to Jewish encampments in Nazi Germany. 

Some Long Island federal officials share their concerns. U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) has recently expressed outrage after returning from detention centers in McAllen, Texas.

Protesters called their rally “Don’t Look Away.” It was the eighth rally held in Huntington since people learned one year ago that the government was separating families at the border.  It was sponsored and co-sponsored by 50 different organizations related to immigration rights, human rights, and pediatric and activist groups. 

Federal lawmakers passed June 24 a $4.5 million emergency bill to address the migrant crisis. Despite the funding, Alethea Shapiro, one of the protesters, said that she is concerned that the bill that passed was strong on enforcement with less funds going toward humanitarian aid as prescribed in the U.S. House of Representatives’ original version of the bill.  

Shapiro was one of several women who have just returned from a humanitarian mission to El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico, where some immigrants were transferred.

The women said that they offered supplies such as shoes, underwear and backpacks to immigrants, who were grateful.

Protesters parade the roadside with a cage filled with baby dolls to rally against U.S. immigration policies. Photo from Eve Krief

The protesters adopted the theme “Don’t Look Away” for their latest campaign. Their rally  comes in the wake of recent rules and bills that aim to address the crisis. The Trump administration recently posted a rule denying asylum to migrants that failed to seek asylum in the first foreign land they encountered when fleeing their homeland. District courts have now put the brakes on those limits until further review.

The U.S. Senate is considering a bill H.R. 2615 The U.S. Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act. If passed, the law would authorize economic aid and fight corruption in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the homeland of many migrants.

“It’s important for us to create continuous awareness of this humanitarian crisis happening at our southern borders,” said Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport). “We cannot rest until every child is safe, treated with dignity and provided basic necessities such as food, sanitary conditions and health care.”

On April 10, approximately 80 students and alumni took to the campus to protest what they felt were Americans with Disabilities Act violations. Photo by Allilsa Fernandez

A student-led rally over handicapped access across campus has opened up a dialogue at Stony Brook University.

A broken handicapped button at SBU. Photo by Allilsa Fernandez

On April 10, approximately 80 students and alumni took to the campus to protest what they felt were Americans with Disabilities Act violations. The rally was organized by the Disability Rights Coalition and co-sponsored by the Graduate Student Employees Union. The coalition is an alliance of campus activists led by Naji Nizam, a junior at SBU majoring in business, and Allilsa Fernandez, former Peer Mental Health Alliance president and Stony Brook alumna.

Complaints included broken handicapped buttons on doors, snow on wheelchair ramps during the winter and a failure on the university’s part to post information regarding accessibility at university events.

After the protest, Nizam, who has a rare neuromuscular condition, and former student Jacqueline Albin talked with Jeff Barnett, assistant dean of students.

“I appreciated the fact that Jeff came out to hear our concerns, and I took that as a sign that the school is willing to work with us,” Nizam said in an email.

An Undergraduate Student Government Senate meeting followed April 18 that Nizam said he was unable to attend due to being out of town, but Fernandez was able to attend. Richard Gatteau, SBU vice president for student affairs and dean of students, tried to address student’s concerns. Fernandez said Gatteau told the group that all the handicapped accessibility buttons had been repaired, but she said the next day, she found a few on campus that were still broken.

Fernandez said while something like a broken handicapped button may seem trivial to many, sometimes a door with a broken button leads to a bathroom, and a handicapped student or faculty member may have to go across campus to find another one.

“That’s so inhumane,” she said.

Fernandez said she became aware of accessibility problems when she had major surgery a year ago. She attended an SBU Student Life Awards ceremony due to Peer Mental Health Alliance, which she founded, being nominated for awards. She needed certain accommodations for the event, as at the time she was unable to walk long distances or stand for long periods of time. She needed a large amount of amoxicillin drugs provided by an online pharmacy. She said she didn’t know who to contact because it wasn’t mentioned in the event flyer or email, and while she eventually found a person to contact, according to Stony Brook’s Use of Campus Facilities policy, availability of reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities must be clearly stated on all brochures, notices, bulletins, advertisements and invitations for seminars and other activities. Fernandez said she has noticed some improvement with the statement being included in event information.

“The biggest victory so far is bringing up the conversation and bringing these issues to light as more people are coming forward.”

— Jacqueline Albin

Albin said while she is not handicapped, she became familiar with those who were encountering accessibility issues while she was looking into the school’s resources when it comes to mental illnesses. She said meeting students who had trouble opening doors or with finding elevators opened up her eyes to issues faced by those with disabilities. She said while she is optimistic about changes she hopes administrators will schedule more meetings with students in the near future.

“The biggest victory so far is bringing up the conversation and bringing these issues to light as more people are coming forward,” she said.

According to SBU spokeswoman Lauren Sheprow, SBU’s Office of Facilities and Services has implemented a new program where custodial staff will check doors every day and report issues needing immediate intervention.

Sheprow said students also have resources available to them to report accessibility issues, including the Student Accessibility Support Center that students who require accessibility resources to services and accommodations can contact. Students may also contact the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity, which helps to ensure that the campus environment is safe and accessible. Transportation and Parking Operations, in conjunction with SASC, offers transportation services for university community members who require an accommodation due to disability or injury.

Maintenance issues such as broken handicapped buttons, elevator issues and snow removal concerns can be reported to the school’s West Campus Academic Building, and non-urgent maintenance issues that do not present a safety concern can be reported through the school’s FIXIT system.

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The corner of Route 112 and Route 347 in Port Jeff Station has hosted enough protests that those who have come out every year to demonstrate have dubbed it an unofficial name, “resistance corner.”

On Jan. 19 members of that resistance came out for the 7th Annual Long Island Rising V-Day Flashmob and the 2019 Long Island Women’s March Rally and protested for hours despite the impending cold. Holding signs representing a smorgasbord of progressive talking points, from women’s reproductive rights to ending the current government shutdown, many of those who attended said while the U.S. House of Representatives and New York State Senate turning blue are good changes, major change needs to come from the White House.

“Today we celebrate the women’s wave that stormed the face of the government, and we come out here to show the world in solidarity against a misogynist right wing agenda to demand change,” said Port Jefferson resident and protest organizer Kathy Greene Lahey.

“We come out here to show the world in solidarity against a misogynist right wing agenda to demand change.”

— Kathy Greene Lahey

Lahey works for Long Island Rising, a progressive advocacy group that has helped organize the three Port Jeff protests as well as several others across the Island. The group also collected women’s health products to be distributed to those in need. The protest was held in conjunction with two other women’s marches in Manhattan.

In 2017, after the inauguration of President Donald Trump (R), thousands upon thousands went to Washington, D.C., to protest the 45th president’s inauguration with many other smaller protests popping up all across the country. Since then, the protests have been exasperated by controversy over alleged anti-Semitism among one of the Women’s March original national leaders. The original Port Jeff Station protest in 2017, held in conjunction with the national Women’s March movement, drew a crowd of several thousand. The protest has dwindled to a few hundred this year, yet many of those who came out to protest were as adamant as ever.

Some dressed up for the event. Rachel Cara wore the red shawl and headpiece from the web television series “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

“I’m really upset about the treatment of women, minorities and the LGBT community,” Cara said. “Especially recently with the separation of families, Christine Blasey Ford’s testimonies [about then U.S. Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh] and how she was ignored by Congress.”

Lisa Jackson and her 15-year-old daughter Gloriana attended the protest. Gloriana, who’s in a wheelchair, held a sign that read, “I March to the streets ‘cause I’m willing and I’m able …’”

“It’s a very, very crazy administration, and we can’t have him anymore in our White House,” Jackson said. “We can’t have this divisiveness and separation and misogyny that’s rampant. She should be growing up where her rights are as equal as everyone else’s.”

By Sara-Megan Walsh

The decision by lawmakers in Charlottesville, Virginia, to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, a general in the Confederate Army, from a city park sparked protests featuring unabashed Nazi salutes, white-supremacist rhetoric and violence.

Three people have been killed in the Charlottesville protests. On Aug. 12, an Ohio man allegedly drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters opposing the hateful rhetoric of those aligned with the neo-Nazi sympathizers, killing 32-year-old Charlottesville resident Heather Heyer and injuring many others, according to Virginia police. Two Virginia state troopers — Lt. H. Jay Cullen and trooper-pilot Berke M.M. Bates — also died in a helicopter accident on the way to the scene of the accident, according to a state police spokesperson.

A Huntington vigil attendee holds a sign standing against the events in Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo from Julia Fenster

The impact of these protests have rippled out across the nation into local communities. Demonstrations were held in Huntington and Huntington Station by residents on Aug. 13 in response to the Charlottesville events.

More than 100 residents attended a solidarity vigil Sunday evening on the corner of Park Avenue and Main Street, organized by Action Together Long Island, a grassroots social action group formed in backlash to President Donald Trump (R) taking office. Action Together Long Island has nearly 3,500 members, according to founder and chief organizer Julia Fenster.

“What we are witnessing in Charlottesville is not representative of our nation, and it’s not representative of our community,” Fenster said. “We are going to draw a line in the sand and will not let that happen here.”

Rev. Larry Jennings, president of the NAACP Huntington Branch at Bethel AME Church in Huntington Station, opened the vigil with a moment of silence for those affected by the violence. This was followed by a live performance of “Amazing Grace.”

Eve Krief, a Centerport resident, said she attended because the events of Charlottesville touched her personally. Krief recalled growing up hearing stories of how her Jewish mother as a 5-year-old was forced to go into hiding during World War II. Both of Krief’s grandparents and her aunts were killed by Nazis.

“Growing up as a Jewish girl, I was taught never to forget how the Europeans were silent as Jews were targeted and taken away,” she said. “All day long the silence was deafening. The words — ‘the silence was deafening’ was never more powerful and meaningful to me than yesterday.”

Krief called for elected officials, both Democrats and Republicans, to come out more strongly against the violent protests, racism and white-supremacist attitude of Charlottesville protesters.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Julia Fenster, chief organizer of ATLI, at the vigil. Photo from Julia Fenster

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) attended the Huntington vigil.

“The rally in Charlottesville does not represent our American values and must be denounced outright,” he posted in a statement on Twitter. “There is no middle ground here — the ugliness of hate and intolerance have no place in our society. Period. On behalf of all Suffolk County residents, my thoughts and prayers are with the victim, those injured and their families during this difficult period of time.”

A second rally against the violence in Charlottesville was held at the corner of Route 110 and Jericho Turnpike in Huntington Station on Sunday evening. The event was a result of collaboration between several groups, including Action Together Long Island and LI Activists.

As calls for unity against hate rang through Huntington, racist graffiti was discovered painted on a fence in Huntington Station on the corner of Depot Road near Bogart Street, according to Suffolk County police. Suffolk County police did not provide any further details on what was painted on the fence.

State Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station) has called for law enforcement to increase the number of patrols in the area for the safety and security of residents.

“As someone who was born and raised in Huntington Station, I want to reassure the community that such acts of hatred will not be tolerated here, as they are not tolerated anywhere in New York,” Lupinacci said. “Hate speech directed toward any group of people needs to be publicly denounced now more than ever.”

Suffolk County’s Hate Crimes Unit detectives are investigating the matter, according to SCPD Assistant Commissioner Justin Meyers.

One protestor comforts another during a protest in Smithtown July 27. Photo by Jill Webb.

By Jill Webb

In a show of unity, North Shore residents resoundingly condemned President Donald Trump’s (R) intentions to ban transgender people from the military this past week.

Individuals gathered in front of the U.S. Army Recruitment Center in Smithtown in disapproval of President Trump’s announced ban July 27.

The ban stemmed from a series of tweets President Trump put out July 26, citing his reasoning for the transgender ban being that the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

Trump’s declaration of the ban on Twitter led the Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition to come out to Smithtown to oppose the ban in a peaceful demonstration. The group advertised the demonstration via Facebook as a way for the transgender community and their allies to speak up for transgender service members.

Juli Grey-Owens, executive director of LITAC led the demonstration with a loudspeaker in hand, chanting in solidarity with the transgender community.

The goal of the demonstration, according to Grey-Owens, was to put transgender soldiers in the spotlight.

“To make people aware of the fact that there are Americans that are supporting our transgender troops — that’s important,” she said. “Number two, it’s to make people aware of the fact that the transgender community is constantly under duress, constantly being discriminated against and this is just one more thing.”

The aim of LITAC is to advocate for the transgender community, often through forums, demonstrations, and putting on informational sessions that Grey-Owens refers to as transgender 101s.

The Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, passed in 2003 makes it unlawful for anyone in New York State to be discriminated against in employment, housing, credit, education and public accommodations because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

A protestor shows support for transgender military members. Photo by Jill Webb.

But the law isn’t as clear for transgender individuals. SONDA does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and expression — but it does apply when a transgender person is discriminated against based upon his or her actual or perceived sexual orientation, according to the New York State Attorney General’s office.

Specific counties and areas, including Nassau and Suffolk County have taken matters into their own hands and passed more specific anti-discrimination legislation for sexual orientation.

Grey-Owens said that LITAC’s objective is to step in at any time the transgender community is being discriminated against.

The executive director, along with many of the other attendees of the demonstration, was aggravated with Trump’s accusations against the expenses of transgender health.

“One of things that they found is the number is so small in comparison to the defense budget, that it is a point zero something of the actual cost,” Grey-Owens said. “The army spends more on Viagra — ten times more on Viagra — then they will on transgender health costs.”

One of the best ways to help the transgender community, according to Grey-Owens, is to unite with them.

“If you take look at the crowd that’s here now, there are way more cisgender people [someone who’s gender identity matches the sex they were assigned to at birth] than transgender people here, and that’s made our voice louder,” she said. “People are adopting our cause as their cause. If they’re interested in helping out, this is how you help us: expand our voice.”

One participant, Edna White, said that she was in attendance in support of her transgender family and friends. She stressed the negative effects of the segregation.

“Taking a serious defense of our country — that shouldn’t be separated,” she said. “We’re already separated enough in war as it is, so to do that is really disheartening for me.”

Heather Sacc, another protestor said she found Trump’s sudden tweets against the transgender community very alarming.

“There’s 6,000 trans people in the military that have risked their lives,” she said. “The military didn’t ask for this. It’s just [Trump] woke up in the middle of the night and decided ‘oh that’s what I’m gonna do.”

A protestor shows support for transgender military members. Photo by Jill Webb.

Jay Gurecio attended the demonstration representing the LGBTQ+ visibility coalition, a group she is a co-founder of. Gurecio said she felt betrayed by Trump going back on his claims he would support the LGBTQ+ community during his campaign.

Trump tweeted in June 2016, thanking the LGBT community.

“I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs,” he said.

Guercio believes he has not kept to his promise.

“For him to go back on something that was implemented a year ago, that trans-people were allowed to serve and were allowed to get their surgery and their hormones covered, it’s just outright wrong,” Gurecio said.

Gurecio thinks the message Long Island should take from the demonstration is there is an LGBT community that will do everything in their power to stand in solidarity with each other.

“We’re peaceful, this isn’t angry, this isn’t something that’s even violent in any which manner,” Gurecio said. “I want people to understand that we just want to live our lives, and that we want the same rights as everyone else.”

The following day protestors continued to berate Trump during a visit he made in Brentwood to the Suffolk County Police Department.

Patricia Rios was holding a sign saying she voted for Trump and regretted her decision.

“Once he comes for the ‘T’ [talking about Transgendered] he’s going to come for the L, the G and the B,” she said. “So we’re here to protest that.”

Dr. David Kilmnick, CEO of LGBT Network, a Long Island LGBT advocacy group said more than just transgender military members rights were ignored this week.

“We found out… Trump was coming here, and timing would have it that he tweeted that he was going to ban transgender folks from serving our country and serving our military,” he said. “That wasn’t the only thing he did to the community this week — which was big enough. His attorney general filed a court brief saying that Title VII doesn’t protect LGBT people from discrimination from the federal government. Having Trump here on Long Island, having Trump as president is an embarrassment, a disgrace. He doesn’t represent the values of our country of equality and justice.”

A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released July 28 showed a large portion of the county disagrees with Trump on this position.

According to the poll, 58 percent of adults agreed transgender people should be allowed to serve while 27 percent said they should not.

Currently it’s unclear if Trump’s announcement will lead to real policy change, as the

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said last week the current military policy would not be changed until the White House issued further guidance.

Additional reporting contributed by Kyle Barr and Victoria Espinoza.

Not to be outdone by the uprising of left-leaning activists who have made their displeasure known across the United States since President Donald Trump’s (R) inauguration, supporters of the president congregated March 4 to present a united front in backing Trump.

A group called Main Street Patriots organized the rallies, titled the Spirit of America Rally, which took place in 32 states and Washington D.C. The only rally held in New York took place outside of the H. Lee Dennison Suffolk County Executive office in Hauppauge and was organized and promoted in part by the Conservative Society for Action, a Patchogue-based group founded in 2008 whose website says has about 900 members.

“We need to stand united with our president who wants to do something to fix America,” a website set up to promote the Suffolk County event stated as part of its mission.

Judy Pepenella, a Patchogue resident and the national coordinator for the CSA, said she tried her best to spread the news of the rally on social media. She estimated about 350 to 400 people attended the Hauppauge rally.

“Spirit of America is the spirit of the Constitution, the spirit of the rule of law, the spirit of the goals and the directives and the original intent of the founding fathers,” Pepernella said, explaining how her group got involved. “We do stand behind our president — some people, more, some people less. But he won, we want to give him a chance.”

The rally came as the heat was being turned up on Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who multiple news outlets reported last week had meetings with a Russian Ambassador despite Session’s testimony during his confirmation hearing he had no contact with Russian officials during the campaign. Rallies, protests and contentious town hall meetings featuring activists opposing Trump’s agenda and policies have taken place across the U.S. in recent weeks.

Pepernella said the group’s mission is not to blindly defend all of Trump’s policies or words, or her congressman — U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin’s (R-Shirley) — for that matter, but she said it’s refreshing to hear a politician “call a spade a spade.” Zeldin has publicly supported Trump for months.

“Just because [Trump] said so doesn’t mean it’s right,” she said. “If it doesn’t work with the Constitution; if it infringes on a person’s rights; if it’s going to hurt somebody socially, economically and a person in need … he’s going to hear from us. It’s not a just ‘we blindly support the president’ — we support the president’s goals and his platform and mission statement to make America great again.”

Pepernella, who said she has yet to hear anything from Trump that would cause her to raise an eyebrow so far in his presidency, attributed outrage of Trump’s words and actions to people not being used to a New Yorker telling it like it is.

“We are all New Yorkers, and there’s a problem with New Yorkers, and I say that as a native New Yorker,” she said. “We have a bit of a tenacity and a bit of a brazen, ballsy-ass attitude — forgive my French — but that’s what we have. Donald Trump was born in Queens. He’s born and raised here. He’s a New Yorker and we can sometimes say things that are not perfectly correct, but that’s who we are. It doesn’t bother me. I have no problem with his rhetoric.”

Port Jefferson resident Keith Debaun shared his motivation behind attending the event.

“Clearly I’m here not to support Hillary Clinton,” he said. “I’m here to support Donald Trump because he’s facing a lot of resistance, and I’m here to oppose that resistance.”

Dix Hills resident and attorney Mike Dyckman also explained his reason for attending.

“I’m a Republican, I’m a conservative, and I’m an American,” he said. “I don’t like what’s happening whether it’s Republican or Democrat — we have to be together as a nation and I don’t like what’s going on right now on the left. They’re not listening to anybody. They’ve got all of these shout-down sessions when the representatives are going back to talk to their constituents. It looks like a lot of it is staged, whether they’re paid for it or not. If that doesn’t stop, what’s going to happen is we’re going to not get anything done in the country.”

Pepernella addressed some constituent’s complaints that Zeldin has not been available enough and hasn’t met with many local residents who have invited him to events, saying the congressman who came before him wasn’t any better.

“I know for a fact people have gotten in to see him [Zeldin],” she said. “When it was Tim Bishop’s (D-Southampton) office, you’d go in, they had a sign in sheet, you put your name… and why you’re there. If you were lucky you got a response. I didn’t get a response when I went in the office because I was asking for specific things. I [did] get one meeting with Tim Bishop. When he found out it was me, he never met with me again.”

Flyers with information about the CSA were passed out during the rally with a clear statement of the group’s mission going forward.

“The Conservative Society for Action believes it’s time for a return to fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, free markets and honest government,” it said. “We cannot afford to sit this one out. We will be silent no more. Please join us in our fight for the future of this country. Freedom isn’t free. Get involved while there’s still time.”

Protestors at the Not My President Rally in East Setauket Monday, Feb. 20. Photo by Kevin Redding

North Shore residents on both sides of the political spectrum made their voices heard during a local iteration of the nationwide “Not My Presidents’ Day” protest Monday, Feb. 20.

Those driving down Route 25A in East Setauket between 3 and 5 p.m. on Presidents’ Day found themselves caught in between the country’s most heated debate.

On one side of the road, a large crowd of diverse protesters rallied against President Donald Trump (R) and his policies, holding up signs that read “Trump is toxic to humans” and “Not my President,” and on the other side, a smaller but just as passionate group gathered to support the commander-in-chief, holding signs that read “Liberal Lunacy,” with an arrow pointed toward the group on the other side, and “Pres. Trump Will Make America Great Again.”

“Not My Presidents’ Day” rallies took place across the country including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Philadelphia, with thousands of Americans taking to the streets to denounce the president, just one month into his term.

Protestors at the Not My President Rally in East Setauket Monday, Feb. 20. Photo by Kevin Redding

The main group involved in East Setauket’s rally was the Long Island Activists for Democracy, an offshoot of MoveOn, which, according to its website, is the largest independent, progressive, digitally-connected organizing group in the United States.

Activists for Democracy founder Ruth Ann Cohen, from Lake Grove held a sign that asked “Why Is Not My President Adolf Trump in love with Putin?” She said she started the meetup in an effort to “uphold democracy” and stand up to the president, who she called a traitor.

“He refuses to show his taxes, he’s been monetizing the presidency left and right, he’s denigrated our country, he’s a coward, and a misogynist,” Cohen said.

Referring to those on the other side of the road, she said, “Those people don’t believe in anything, their minds are full of hatred…build a wall? We’re for a free shake for everybody. Everyone here is the child or grandchild of a refugee and they want to pull up the drawbridge and keep everybody out.”

Those on the anti-Trump side voiced their concerns of several issues regarding the 45th president, including his now overturned executive order to ban those from Muslim-majority countries, controversial cabinet nominations and what some called “a rise of fascism in this country.”

“I think there’s a general belief the man [Trump] is not competent to be president and that’s what’s brought all these people out,” Stony Brook resident Craig Evinger said.

Bill McNulty, a Setauket resident and Army veteran who served between 1957 and 1964, said he’s been rallying on behalf of anti-war and anti-violence for decades but with “the coming of Trump, it’s much more than that now.”

“We have to stand in opposition in every way, shape or form,” McNulty said. “With my military background, if I were serving today, I would not obey this commander-in-chief. I would say ‘no.’”

Across the road, American flags waved in the wind and patriotic songs played through a speaker, as members of the North Country Patriots — a military support group formed after the Sept. 11 attacks that meets at the corner every weekend in support of soldiers young and old — stood their ground with signs that read “God Bless American Jobs” and “Trump: Build The Wall.”

The group’s founder, Howard Ross of East Setauket, said he and the group “believe in our country, believe in serving our country and doing the right things for our country.”

Protestors at the Not My President Rally in East Setauket Monday, Feb. 20. Photo by Kevin Redding

Ross said those on the other side of the road remind him of the people who spit on him when he returned home from serving in Europe during the Vietnam War.

“I’m never giving my corner up,” he said. “I love to see that flag fly and those people don’t like that. I’ve never heard Obama in eight years get beat up like the press beats up Trump.”

A Tea Party member in the gathering, who asked not to be named, said he was there to support the current president, adding “the resistance to him is unprecedented everybody’s against him…this is an existential threat to our democracy to not let the man perform his duties.”

Jan Williams from Nesconset, wore a red “Make America Great Again” hat and held up a sign that read “We Support The President, The Constitution, The Rule of Law.”

“We’re here because it’s Presidents’ Day and the election’s over and this is not the way to get anything done, to get the points across,” Williams said. “You’ve got to support the president, the Constitution and rule of law. We’re here to show support, that’s all.”

The anti-Trump side chanted “this is what democracy looks like” and sang “This Land is Your Land,” while the Trump side chanted “Build the wall” and “God bless America.”

Throughout the rally, drivers passing the groups honked their horns and hollered out their window to show support for the side they agreed with.

Claims district violated his First Amendment rights

Miller Place High School senior Kyle Vetrano, second from left, was punished for ad-libbing a line during the school’s variety show last month. Photo by Barbara Donlon

A Miller Place High School student is suing the district for allegedly violating his First Amendment rights after he was punished for making an ad-libbed remark about the superintendent’s salary during a variety show.

At the Thursday, March 26 variety show, Kyle Vetrano, senior class president, appeared in a skit poking fun at the high school’s new bathroom policy, which allows one student at a time to use the bathroom in an effort to combat drug use and sales. According to the senior, he improvised the line that later got him into trouble.

“Is this what our superintendent gets paid all that money for? To write bathroom policy,” Vetrano said in the skit.

Following the remark, Vetrano said school administrators told him that he was not allowed to participate in the Friday night performance and was banned from school grounds during the show, as the line was not included in the pre-approved script.

“Kyle exercised his political speech rights, which are not to be violated by any government agency what so ever, including his own school,” Vetrano’s attorney John Ray, of Miller Place, said at a press conference held outside the high school on Thursday.

Miller Place High School senior Kyle Vetrano’s supporters rally on his behalf. Photo by Barbara Donlon
Miller Place High School senior Kyle Vetrano’s supporters rally on his behalf. Photo by Barbara Donlon

Vetrano’s mom, Christine, said the district is bullying her son, which is why they decided to take a stand and file the lawsuit.

The high school senior said he told a harmless joke with no malicious intent and was singled out by the district because it was the superintendent he made the remark about. He claims other students also veered off script, but were not reprimanded or punished.

Vetrano said he apologized to Superintendent Marianne Higuera numerous times, but was allegedly told that if he continued to bring up the situation, his senior prom, awards night and graduation privileges could be revoked.

“I think as an American in this country we have a right to freedom of speech and I’m just embarrassed that the district I have been a part of my entire life completely violated my first amendment rights,” Vetrano said.

When reached for comment, the district’s public relations firm, Zimmerman/Edelson, Inc. referred to a letter from Higuera posted on the district’s website.

According to the March 31 letter, students were made aware of the consequences for breaking the rules, which have been consistent year-after-year. Higuera said she was not present at the performance, but was advised of the ad-libbed line.

“This current ad-libbing situation is simply an issue of rules and consequences and not about me as the superintendent,” Higuera stated in the letter.

According to Higuera’s letter, the district will continue to discuss the “one-person at a time” bathroom policy.

About 50 people rallied at the press conference. They marched and held signs in support of the senior.

“What do we want? Free speech!” the crowd shouted as they marched up to the district office.

The family is suing for monetary damages, but has yet to decide on an amount, according to Ray.

“I was the only one who ad-libbed about the superintendent, but my comments were not with any mal-intent,” Vetrano said. “They didn’t call her out by name and they were part of a skit that was completely satirical and comedic in nature.”

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