Making Democracy Work

A sign in front of a rain garden at the Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood. Facebook photo

By Lisa Scott

On 212 acres in western Suffolk, a small group of women continue to discern how to live authentically so their actions remain consistent with their mission. These are the Sisters of St. Joseph (CSJ), who in their second century in Brentwood embrace and model sustainable practices bringing them ”into deeper union with the Holy One and the whole community of life.” 

The League of Women Voters recently met with them and toured their campus, and came away inspired and convinced that the Sisters live in a way that seeks “union with God and with the sacred community of life that includes all of creation — air, soil, plants and animals.”

In 1903, the Sisters, relocated from Flushing, NY to Brentwood on land that was originally inhabited by the Secatogue tribe, and established a school on fertile land referred to as “St. Joseph in the Pines.” Old stands of pitch pines, white pines and oak are preserved to this day. Over the years, a boarding school, convent,  chapel and nursing home were built while the surrounding area was developed and densely populated. 

A little more than thirty years ago, the Sisters formed an Earth Matters committee to better respond to the cries of the poor, the cries of Earth. Their mission of unity called for a response to heal a wounded world and dispel the illusion of separation. Through contemplation and study they sought to live with a deeper sense that they are a part of creation and not apart from it. 

Aware of the responsibility we all have for the health of Earth and in particular for the Long Island Bioregion the Sisters worked with the Peconic Land Trust and Suffolk County to preserve parcels of the Brentwood campus and return it to agricultural production — 28 acres of land are leased to several farmers, enabling mowed grass lawn to be restored to farming fields. 

The farmers are only permitted to use organic practices, and there is a farm stand for purchase of produce raised on the campus. SNAP coupons are accepted to encourage access to nutritious options raised locally. Island Harvest Food Bank has worked the land and hopes to harvest 10,000 lbs. of produce in 2022 while the Long Island Native Plant Initiative, an all-volunteer cooperative effort of over 30 non-profit organizations, governmental agencies, nursery professionals, and citizens works to  protect the genetic integrity and heritage of Long Island native plant populations and thus biodiversity from a landscape to genetic level in a greenhouse on the Brentwood grounds. The Sisters also raise chickens for eggs and harvest honey from their beehives, and have established a community sharing table on the grounds.

Waste is a natural aspect of life, so there is a commitment to composting organic materials and thus creating quality soil for agricultural use. Two alternative waste treatment systems have been built: one is a constructed wetland system to reduce nitrogen affecting our bays and waterways, the other designed for the needs of the nursing home to deal with medical waste in an innovative way.

With a strong commitment to clean energy, a 1 megawatt ground mounted solar array with 3192 solar panels was constructed on a 4 acre plot, which provides 63% of the energy used on campus. The ground cover surrounding the solar panels is also environmentally friendly with native meadows and plants attracting bees, butterflies and pollinators, avoiding the degraded land all too common in a solar field.

Native meadows inviting to pollinator insects and birds were planted and bloom throughout most of the summer. Work has been done to create rain gardens near roads and parking areas, to direct water back into the soil where native plants with their extensive long root systems assist with flood control and purify the water before filtering down into the aquifers.

The Sisters also engage in social justice issues and other community needs consistent with the practices of their founders. Their assessment of today is of a world that is bruised and broken from a lack of remembering who we are, where we come from and to whom we belong. We have forgotten that we are a part of one sacred community that began with a small yet potent spark 13.8 billion years ago that continues to connect and evolve our relationships. If healing is to happen for people it needs to happen for the planet as well. For more information, visit www.brentwoodcsj.org

Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county or call 631-862-6860. 

METRO photo

By Nancy Marr

Did you know that almost half of America doesn’t vote, even in presidential elections? Elections for state and county officials, school board members, and fire department members have even fewer voters. 

Our primaries that are scheduled for August 23 will be open only to those registered in a party, and even those may not vote. The will of the people is reflected in the results of elections. In an effort to get 100% participation in our elections, groups like the League of Women Voters are supporting same-day registration (already in place in 23 states). 

Concerned about the low percentage of voters, Miles Rappaport and E. J. Dionne have written 100%: The Case for Universal Voting. They relate the experience of Australia, which requires all citizens to vote, just as we require all citizens to perform jury duty; they suggest ways of automatically registering voters, as we now do with the Department of Motor Vehicles. 

In 2022, Get Out The Vote efforts must be stronger, louder, and even more creative. We can register millions, but if only thousands vote, have we truly empowered voters?

When the country was founded, voting was not secret, and the men who were eligible to vote, by virtue of race and sex and income, met in public to decide who they would choose. Nowadays, everyone 18 years or over is legally entitled to vote, and can vote privately, although some are prevented from casting their ballots by suppressive state legislation.  

Data from The American Presidency Project at U.C. Santa Barbara shows that 67% of eligible voters voted during the pandemic in the U.S. presidential election of 2020, but it was a record high compared with earlier elections (the election in 2012, for instance, had votes from 54.9 percent of the eligible voters).

In 1965 the Federal Government’s Voting Rights Act acknowledged the need to protect the rights of all to register and vote, especially in states where there had been racial discrimination, although that protection was weakened in 2013 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Shelby vs. Holder.

Reaching potential voters has become more difficult as our population has become more transient, which has led many voter rights organizations to increase their efforts to find new ways to appeal to voters. Rock the Vote was founded in 2010 to recruit potential voters on beaches, targeting youth aged 18 to 24 who represent the citizens least likely to vote. (Adults over 65 are the most likely to vote.) Training volunteers as “captains” to canvass their social networks of friends and neighbors is effective, with a follow up to answer any questions and provide support. Many groups enlisted volunteers to make phone calls to a list of registered voters. They found that a personable, non-rigid manner increased the turnout, especially if they went off-script and sounded like a real person, not a robot.

Working to get out the vote is something we can all do. On your own, with your family and friends and neighbors, you can ask them to plan to vote by asking them when they plan to vote and how they plan to get there. (In a campaign to encourage people to vote, it is important to remain neutral and nonpartisan, refraining from expressing your view about the best candidates.)  

If you would like to do more, visit the League of Women Voters of New York’s website lwvny.org/league-toolkits/ Click on GOTV toolkit, or Voter Registration Drive toolkit. 

Rock the Vote (www.rockthevote.org) focuses on getting young people to vote, and Glaad (www.glaad.org/vote) focuses on LGBTQ people and their allies. Both welcome volunteers and can provide information about voting dates and places. If you wish to support a particular candidate, contact their campaign office to offer to make phone calls. We need to reach citizens in every part of the country to be sure their views are represented.

As our population changes demographically, it is especially important for everyone to learn to work together to create and maintain a healthy society, beginning with our participation in elections. 

Nancy Marr is Vice-President of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

Pixabay photo

By Lisa Scott

Independence Day traditions bring together families, friends and communities to celebrate being American. It’s not traditionally a time for introspection over barbecues, at ballparks and beaches and enjoying (or hiding from) pyrotechnics. But in 2022 July 4 occurred at a time of deep national concerns: economic, environmental, judicial, governmental and local. 

Journalists, pundits, academics and attorneys have weighed in on end-of-term Supreme Court decisions which overturned Roe v. Wade and New York State’s restrictions on concealed carry of guns, brought religion further into publicly supported education and severely limited the ability of the EPA to address carbon emissions in a time of severe climate change. 

The New York Times on July 3 wrote, “The United States appears to be drifting apart into separate nations, with diametrically opposed social, environmental and health policies… The tearing at the seams has been accelerated by the six vote conservative majority in the Supreme Court, which has embraced a muscular states-rights federalism.” 

The Constitution has been evoked more and more in the past year; some demand a literal  interpretation, while others wonder what happened to its amendments’ rights and freedoms. 235 years ago our nation’s founders wrote “We the People” to commence the preamble to the Constitution, yet the common ground of our civic beliefs has severely eroded. 

Where you live determines what rights you have. We are no longer (if we ever were) equal Americans. But the League of Women Voters has and will continue to educate and advocate for voting rights which exemplify freedom — “the freedom to determine who we are, who we want to be and who we want to make the decisions about our country and our bodies” (Dr. Deborah Turner, President, LWVUS).

At our annual convention in late June the League of Women Voters of the United States  reflected on new barriers to voting and continued attacks on our democracy, and the ways in which LWV is working to register new votes, but particularly to “Get Out the Vote.” From 2020-2022 (even through the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic)) there were 12 million contacts with voters. The League’s efforts tackled systemic challenges to voting rights through advocacy, litigation and organizing. The goal was to build more trust in our elections, grow our electorate with equity, create fairness for voter access and ensure community districting truly reflects our population. 

The League’s Vote411.org voter information website was accessed by 5.5 million voters to view their ballot in over 40,000 races. Over 89,000 candidates were listed. Voters could check their voter registration, request an absentee ballot and review nationwide voting rules. 

LWV litigated on a variety of issues including voter access during Covid-19, the 2020 Census, redistricting, money in politics and excessive voter purges. LWV filed lawsuits in more than half the states to ensure adequate ballot notice and cure procedures, access to drop boxes and greater access to voting by mail. LWV also joined amicus briefs supporting common sense money in politics regulations and intervened in cases to prevent irresponsible voter purges. 

Our New York State LWV has also been active on the state level, including amicus briefs and litigation especially on NYS redistricting and the complications resulting from the court requiring redrawn Congressional and NYS Senate districts, leading to  two primary dates in 2022 (June 28 and August 23).

LWVUS also continued focusing on the protection and enforcement of voting rights in the 117th Congress which included the For the People Act, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Alongside national voting civil rights partners, LWVUS supported hundreds of state and local Leagues in leading and joining distributed actions around the country in support of federal voting rights legislations, resulting in hundreds of actions and thousands of voters engaged. In spite of this work, the US Senate failed to advance (combined) Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act past debate.

In 2022 and beyond, Get Out The Vote efforts must be stronger, louder, and even more creative. We can register millions, but if only thousands vote, have we truly empowered voters? Our democracy is not based on age, race, gender, or zip code — it is for everyone, and that is why we must not only fight back but lead the charge. This is not a partisan issue — This is an American issue. “We the People” should together want to make our democracy stronger and create a more perfect union.

Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county or call 631-862-6860.

Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket. Photo by Elyse Sutton

By Nancy Marr

I have heard many people remark that libraries have become irrelevant. E-books, Google, and the internet can answer all our questions, saving taxpayers money and freeing up buildings for other uses. But is that true?

In the eighteenth century, the first step toward sharing books came with subscription libraries, which were owned and managed by members who paid an annual subscription fee. The first of these in the United States, still extant and called the Library Company of Philadelphia, was established in 1790 by Benjamin Franklin and his friends, who created the Company by pooling their books to make them available to all the members of the Company. Other subscription libraries continued through the mid-nineteenth century for men who could afford to pay for them, and many are still in existence today.  

Circulating libraries, often started by publishers of books that were more “popular” than those selected by the subscription libraries, made books available to people who could not afford to join a subscription library. The success of the subscription and circulating libraries probably retarded the growth of public libraries as we know them.

The social atmosphere of the subscription libraries satisfied many and others, women, in particular, could obtain the books about romance that they liked that they expected  would not be available in public libraries.  Community libraries grew in number, often starting as collections by wealthy readers. By 1935, libraries served 35 percent of the American people depending on local taxes or donations to maintain them. 

Andrew Carnegie was the spark that spread libraries across the United States with his donations. In 1899 he granted 5.2 million dollars to the New York Public Library to build a network of 67 branch libraries in the five boroughs. The city provided sites for the libraries and enough money to provide staff. Small towns received $10,000 for each library and had to provide $1,000 a year for maintenance. 

Although in principle libraries saw themselves as providing works of history, geography, and technical and scientific books, in the 1890’s libraries reported that 65 to 90 percent of books that were borrowed were works of fiction. The American Library Association (ALA), formed in 1876, offered a series of guides for small libraries.

The ALA, in response to demands to purge books that were anti-American in the Chicago library in 1939, issued a statement affirming the librarians’ right to choose what books should be in their collection. With the onset of Cold War anxieties, demands that librarians sign loyalty oaths split the ALA until the Supreme Court decided that Congress could ban only material “utterly without redeeming social importance.”  

To support the public libraries and help them provide the best in library service, organizations like the Suffolk Cooperative Library System in New York were formed. It expands the services of the 51 member libraries in Suffolk, runs the inter-library loan system, digitizes newspapers and other documents, helps with resource sharing and technical proficiency, and supports services to special client groups. 

Many local libraries have stepped into the role of community centers — providing meeting places for organizations, offering technical assistance to patrons with reference and computer questions, sponsoring book groups and classes in English, gardening, and cooking. Some libraries have hired part-time social workers and financial counselors, providing help to those who request it. Many have assembled useful tools for patrons to borrow, as well as seed collections for home gardens, kits and equipment for bird viewing and sports activities. 

Recently, some taxpayers have asserted that they, and others who agree with them, should have more of a say about what books are available, and what subjects are taught in public schools. They support library and school board members who have the same opinion, and are likely to oppose passing the library and school budgets. Although early librarians, thinking they were protecting readers, chose only those books that they approved of, they now follow the position of the ALA against censorship and line their shelves with books chosen because of their literary value or value to patrons.     

Libraries must rely on funding from taxpayers at an annual vote each spring.  If you haven’t been to your library recently, make a visit and see how much it offers, if not to you, then to job seekers using the computers, to families who cannot afford to buy books or DVD’s, to elderly people relying on the book-delivery service, or to anyone looking for a book to read that will open a new road. Vote to support the budget and the library. 

Nancy Marr is Vice-President of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

Photo by Jason Leung/Unsplash

By Lisa Scott

Since 2015, Christians, Jews and Muslims have come together in dialogue as Abraham’s Table of Long Island, seeking understanding, solidarity and common purpose. Recently 100 people attended “If You See Something, Say Something …  Confronting Hate on Long Island Today.”

Speakers shared personal stories of how hatred is on the rise, intensifying and escalating here on Long Island. League of Women Voters representatives shared a table with Catholic nuns and Protestant clergy, and we met many social justice group members as well as  concerned individuals. 

The Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center and the Turkish Cultural Center provided an Iftar dinner breaking the Muslim Ramadan fast for all attending. The speakers reflected this diversity, teaching us that hate knows no bounds and will continue to grow unless each of us takes responsibility and speaks out. Whether or not you identify with an organized religion, the words and experiences shared that evening should move each of us to connect, speak, witness, protest and advocate. 

There were calls to action regarding rising hate against Jewish, Black, Latinx, Muslim, Asian and LGBTQ+ people in our communities. Eric Post, LI Director of the American Jewish Committee, noted that Jews are two percent of the American population yet (according to the Suffolk County Police) 61% of hate incidents overall were anti-Semitic and 93.5% of religious hate crimes were anti-Semitic in nature. He then introduced a young Jewish man who suffered a violent assault in Manhattan who spoke of the attack and subsequent trauma.  

Tracey Edwards, Long Island Regional Director of the NAACP NYS Conference, said that Long Island has two problems. “Residents are reluctant to report hate crimes, and when they do the police departments and district attorneys make a predetermination of intent before they do a proper investigation and charge a hate crime.” Thus hate crime data is reported as down or not counted on Long Island while national data shows an increase across the country. “We cannot fix the problem if we don’t acknowledge that we have a problem.”

On a personal level, David Kilmnick of the LGBT Network of Long Island reported a decade of hate letters and threats to the police for investigation, but the FBI was kept unaware during those years. Jocelo Lucero, who has presented programs to thousands of Long Island students, spoke against hate crimes and for tolerance. He is the brother of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero who in 2008 was fatally stabbed in Patchogue after he and a friend were surrounded by seven teenagers who had gone out looking to attack Latinos; a bias crime that drew national attention to Suffolk County. 

Also presenting were Dr. Isma Chaudhry of the Islamic Center of Long Island and Soh Young Lee-Segredo of the Asian Pacific American Council of Educators.

Hate is real and hate crimes are growing whether we hear about them or not, yet all of us are to some degree complicit in “tolerating” a climate of hate in our communities. Passivity and words and racist jokes have been seeds of violence and even genocide through the centuries.  Social conditions give rise to hate, such as the need to scapegoat or blame “the other”— people who look or speak or worship or think or act different — for our social and personal troubles. 

Economic downturns and inflation;  COVID’s myriad effects on health, emotional well-being, and family cohesion; massive migrations of people fleeing violence all over the world; misinformation and magnification of perceived threats to long-held beliefs and values; a personal sense of danger due to increased crime and the prevalence of gun violence; falling status and insecurity leading to feelings of less “worthy’ people taking our place; all are contributing factors to the rise of hate in 2022. Silence is not an option. 

Connect with a “stranger”; teach and live diversity, equity and inclusion in your families, schools, congregations, workplaces and communities; speak up when you hear hateful speech; report acts of hate to school officials or police; demand that government enact laws and policies to stop hate; support organizations that work against hate; participate in public vigils and rallies to protest hate and write letters to the editor that condemn acts of hate on Long Island.

Thanks to Richard Koubek, Chair of Abraham’s Table of LI, www.abrahamstableli.org, and to his Steering Committee and program presenters for guidance, inspiration, witness and work. Let’s all actively combat hate now — the next generation deserves no less.

Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county or call 631-862-6860.

METRO photo

By Nancy Marr

With two of our Long Island landfills closing in the near future, we will have to work together to redesign our way of handling waste.

New York State legislators, looking for ways to reduce the plastics sent to our landfills, have designed EPR bills (Extended Producer Responsibility) which require producers to reduce the amount of plastics they use and make them responsible for their final disposal, relieving municipalities of the cost. The EPR bills were not included in the New York State budget but there is hope that the legislature will pass an EPR bill before the summer.

The good news is that this week a bill that would establish as a state goal to “source reduce, reuse, recycle, or compost no less than eighty-five percent of the solid waste generated by the year 2032” was introduced by New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, chairman of the Committee on Environmental Conservation, and was passed by the Assembly. We anticipate strong support in the State Senate as well.

Think about all the sources of waste on Long Island: three million people in Nassau and Suffolk (each creating almost five pounds of waste per day), thousands of businesses, dozens of municipalities, and all of these having overlapping layers of authority, interests and goals. Not only does untreated waste spread across our globe pose a major threat to our health and environment, but it also represents an unexploited source of raw material that can be used. In other words, we treat waste as garbage rather than a resource.

Current systems for collecting and disposing of household waste are part of a linear economy, often categorized as “take, make, throwaway.” By contrast, a circular economy employs reusing, repairing and refurbishing, remanufacturing and recycling to return us to a system that keeps products, materials, equipment and infrastructure in use for longer; and most importantly, produces less waste.

Fortunately we have begun to implement new ways of using our resources, many recalling systems from the past. Repair Cafes, working under the aegis of the Repair Cafe International, are creating facilities where consumers teach one another to repair their furniture and appliances. This month, a Repair Cafe will open in Greenport at 539 First Street from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on April 23; it will join 2,333 cafes that exist in eight countries. Learn more about this concept at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LctHCGe91gk.

There are also reuse facilities that fix, update, and sell items that have been discarded, taking the concept of a thrift shop closer to a self-supporting business that keeps waste from the landfill. Producers are looking for more markets for the items created by recycling, which would keep them out of the landfill and make recycling programs more effective.

A Fair Repair Act (S149) was introduced last year and passed in the NYS Senate. This would recognize that consumers have a right to repair the devices they own or use independent repair shops, and require that equipment be designed for durability rather than replacement or disposal. Other states have passed many such bills, but it hasn’t passed in the NYS Assembly.

We need to meet the goals of Assemblyman Englebright’s bill if we are to combat climate change. We have the tools to transition to a circular economy, which will reduce the waste in landfills. The EPR programs that have been designed can reduce the plastics in landfills and other waste depositories. But we need local municipalities and community organizations to educate consumers about what to do — what and where to recycle, where to contribute cast-offs so others can use them, how to compost and how to use the compost.

They will need the support of the county government, the farm bureau, local civic associations, community organizations, churches, and local civic associations to provide training and encourage citizen involvement.

Assemblyman Englebright’s bill was passed by a large margin, suggesting that there is broad public support for building a zero waste economy. Each of us can let our county and state legislators know that we are relying on them to lead the way. To find your elected officials, go to https://my.lwv.org.

Nancy Marr is Vice-President of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

New York State Map of Counties
Editor’s note: A March 31 court decision update is at the end of article.

By Lisa Scott

For New York State voters in 2022, redistricting is controversial, complex and changing. 

Gerrymandering is the intentional distortion of political districts to give one party an advantage. For decades in most states, the majority party in the state legislature drew maps for congressional and state legislature districts which would cement that party’s power for 10 years (until the next census). Nationally, gerrymandering has been criticized for disenfranchising many voters and fueling deeper polarization.

In New York State, voters in 2014 approved a constitutional  amendment which established an independent redistricting commission effective after the 2020 census. This amendment was presented as a way to create fair congressional and state senate and state assembly districts, keeping communities together and representation to minority areas to more fairly give all a voice through their elected officials. At the time, good government groups were divided about the amendment’s wording and potential effect … either a “step in the right direction” or “fake reform.”

In 2021, the newly formed NYS Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) traveled throughout New York State to hold numerous public hearings for input on the map lines that the commission would draw. Unfortunately the IRC was divided equally along partisan lines, and Republican and Democratic commissioners each submitted their own maps to the state legislature and were unable to submit the single plan required by the amendment.  

This failure of the IRC threw the district mapping back into the hands of the legislature (both the senate and assembly have Democratic supermajorities) and the legislature’s final 2022 district lines resulted in more districts with strong Democratic-leaning voters. Republicans then filed a lawsuit in Steuben County (upstate NY) which  threw the 2022 NYS election calendar into potential chaos as it moved through the court system. 

A judge did rule to allow this year’s maps/elections to take place as scheduled, but if Republicans win the suit it appears that there will be a repeat election for NYS Senate and Assembly in 2023 with newer district maps. This would result in state legislative elections in three consecutive years — 2022, 2023 and 2024. 

There has been concern and controversy about the congressional lines in Suffolk (CD 1, 2 and 3) whose boundaries have significantly changed. Some elected legislators no longer live in their districts, and there has been “packing” (concentrating the opposing party’s voting power in one district to reduce their voting power in other districts) and “cracking” (diluting the voting power of the opposing party’s supporters across many districts). Cracking was most evident regarding the Town of Smithtown, which is divided among 3 congressional districts, and the community of Gordon Heights, which does not have the single representative that they advocated for at many public hearings in 2021. 

Although the next Suffolk County Legislature elections will not be held until 2023, redistricting for the SC Legislature is mired in controversy as well. Legislators of both parties did not nominate representatives to a county redistricting commission in 2021. The Democratic majority therefore drew maps and passed legislation to create the new districts. 

Lawsuits were filed and County Executive  Bellone vetoed the bill in early 2022. A new independent/bipartisan redistricting commission is expected to start work in April 2022. Remember that your current Suffolk County legislator will represent you until January 1, 2024. Once the Suffolk legislative maps are drawn and approved, voting in the primaries and general election for those seats will occur in 2023 (not this year). 

The bottom line for Suffolk County voters? Find your new congressional and state assembly and senate districts at https://newyork.redistrictingandyou.org. Voting in your new district takes effect with the 2022 primaries and general election. However your current representative in Congress and the state legislature will represent you until January 1, 2023.

As you can see, redistricting after the 2020 census has become controversial, complex, and changing. Today’s “rules” may be overruled by court decisions. Dates may change. Districts may be redrawn. Or nothing will change until 2030!

Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county or call 631-862-6860.

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Judge rejects New York’s redistricting plan, orders new maps

By Michelle L. Price | AP

Thursday March 31, 2022

NEW YORK — A judge has ordered New York’s Democrat-controlled Legislature to quickly redraw the state’s congressional and legislative districts after finding they were unconstitutional.

Judge Patrick McAllister said in a Thursday ruling that maps redrawing the state’s congressional districts were gerrymandered to benefit Democrats. McAllister said those districts must be redrawn, along with the legislative districts, in a way that attracted at least some bipartisan support.

McAllister, a state trial court judge, gave lawmakers until April 11 to try again. If their new maps fail to pass muster in the courts again, the judge said he would order the state to pay for a court-approved expert to redraw the maps.

Legislative leaders said they would appeal the ruling.

“This is one step in the process. We always knew this case would be decided by the appellate courts. We are appealing this decision and expect this decision will be stayed as the appeal process proceeds,” said Mike Murphy, spokesman for the Senate majority.

A message seeking comment from the governor’s office was not immediately returned.

The state’s primary elections are scheduled June 28 and candidates have already begun campaigning in the new districts.

The judge said that if the Legislature fails again and an outside expert is hired to draw the maps, the process would be expensive and lengthy and may leave the state without maps before Aug. 23, the last possible date that the state could push back its primary election.

Republicans had argued in a lawsuit that the maps were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Democrats and marginalize GOP voters.

Former GOP U.S. Rep. John Faso, a spokesperson for the Republicans who filed the lawsuit challenging the maps, said Democrats willingly violated a prohibition on partisan gerrymandering.

“This is a victory for the people of the state and it’s a victory for competitive and fair elections in New York State,” Faso said.

Legislative and congressional boundaries are being redrawn as part of the once-per-decade redistricting process kicked off by the 2020 Census.

The maps, drafted by lawmakers and approved by Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, ensured that Democrats made up a strong majority of registered voters in 22 of the 26 congressional districts the state will have for a decade.

Republicans currently hold eight of New York’s 27 seats in Congress.

In early March, McAllister said at a hearing that he didn’t think there was enough time to redraw the maps before the June primary. But the judge said he would issue a decision by April 4 about whether to uphold or strike down the maps.

The legal challenge in New York is among a series of disputes over redistricting playing out in states around the country.

METRO photo

By Nancy Marr

During the pandemic, when we were reminded that farmworkers were working hard to provide food for the rest of us, farmworkers in Suffolk were working for long hours with no break, on farms where they had no running water or toilets, could not take time off to care for their children or family members who had COVID, were often not eligible for overtime and were often undernourished. Although they could be considered “essential workers” they had few resources. The people who work on our farms have long been at the bottom of the food chain. 

The first legislation that was passed was President Franklin Roosevelt’s National Labor Relations Act in 1935. It gave laborers the right to strike for better conditions, but it did not cover agricultural workers or anyone in domestic service. 

Recently, there has been new legislation to increase their rights, but it is not always effective because it may not be enforced. Also, many workers do not know what their rights are or fear that they will lose their jobs if they protest. 

In California, because of the efforts by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta and the United Farm Workers, formed in 1971, the state passed the landmark Agricultural Labor Relations Act in 1975, giving farmworkers in California the right to unionize and negotiate for better wages and working conditions. 

In 2019, New York State passed the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act, even though it was opposed by the New York State Farm Bureau. The bill sponsor, Senator Jessica Ramos, said, “The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act has lingered in this body for twenty years, with seven sponsors on both sides of the aide. I have traveled to seven counties in New York, visited fourteen farms, talked to countless farmworkers, and held three hearings on this bill. There are 80-100,000 farmworkers that are the backbone of New York’s multi-billion-dollar agricultural industry.”  

The bill gave farmworkers the right to organize, and the right to bargain collectively but it did not give them the right to strike. The law also required farmers to provide Disability and Workers Compensation coverage, paid family leave, a day off each week, and overtime pay after sixty hours. (The current New York State budget may include help to farmers to pay the overtime pay.) The effectiveness of the law will depend on how much it is publicized.

This year, the first step toward unionization under the new law took place at the Pindar Vineyards in Peconic. The New York State Public Employment Relations Board officially certified Local 388, the union established by Pindar workers with the help of Angel Reyes Rivas, the Long Island Coordinator for the Rural and Migrant Ministry. Located in upstate New York, with an office in Riverhead, the Ministry is a statewide nonprofit organization that works with rural disenfranchised communities, helping them develop their own leadership. 

A group of workers on the East End has found a way through collective action to earn enough money to buy their own land. Last year, they formed the Long Island Farmworker Flower Cooperative with the help of organizers from the Rural and Migrant Ministry. Through the cooperative they support one another and can meet their economic and cultural needs through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise. 

By learning agricultural management, including sales, finance, and accounting, and pooling their resources, they can become producers, buying land and greenhouses for their own flower production. They hope to be independent and be an example for other immigrant communities. To support their efforts, visit the Amandla Long Island Worker Education Center, 573 Roanoke Avenue, Riverhead (631-381-0498) or contact RuralMigrantMinistry.com. For more information, read Mark A. Torres’ Long Island Migrant Labor Camps: Dust for Blood, published in 2021.

Nancy Marr is Vice-President of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631–862-6860.

METRO photo

By Lisa Scott

Bail is a part of our justice system that seeks to ensure that those who are charged with crimes appear in court to be held accountable. When someone is arrested and charged, the court will set an appearance date with a hearing or trial usually weeks or months away. Prior to bail reform, there were no standards and judges did whatever they wanted for any charge to assess the person’s potential to flee and not return to court. Sometimes quantitative tools that can measure “risk” were used, and those have been found to be plagued with bias. 

If the person cannot pay the bail amount, they remain incarcerated until their case is resolved, either through a settlement, a hearing, a trial, or dismissal. If they post bail, the money is not returned until the case is finalized – which can be months or in some cases, years later (less 9% processing fee).

There is an obvious but complex problem inherent in this system. People with good credit or access to funds can post their own bail and go home. People who have no money or credit are held in jail until trial. For those on the bottom of the totem pole, a simple arrest, guilty or not guilty, can destroy a life, or a family. If they had, for instance, a minimum wage job, their incarceration will almost certainly lead to losing it. What happens to the rest of the family? What happens to any stability they may have had in their lives? The collateral damage of an arrest and even a relatively small but unaffordable bail can bring down the house. Average court costs can be over $15,000. 

The question we ask ourselves is not whether the justice system should continue to use bail, but whether or not the bail system is used justly. In America, we are innocent until proven guilty, but the bail system can end up being incredibly punitive even before guilt is established in court. 

New York State’s 2020 Bail Reform Act provided some relief and created uniform standards. For most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies the law now required judges to release people with the least restrictive conditions necessary to reasonably assure the person will come back to court. Previously, the court could impose cash bail on any offense. The reform codified no cash bail and non-monetary bail conditions and provided for a third option of non-secured or partially secured surety bond (a loan due if the charged fails to appear). 

The Reform was amended in April 2020 to include more situations where judges can impose cash bail. They will also have more discretion in setting bail and other conditions of pretrial release. It did not abolish bail but greatly reduced the role of money and enhanced the rule of law in determining whether defendants will be freed or jailed pending trial. 

The new law, however, came under attack during the 2021 mid-term elections, especially from candidates campaigning on a “law and order” platform. Using a handful of instances of bail abuse, some tried to make generalizations about the new bail rules that data does not support. It is important to remember that bail (in its legal conception) was always about making sure people appear before the court, not punishing them before they’ve had their day in court. 

Results of bail reforms so far have been positive. Pre-covid data sets from state level bail reforms in New Jersey, New Mexico and Kentucky as well as reforms in 4 major cities and 5 counties have indicated decreases in pretrial jail population, decreased or unchanged ”new criminal activity” rates and no increase in recidivism. In New York City, data during covid shows that just under 4% of those released pre-trial under bail reform have been rearrested for violent felonies. 

This is a low percentage, yet this number is used to both support and criticize bail reform. As NYS Senator Julia Salazar of Brooklyn said, “It’s not really about facts. It’s about competing narratives about public safety” (City & State NY January 10, 2022). We must remember that bail reform saves lives and families and evens the playing field. The few cases of bail abuse are not enough to outweigh the benefits of these reforms. We support them every time we say the end the pledge of allegiance with “and Liberty and Justice for all.”

For more information: 

–January 18, 2022 article by Steven B. Wasserman in the New York Law Journal

–Brennan Center’s explanation of the NYS Bail Reform law at  https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/new-yorks-latest-bail-law-changes-explained

–True cost of incarceration at https://finesandfeesjusticecenter.org/articles/who-pays-true-cost-incarceration    

Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county or call 631-862-6860.

Pixabay photo

By Susan Wilson

Carbon emissions affect the planet significantly, causing global warming and ultimately climate change. This warming causes extreme weather events like tropical storms, wildfires, severe droughts, melting of the polar ice caps, heat waves, rising sea levels and the disturbance of animals’ natural habitat.

Greenhouse gases, including the carbon-containing gases carbon dioxide and methane, are emitted through the burning of fossil fuels, land clearance and the production and consumption of food, manufactured goods, materials, wood, roads, buildings, transportation and other services.

We all want a healthier planet, a place that will continue on for generations to come. You may wonder how you can make a difference in view of the enormity of the problem. The amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere because of our own individual energy needs is called our “carbon footprint.” It is our personal impact on the environment. 

Did you know that the U.N. has found that 2/3 of all greenhouse gases originate from decisions made on the household level? Our decisions can help to rapidly transform our economies and lifestyles off fossil fuels and on to clean and green. Learn how your actions matter in ways to cut emissions, address equity issues and protect and restore ecosystems.  

Change can become easier when individuals or small groups of people concentrate on their own personal change and share their ideas and accomplishments with others. Look at the success of the Carbon CREW project developed by Drawdown East End and supported by the League of Women Voters. The Carbon CREW Project brings together small teams of climate-friendly folks to plan, proclaim and live a 50% carbon reduction lifestyle! CREW represents both the team approach and is the acronym for Carbon Reduction for Earth Wellbeing. 

Using 2040: A Handbook for the Regeneration by Damon Gameau, based on Project Drawdown https://drawdown.org/, guides lead participants in creating Personal Carbon Action Plans and in replicating the CREW strategy for exponential growth, peer to peer accountability and overall 50% carbon reduction by 2030. When the CREW sessions are over, groups stay in touch to confirm progress and provide ongoing support.  

Despite our best intentions and our most persuasive approaches a person will not change just because we say they should. The only thing we can change is how we connect and relate to other people. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t offer help, guidance, or opinion when asked to. So, if you are finding changing other people difficult, shift your focus to changing you. You can do your part to reverse global warming.  

Start by finding out your personal impact on the environment by checking your Carbon Footprint on this website: https://www3.epa.gov/carbon-footprint-calculator/.  The calculator estimates your footprint in three areas: home energy, transportation and waste. Everyone’s carbon footprint is different depending on their location, habits, and personal choices.

Develop a Personal Carbon Action Plan which acknowledges all the good earth saving things you already do. Decide what changes you can make now. Set long term goals such as the purchase of a Hybrid or electric vehicle or solar panels.

Here are some things you can do immediately to lower your carbon footprint and change your impact on the environment.

1. Use cold water for laundry, make your own fabric softener, purchase detergent   sheets instead of products in bulky non-recyclable containers, air dry clothes whenever possible

2. Stop buying single use plastic products. 

3. Always use a re-usable bag when shopping.

4. Schedule your thermostat.

5. Become aware of how often you use your car — combine trips.  

6. Learn to compost or join a community composting group. 

7. Join a Carbon CREW in your area.  

8. Support and become active in environmental groups in your area.

9. Turn each new positive change into automatic good habits and share your success with everyone you know. 

Susan Wilson is president of the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, Shelter Island and the North Fork and representative to the board of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. Visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.