Tags Posts tagged with "Making Democracy Work"

Making Democracy Work

The Setauket Mill Pond is being considered for an upcoming alewife study. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Lisa Scott

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) mission is to “conserve, improve and protect New York’s natural resources and environment and to prevent, abate and control water, land and air pollution…” 

Within the newly created Nissequogue River State Park in Kings Park, the DEC Division of Marine Resources has a state-of-the-art headquarters and laboratory to pursue these goals and ensure the conservation of our local marine life and habitats. All are welcome to visit their public lobby equipped with aquariums of local species and learn more ways to get involved and help monitor and protect marine life locally.

Shellfish have been a resource for Indigenous inhabitants of Long Island for thousands of years for a myriad of uses. In spite of massive human development over the past 400 years, shellfish are still an important resource today. Monitoring threats to shellfish and working to restore their populations and habitat is an important part of DEC’s work.

DEC Marine Resources Shellfish Microbiology Laboratory operates the only FDA-evaluated laboratory in the State for processing water samples to certify approved shellfish harvest areas. The laboratory features advanced equipment for processing and analyzing plankton, shellfish, and water samples, ensuring that shellfish harvested legally from approved areas in New York’s marine waters are safe for consumers and supports the State’s commercially important shellfish industry.

Year-round, the DEC conducts water quality sampling of over one million acres of shellfish harvesting areas across Long Island and the lab analyzes approximately 13,000 water samples annually to monitor water quality trends. As a result of continuous testing, the DEC classifies shellfish harvest areas as open year-round, seasonally open, or closed year-round. Use the DEC’s Public Shellfish Mapper to learn about harvest area boundaries, seasonally open dates, and water quality sampling locations: https://on.ny.gov/shellfishmapper

Under the Long Island Shellfish Restoration Program (LISRP), the DEC in partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension, Stony Brook University, and the Town of Huntington completed the stocking of 13.6 million juvenile (seed) clams and (spat-on-shell) oysters and 650,000 adult clams in Huntington Harbor in October 2020 to improve water quality and enhance shellfish populations. The LISRP completed four additional stocking efforts at sanctuary sites in Bellport Bay, Hempstead Bay, Shinnecock Bay, and South Oyster Bay.

Monitoring of sanctuary sites is conducted by the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) at Stony Brook University to obtain biological and environmental information on shellfish growth, survival and spawning success, and to assess the effect on water quality, phytoplankton uptake and filtration and nitrogen cycling and removal. The results of the project will guide and support the success of future restoration efforts on Long Island.

Most Long Island tributaries once supported spring runs of returning alewife, a species of river herring native to Long Island. Like salmon, they split their life cycle between salt and freshwater. Alewife runs have been decimated by dams, habitat loss and declining water quality but remnant populations still exist in a few rivers and the public’s help is needed to learn more about their overall status across Long Island. 

Through the Long Island Volunteer Alewife Survey, volunteers help record observations of spawning alewife and documenting existing runs is an important step for restoration efforts. Monitoring efforts start mid-March and training workshops will be announced soon for Spring 2023. Suggested sites include: Frank Melville Memorial Park/Setauket Mill Pond in Setauket, Crab Meadow East Pond (Makamah Nature Preserve) in Fort Salonga, Stony Brook Grist Mill/Stony Brook Dam in Stony Brook, and Carlls River in Argyle Park, Babylon. Visit Seatuck’s website for workshop information and how to get involved: https://seatuck.org/volunteer-river-herring-survey/

The newly released Long Island Sound Marsh Migration Viewer is an online tool used to easily examine changes in marsh habitat along New York’s shores of the Long Island Sound watershed under various sea level rise scenarios over different time periods: http://warrenpinnacle.com/LIMaps.

New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC), Long Island Sound Study (LISS), and DEC will be hosting virtual public workshops for community stakeholders to learn more about the Viewer in early 2023. These workshops will demonstrate how to use the Viewer and will highlight an additional 47 marsh complexes that are added to the Viewer.

Whether you want to get outside to observe alewife in local rivers, sit at your desk to see changes to  local marsh habitats with rising sea levels, or learn about shellfish monitoring, you have these and many other resources and opportunities available from our local DEC Marine Resources Headquarters. Check out more ways to get involved from DEC’s website: https://www.dec.ny.gov/ or contact them at 631 444-0450 or [email protected] We all should be responsible, educated stewards of our beautiful island home. 

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.

United States Supreme Court. Pixabay photo

By Nancy Marr

In December of this year, the case Moore v. Harper is scheduled for argument before the Supreme Court of the United States. Its decision will resolve whether there is a doctrine of constitutional interpretation known as the “independent state legislature” which would give state legislatures unreviewable power to redraw congressional districts and appoint state electors who cast votes for president and vice-president. It would remove the power from state courts, including the state’s highest court, to invalidate gerrymandered congressional districts drawn by state legislatures. 

The history

On November 4, 2021, the North Carolina General Assembly adopted a new congressional voting map based on 2020 Census data. The legislature, at that time, was controlled by the Republican Party and the gerrymandering was so extreme that an evenly divided popular vote would have awarded ten seats to ten Republicans and only four to the Democrats. According to the Brennan Center, the map was a statistical outlier more favorable to Republicans than 99.9999% of all possible maps.

In 2019 in Rucho v. Common Cause,  the Supreme Court held that federal courts lack jurisdiction to resolve claims of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering because there is no prohibition of partisan districting in the U. S. Constitution. 

Subsequently, in the case Harper v. Hall (2022), a group of voters and nonprofit organizations affiliated with the Democratic Party challenged the North Carolina map in state court, alleging that the new map was a partisan gerrymander and violated the state constitution. 

In February 2022, the North Carolina Supreme Court agreed with voters and struck down the map, describing it as an “egregious and intentional partisan gerrymander designed to enhance Republican performance, and thereby gave a greater voice to those voters than to any others.”

The unrepentant legislature then proposed a second gerrymandered map, prompting a state court to  order a special master to create a fair map for the 2022 congressional elections. Unwilling to accept this outcome, two Republican legislators asked the U. S. Supreme Court to step in and reinstate their gerrymandered map.

In March, the Supreme Court rejected the legislature’s emergency appeal to put the gerrymander back in place. At the urging of four of the justices, the legislators filed a regular appeal, asking the court to review the case. In June, the Court agreed to do so. 

The issue 

In urging the Supreme Court to reinstate the gerrymandered congressional map, the North Carolina legislators were relying on a reading of the U.S. Constitution’s Election Clause known as the independent state legislature theory (ISL). The Election Clause (ARTICLE 1, SECTION 4) reads: The times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations…

Section 5 reads: Each House shall be the judge of the elections, terms and qualifications of its own members.

Proponents of the ISL theory reason that the Elections Clause gives state legislators exclusive authority to regulate all elections. This allows them to violate the state constitution (which disallows partisan gerrymandering) when drawing congressional maps and that neither the state nor federal courts have the power to stop them. Proponents of the theory also believe it gives the state legislature control over the electors who will certify the election, as advocated by deniers of the 2020 election results.  

Opponents of the ISL theory argue that the term “legislature” does not mean solely “the legislature.” The standard interpretation of “legislature,” by groups like the bipartisan Conference of Chief Justices, means the state’s general lawmaking process, including all the normal procedures and limits. The Cato Institute, a right-leaning think-tank founded and funded by the Koch Brothers, published analyses that concluded that the ISL theory relies on a “long rejected” interpretation of the Constitution that would disrupt “settled law.”

What is next?

The Supreme Court could decide Moore without having to address the ISL theory. The immediate issue in Moore is whether the voters across the country will have judicial remedy in state court to fight partisan gerrymandering. A majority of Americans want fair maps, with representatives determined by voters, not self-interested politicians seeking personal gain. Every state should use maps that guarantee that every vote counts equally and every voice is heard. 

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

If you’re a news consumer you’ve heard a lot about how important these midterm elections are. Voter turnout is usually greatest in a presidential election year (66.8% in 2020 59.2% in 2016) but falls off at midterms (49% in 2018 and 36% in 2014). It shouldn’t, since the entire House of Representatives and 1/3 of the Senate is on the ballot along with many state governors and state legislatures. 

Also this is the first election after many states reapportioned their districts, which has been contentious due to extreme gerrymandering (resulting in court cases, re-drawn lines, and in New York State  a huge amount of confusion for voters who don’t know which congressional and state districts they now reside in). Whether you’re an occasional voter or a consistent one, what matters is that YOU VOTE. Be prepared: study the ballot and make a plan. Keep in mind the following:

• If you didn’t register to vote by Oct. 14, you cannot vote in this election.

• If you didn’t request an absentee ballot by Oct. 24, the only way you can get one now is to physically appear at the Board of Elections on or before Nov. 7 (and fill it in while you are there).

• If you’ve requested an absentee ballot, you can track it online at https://voterlookup.elections.ny.gov/ 

• Early voting is currently underway (from Oct. 29 through Nov. 6). You can vote early at any of the 27 early voting sites in Suffolk County. Hours do vary, so check before you go at https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county.

The Suffolk County Board of Elections is still down as a result of the county’s IT department restoring systems after September’s hacking incident, but their phones are staffed. However you must vote at your assigned polling place on election day Nov. 8 — find it at https://voterlookup.elections.ny.gov/ 

Suffolk County Board of Elections trained poll workers staff the voting sites. Each position has a 2 workers — one a Republican and one a Democrat. An individual cannot unilaterally make a decision without the approval of the other party’s worker which provides balanced oversight. If you have any issue at the polls you can call the Election Protection hotline at (866) 390-2992, or the Suffolk County Board of Elections at 631-852-4500.

To find out what races and candidates are on YOUR ballot, visit the League of Women Voters’ www.Vote411.org. If you’re not familiar with the candidates you can refer to their answers to questions (which are unedited). 

When you’re at the polls, “flip” your ballot to see what propositions you are being asked to vote on. All NYS voters can vote yes or no on the “Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act of 2022”  proposition. (Bonds would be issued to provide moneys to make environmental improvements; these are not taxes.) The League of Women Voters supports this proposition. 

There is also a Suffolk County proposition on all ballots which updates the language in the County Charter with regard to terms limits for County Executive, County Legislator and County Comptroller. Because of vague language in the original Charter Law, voting yes to this proposition would make the language clearer; that the limit of years of service for those offices is 12 years, regardless of whether 12 years are served consecutively on non-consecutively. Voting no does NOT eliminate term limits for these offices. A no vote simply means that the original Charter Law language remains unchanged.

We live in challenging times and apathy on election day is not an option for any of us. And after you’ve voted, remain engaged: stay informed and active and communicate with your elected officials.

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. 

Photo by Gerard Romano

By Nancy Marr

The $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Job Bond Act proposition on our ballot in 2022 will allow our state to undertake vital and urgent environmental improvement projects via issuing bonds; not a tax increase.

Long Island’s waterways are impaired by failing sewage and septic systems, and algae and nitrogen pollution impacts our sole-source aquifer system which provides drinking water to three million state residents. We need to find a way to conserve open space to benefit wildlife habitats, food production, and outdoor recreation. Many marginalized communities are harmed by pollution and have no access to open space, clean air and water.

There have been eleven environmental bond acts passed since the early 20th century. The conservation movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a response to vast deforestation, natural resource depletion and industrialization. The “forever wild” clause was added to the New York State Constitution in 1894 to enshrine the protection of lands in the Adirondacks and Catskills. 

In 1910 voters passed a bond act for $2.5 million, in 1916, for $10 million, and in 1924, for $15 million, all for the purposes of land acquisition and the establishment of parks. The 1965 Bond Act funded infrastructure to limit the flow of wastewater from untreated sewage overflows. In the 1970’s and 80’s, attention was galvanized by the problems with Love Canal, near Niagara Falls, the site of thousands of tons of toxic waste from the Hooker Chemical Company, which led policymakers in the US to establish hazardous waste regulatory systems.  The majority of the funding from the Environmental Quality Bond Act of 1986 went to manage hazardous waste in sites under the State Superfund program which had been established in 1979. The Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act of 1996 allocated the bulk of its $1.75 billion to safe drinking water and treatment of solid waste. 

The infrastructure in New York City, which supplied water to approximately 40 percent of NYS’s population, had already exceeded its life span by 2008 when the NYS Department of Health estimated that $38.7 billion would be needed over the next twenty years for drinking water infrastructure. The Legislature responded with an initial allocation in 2017 of $2.5 billion. In 2019 it passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which established clear statewide goals for emissions reduction and clear energy. 

Governor Hochul’s budget released the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Act of 2022. The final version, $4.2 billion, makes climate change its largest category of funding and designates that a portion of the total funding must be allocated to disadvantaged communities that bear a disproportionate share of negative environmental consequences. The 2022 Bond Act includes:

Climate Change Mitigation (includes money for electrifying school buses) — $1.5 billion: Will fund projects that expand clean energy infrastructure, increase energy efficiency, reduce green gas emissions, and protect air and water quality to help fight and mitigate climate change. 

Restoration and Flood Risk Reduction — $1.1 billion: Damage caused by severe storms and flooding is projected to cost over $50 billion statewide. Funding would provide investments in NY’s natural and manufactured coastal resilience systems such as shoreline protection, wetland restoration, local waterfront revitalization, green infrastructure, and voluntary buyout programs.

Open Space Land Conservation and Recreation — $ 650 million: The Bond Act funding will expand open space conservation programs, promote outdoor recreation, protect natural resources, improve biodiversity, benefit threatened and endangered species and help farmers who are facing the challenges of climate change. Funding will invest in restoring and maintaining native fish populations and increasing public access to our waterways to support LI’s maritime culture. 

Water Quality Improvement and Resilient Infrastructure — $650 million: A long-term solution is needed to fund our backlog of water quality and infrastructure needs which continue to outpace available funding; the Bond Act will help fill the gaps in funding by investing at least $659 million in protecting water quality, spending 35% of the total in disadvantaged communities.

On Election Day 2022, remember to turn over your ballot and vote for the Environmental Bond Act proposition! 

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.

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.