Tags Posts tagged with "Making Democracy Work"

Making Democracy Work

By Nancy Marr

An Equal Rights Amendment for the United States was first drafted in 1923 by two leaders of the women’s suffrage movement, Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman, who believed that the ERA was the next logical step following the campaign to win access to the ballot. 

While the text of the amendment has changed over the years, its focus has remained the same. Article V of the U.S. Constitution requires that a proposed amendment be passed by the Senate and the House in a two-thirds majority in two consecutive legislative sessions in order to be sent to the states for ratification by their legislatures or conventions. 

The version approved by Congress in 1972 and sent to the states with a deadline of 1979 reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.” Although the deadline was extended to 1982, only 37 of the required 38 states ratified the amendment. 

Opposition to it came from conservative Phyllis Schlafly, saying it would require women to serve in the military or lose protections for alimony or child custody cases. The result? Five states voted to revoke their ratifications, but these reversals were not counted as part of the result, and the count of ratifications remained at 37. The amendment was not passed.

In the absence of a national equal rights law, the constitutions of twenty-five states now do provide guarantees of equal rights on the basis of sex. The New York State Legislature, in 2022 and 2023, passed an ERA bill that has looked further. Currently, our state constitution only protects against racial and religious discrimination. 

The proposed bill would protect all those who have been discriminated against based on ethnicity, national origin, disability, age, and sex, including sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, and a person’s reproductive autonomy or access to reproductive care. The new ERA bill explicitly includes language to clarify that discrimination based on a person’s pregnancy or pregnancy outcomes would be sex discrimination, protecting women from punishment. It will also ensure comprehensive and inclusive equal protection that will guard against attacks on our rights from the federal government or federal judges, including threats to the legal equality of LGBTQ1+ people.  

Do we need protection if the Fourteenth Amendment already guarantees equal protection of the laws? The Fourteenth Amendment, passed in 1868, added the word “male” to the Constitution but failed to include women in the right to vote. The proposed New York State ERA is not “a women’s equality amendment” but seeks to protect women as a class and men as a class against discrimination under the law for any reason. 

The Brennan Center has commented that the amendment process is an ineffective way to correct shortcomings in our United States Constitution. Given the difficulties and delays that have been faced by those who have fought for amendments, is our Constitution unamendable?  

Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-MD) is the leading constitutional scholar serving in Congress today. Reflecting on the progressive activism that “built the modern Constitution,” Raskin urges reform-minded Americans to shed their fear of advancing reform through Article V. “It’s a betrayal of our history if we don’t talk about amending the Constitution in order to create a more perfect union,” he says. “We need to be planting flags in the unfolding history of democracy. That’s what the constitutional amendment process is all about.”

Voting to amend the New York State Constitution with the New York State ERA will provide protection for New Yorkers who have faced discrimination through the years. Make a plan to turn your 2024 ballot over and vote yes on the proposed amendment.  

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. Visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

Caroline Parker Mountpleasant, a Haudenosaunee woman from the Seneca people, in traditional dress circa 1850. Courtesy of the Rochester Museum & Science Center

By Lisa Scott

November for most of us is a time to celebrate our democracy by voting. And later that month we conjure Pilgrims and Indians celebrating harvest plentitude in peace, as we similarly gather with friends and family to feast and give thanks. But today when vocal individuals and groups are arguing that history and culture are controversial subjects, it’s important to remind us all that there is much more about Native Americans that we can learn from and that should be shared. 

American Indian Day was first celebrated in New York 107 years ago — after Red Fox James (a member of the Blackfoot Nation) rode across our country seeking approval from 24 state governments to have a day to honor  American Indians. But it wasn’t until 1990 that Pres. George H.W. Bush signed a joint congressional resolution designating November “National American Indian Heritage Month.”

The U.S. Census Bureau conducted population surveys which were released as part of their 2020 census:  the U.S. American Indian and Alaska Native population (9.7 million in 2020) is one of the six major race categories defined by the US Office of Management and Budget. There were 1.5 million people who identified as Cherokee. That group has a tragic history, since they and the other “Five Civilized Tribes” of what’s referred to now as the American Deep South were subject to Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830 leading to the “Trail of Tears.”

This was an effort to forcibly relocate tribes/sovereign nations to Oklahoma and for the federal and state governments to dissolve their tribal boundaries and annex their lands. In today’s world, it can be termed “ethnic cleansing” and it anticipated the U.S. Indian reservation system. And the fighting over Indian lands was not only a 19th century blot on our history. 

Killers of the Flower Moon (book by David Grann, as well as the recent film) recounts the true story of how a white businessman and self-proclaimed “true friend” of the Osage Nation orchestrated the brutal murders of numerous members of the tribe in early 1920s Oklahoma after big oil deposits were discovered beneath their land. 

The ”Trail of Tears” tragedy and the legacy of government disregard (in spite of court decisions supporting tribal land sovereignty and finding against federal and state land seizures) continues to the current day. For example, the Shinnecock Nation continue their efforts to regain control over their ancestral land. The Shinnecock Indian Nation is one of the oldest self-governing tribes in the State of New York and was formally recognized by the United States federal government as the 565th federally recognized tribe on October 1, 2010. 

But Governor Hochul recently vetoed the Montaukett tribe’s state-recognition bill, which had passed the NYS legislature unanimously early in 2023, citing a 1910 judicial decision which claimed that the Montaukett community no longer functioned as a governmental unit in the state. Historian John Strong called those 1910 rulings “racist.” In 1998, a Newsday investigation unearthed documents that appear to be “deceit, likes and possible forgery” in deals that wrested tribal lands from the Montauketts and the Shinnecock Indian Nation. 

Women’s Suffrage leaders in upstate New York in the mid-19th century were strongly influenced by the Native Americans — specifically the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy) whose tribal government  was organized to maintain a balance of equality between men and women. There was a wide range of information in local newspapers like the Syracuse Standard, creating a sophisticated understanding of Haudenosaunee culture and tribal government. Also there was a great deal of personal interaction; friendship and visiting were commonplace activities. 

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage, as major theoreticians of the woman’s rights movement, claimed that the society in which they lived was based on the oppression of women. However, their neighbors, Haudenosaunee society, was organized to maintain a balance of equality between women and men; women had decisive political power, control of their bodies, control of their own property. custody of the children they bore, the power to initiate divorce, satisfying work, and a society generally free of rape and domestic violence. Women chose their chief, held key political offices, and decision making was by consensus. Thus those early feminists believed women’s liberation was possible because they knew liberated women who possessed rights beyond their wildest imagination — Haudenosaunee women.

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.

County Executive Steve Bellone during a press conference in Hauppauge. Photo from Suffolk County

By Nancy Marr

Following the death of George Floyd, Governor Andrew Cuomo in June of 2020 issued Directive 203, requiring all NYS counties to write a plan to reform the policies of their police departments by April 21, 2021.

In September 2020,  Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced the formation of a task force, saying “The development of the comprehensive policing plan…will help us build on the progress we have made and implement strategies that will improve policing.” 

In addition to ten task force meetings, ten listening sessions were held throughout the county, in 2020 and 296 community members offered community input. In March 2021 the plan was approved by the Legislature. In December 2021, the Legislature codified the plan to give the Human Rights Commission the responsibility for providing citizen review; and it was submitted to the Governor on April 1. The reform and reinvention plan focuses on the following:

Training and Continuing Education — enhanced accountability through the use of body cameras, training in de-escalation, implicit bias,  the duty to intervene, and integrating community-based organizations into academic training for all police. 

Mental Health Response — the plan calls for overhauling the police department’s mental health response, and collaborating with mental health partners. A 911 operator answering a call will speak to the caller to “assess the nature of the service needed.” If there is no emergency or safety concern, the call will be transferred to a behavioral health center. If the operator concludes that there is a risk to the safety of persons, a contact will be made to a Mobile Crisis Team and the SCPD.

Police Accountability and Citizen Review of SCPD — A key provision of the Suffolk reform plan is civilian oversight of the SCPD through the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission’s Administration of Justice Committee (AOJ). In January 2022, during the pandemic, the Human Rights Commission began the long task of implementing the citizen review panel, exploring and selecting a platform for the submission portal and hiring new staff. After training the investigators and commissioners for their new roles, it went live in March 2023. 

Prior to the reform, residents making complaints would contact the Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) of the Police Department which was responsible for investigating and responding to the complaints. A complaint may now also be filed with the Human Rights Commission through its online portal by phone or on line. 

The HRC Executive Director and investigators are provided with an IAB case file number, and HRC investigators  review police misconduct investigations in tandem with IAB by means of access to a shared date portal, Axon Evidence. The HRC investigators review cases on a daily basis, and the HRC Executive Director provides a general update on the complaints at monthly meetings.

Prior to a final determination of the complaint, IAB will share its recommendation  with the HRC investigators. If the IAB and HRC cannot agree on the final disposition, HRC can notify the Deputy Police Commissioner and/or the County Executive Police Accountability Liaison, who facilitates conversations between members of the Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD), SCPD Internal Affairs Bureau, and Human Rights Commission to resolve discrepancies in decisions. 

It remains to be seen how a serious disagreement would be solved. Once the disposition is finalized, the Human Rights investigator and/or the police department shares with the complainant the final determination and actions to be taken. Complainants will be able to call Suffolk 311 to be connected directly to the unit.

Information is being compiled by the HRC Committee regarding the public’s experiences with the SCPD and the investigation process in order to monitor how much progress has been made to foster a positive relationship between the SCPD and the public. It is important that all Suffolk County residents know how complaints are made. Go to the HRC portal, https://suffolkcountyny.siviltech.com/, for a complaint form and a breakdown of the complaints made in 2023.

We will be looking for a report from the Commission about whether the process has been effective and recommend that our new County Executive will select a new police commissioner who will continue to implement the reforms. 

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. Visit  www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

METRO photo

By Lisa Scott

The League of Women Voters is nonpartisan; we don’t support or oppose candidates or parties. We have a strong commitment to encourage the informed and active participation of citizens in government. We run debates, seek community input on issues, and via the phone and email, serve voters who are looking for information. LWVUS and state and local Leagues run the national Vote411.org voting information website (which encourages candidates to answer questions on issues of importance to their constituents).

Throughout Suffolk County, voters are electing a new County Executive (the incumbent has served three 4-year terms, thus 12 years, which is the term permitted), as well as electing the 18 County Legislators (they serve 2-year terms, also limited to 12  years)

In Suffolk’s 10 Townships, there are a variety of offices on the ballot in 2023 such as Supervisor, Council Members, Receiver of Taxes, Town Clerk, Superintendent of Highways, Assessors and Town Justices and District Court Judges. Each Town has their own rules about term length and (if any) term limits. Village, library and school elections are managed separately —  they do not appear on the General Election ballot.

Candidates represent different points of view on many issues. On a county level, voters should consider water quality, which has significantly deteriorated in recent years. Voters have not been given the opportunity to vote on a ballot referendum involving a proposed .0825% sales tax increase and making state and federal funding available for sewers and septic systems. It was recessed (not moved forward) in August by the majority party of the Suffolk County Legislature. (Stay tuned — there may be a special election for the referendum in 2024. Because it would be a single issue ballot, it would incur significant cost, and voter turnout is generally very poor when only one issue or office is on a ballot). 

Other critical county issues include public safety, opioid and mental health crises, waste disposal, affordable senior and workforce housing, and campaign finance. The last refers to campaign contributions from public service unions or contractors, and elected officials voting on contracts for organizations from which they receive campaign contributions. Each Town also has its own hyperlocal issues as well — check your local media for debates and articles to become familiar with your local concerns, races and candidates.

All Suffolk voters should be sure to turn over the ballot to vote on two New York State proposals for NYS Constitution updates. The wording on the ballot, and an explanation for each is below.

PROPOSAL NUMBER 1: Removal of Small City School Districts From Special Constitutional Debt Limitation

Description of Proposal: The State Constitution limits how much debt a small city (a city with less than 125,000 people) school district, can incur. State law says their debt cannot be greater than five percent of the value of taxable real property; all other school districts’ debt cannot be greater than ten percent. If this Constitutional Amendment passes, small city school districts would be eligible to have the same debt limit as other school districts as determined by state law.

Question as it will appear on the Ballot: The proposed amendment to Article 8, section 4 of the Constitution removes the special constitutional debt limitation now placed on small city school districts, so they will be treated the same as all other school districts. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?

PROPOSAL NUMBER 2: Extending Sewage Project Debt Exclusion From Debt Limit

Description of Proposal: The State Constitution limits the debt counties, cities, towns, and villages can incur. This debt limit has an exception to not include debt for sewage treatment and disposal construction projects. The current sewer debt exception expires on January 1, 2024. This amendment extends the sewer debt exception for ten more years until January 1, 2034.

Question as it will appear on the Ballot: The proposed amendment to Article 8, section 5 of the Constitution extends for ten years the authority of counties, cities, towns, and villages to remove from their constitutional debt limits debt for the construction of sewage facilities. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?

Vote by Absentee ballot, Early Voting Oct. 28 to Nov. 5, or on Election Day Nov. 7. To register (by Oct. 28), check your registration, apply for an absentee ballot, or find your polling place, visit https://www.elections.ny.gov/. To find out who and what is on your ballot, visit Vote411.org 4 weeks before Election Day.

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.

Stock photo

By Nancy Marr

Voting is a fundamental act of civic participation. It is one important way that young people can engage in civic life.  It is also a powerful way that young people can make their voices heard and have an impact on issues that affect them. Historically young people have voted at lower rates than older adults, but that is beginning to change. To understand the changes, we studied a survey of students from five Suffolk school districts. The sample of students who returned the survey gives us some idea also of what strategies might work to increase their engagement.

Of the 242 surveys returned, 36.4% reported that they had already registered. Of these, the largest percentage, 51.5% had registered in school and 25.7% had registered at the DMV. Moreover, of those not already registered, 64% reported that they plan to register by the time they are 18 and know how and where to register.

When asked whether they have a plan for voting, 79.3% reported that they are most likely to cast their vote on Election Day at their polling place, probably continuing a practice they learned from their family, 8.7% expect to use an absentee ballot and 23% plan to vote during early voting.

Concerns with national issues were interesting; the survey form asked them to choose five, and offered 17 possibilities. Most students chose the economy, followed by gun control Next came inflation, environment, racial inequality and abortion. The other choices offered (each selected by smaller numbers of students) were economic inequality, jobs, foreign policy, health and COVID, mental health, immigration, women’s right to choose, education, democracy at risk, and health insurance.

Of the 237 students who answered the question of whether they have registered or would register for a political party, 38.4% said yes, 21.9% said no, and 39.7% were unsure.  Asked if they considered themselves to be politically engaged or politically active, 26.4% said they did. Only 15.8% had attended a political rally or demonstration.

The 242 students (as self-described) were a diverse group.

Age — 53% 17 years old, 25% 18, 15% 20, 6.1% 19

Race — 32% Hispanic, 26% white/Caucasian, 19% mixed race, 8% African American, 7% Asian, 2% Native American

Language — 65% English, 25% Spanish, 6% other

Gender — 52% Female, 46% Male, 1.5% Non-binary, 0.5% Queer

Many youth are concerned about the low turnout. Ruby Belle Booth, a member of the Circle Program (Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement) at Tufts College, hosted a podcast called Why Gen-Z Activism Isn’t Reflected in Voter Turnout produced by radio station KALW, in California. “Although 23% of youth are voting at higher levels than in the past, they are voting at a lower percentage than that of older groups,” said Booth, adding “that means that over 75% did not vote. Are they politically disengaged, overwhelmed by the voting process, lazy?”

She found that in states like California, which has made voting convenient, the turnout is higher. Policies like automatic voting or same day registration, online voter registration and vote by mail all help young people vote. Efforts by schools to register and preregister students provide information to help voters find their way.

In addition to logistics, a huge barrier is lack of confidence. Research has shown that over half of young people ages 18 to 29 do not feel they are qualified to make decisions about candidates, especially when they don’t trust the system, feel the candidates are not qualified, or believe that the parties are not addressing their concerns, particularly in local elections.

The Circle Program research recommends that we make the process of voting an integral part of the educational curriculum for students from K-12 through college. By creating civic engagement opportunities for young people in school, in local youth advisory councils, we can help  Gen-Z turn into a generation of future voters.

Before Election Day this year, let first time voters know they can register through October 28, and find out about their races and candidates from the League of Women Voters’ Vote411.org and other organizations (Voter Hub, run by Gen-Z for Change on Tik Tok and VoteNow). 

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. Visit  www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

Pixabay photo

By Lisa Scott

Election Day 2023 is Tuesday, November 7 — In about 10 weeks. You won’t see the president, senators, congress, or governor on your ballot so you may decide to “skip this one.” And we’re already surrounded by incessant media reports anticipating the 2024 presidential election. 

However, ignoring the candidates and issues in 2023 local elections would be a big mistake. These elections matter — they affect your daily lives. And learning about local candidates is much harder than in federal races. We’ve all stood in a voting booth with no idea whom to choose for some local races (and may have even left some parts of the ballot blank).

The Harvard Political Review reports that a Johns Hopkins University study in 2018 demonstrated that many Americans lack civic knowledge as it pertains to jurisdictional issues;  about 25% of study participants did not know whether federal or state governments were in charge of law enforcement and about 30% delete not knowing which government creates and enforces zoning laws.

Local elections have real consequences. There is no level of government that is more directly responsible for serving your community than your local elected officials. Whether it is the guarantee of having healthy drinking water or the benefits of maintained streets, infrastructure is a concern that should remain on the forefront of voters’ minds as they consider the candidates of a local election.

In Suffolk County this year, you’ll be able to vote for a new County Executive (CE); there are term limits for CE as well as all 18 Suffolk County Legislature members (who are also on your ballot in 2023). Many of Suffolk’s 10 Towns have Supervisor races, and also Town Board/Council seats and other local offices and some judges. 

Debates and interviews in the next 10 weeks should bring out important issues and allow voters to hear  candidates’ positions. One example of a critical issue is water quality, which has significantly deteriorated in recent years. 

According to Dr. Christopher J. Gobler of Stony Brook University, “Presently, more than 360,000 homes are discharging wastewater into our aquifer, and this practice has exacted a serious toll on our waters. For example, the level of nitrate in our aquifer has steadily risen to 3.8 milligrams per liter, a concentration that has been shown to be epidemiologically associated with a greater risk of gastrointestinal cancers and birth defects.”

“This level of nitrate is also 100 times greater than the amount in surface waters, and more than two decades of research has demonstrated that the discharge of this pollution has had cascading negative effects — stimulating the occurrence of harmful algae blooms that have destroyed our most prized shellfisheries, shading out seagrasses that are critical habitats for fish, and promoting fish kills.”

Our NYS Legislature (not up for election in 2023) had passed a bill as part of the state budget that would empower the voters of Suffolk County to decide whether an increase of 1/8 cent in the county sales tax should be dedicated to protecting water resources by installing sewers and clean water septic systems, while attracting and matching state and federal infrastructure funding — via a referendum on the November 2023 ballot. 

However the county legislation (IR1573) needed to place this referendum on the ballot was not moved forward on a timely basis by a majority of the Suffolk County Legislature before the required deadline for referendums and thus the future of the matching state and federal funds in unclear. The proposed Suffolk County Water Quality Restoration Act, if the proposition had been allowed to appear on the 2023 ballot, would have provided a dedicated and recurring countywide funding source to transform this plan into action. In a democracy, Suffolk voters would have been able to exercise their voice and approve or defeat this plan directly. 

So vote in our 2023 elections — by absentee ballot, early voting from Oct. 28 to Nov. 5, or on Election Day, Nov. 7. To register, check your registration, apply for an absentee ballot, find your polling place, and learn your district numbers visit https://www.elections.ny.gov/. To find out what’s on your ballot, visit Vote411.org 4 weeks before Election Day. 

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. 

METRO photo

By Nancy Marr

Our local governments have long supported child care programs, but the high cost of child care and the low incomes of many of the parents who rely on it have made it unsustainable. There is a growing plea for a universal child care system, where every child has access to high quality care.

Ideas about child care have changed dramatically through the years. For many years, women were expected to stay at home and care for their children. By the nineteenth century, many women found they had to work outside their homes to support their families. In 1935, Jane Addams at Hull House, seeing the pressure on widows and other low-income mothers to find outside work, advocated for widows’ and mothers’ pensions to make it possible for single mothers to care for their children at home, but many mothers still had to look for work.

President John F. Kennedy, speaking  to the Intercity Child Care Conference in 1963, said he believed that “we must take further steps to encourage day care programs that will protect our children and provide them with a basis for a full life in later years. Day care programs can not only help women who decide to work outside the home but also serve as a developmental boon to children and help advance social and racial integration.”

Because of its current structure, the American child care system has been divided along class lines, making it difficult for parents to unite and lobby for improved services for all children. The New York State Conference on Child Care Availability, in its report in 2021, described its goal of a universal child care system fully funded to provide care and learning skills for all children. Kathy Hochul, when she was Lieutenant Governor, said to the Conference, “The conversation on child care is changing. No longer is it seen as a woman’s responsibility. It is an essential service for families and their employers.”

Today there is recognition that affordable and high-quality child care is not only vital for working families, it is also essential to the state’s economy; it needs sustained investment to make it a public good that serves all families.

Providing child care is expensive: the average cost of care in Suffolk is $13,000-$18,000 per year depending on the age of the child, with infant and toddler care being the most expensive. Government subsidies for low-income families are insufficient. Fewer than 10% of eligible parents are currently receiving subsidies in New York State. Staff salaries, typically $15/hour in Suffolk, are inadequate for workforce retention, causing high turnover and difficulty filling positions with qualified candidates.  

According to Mary Cain, Executive Director for Stony Brook Child Care Services, Inc., “Hiring qualified early childhood teaching staff has always been very challenging especially after the pandemic. Now although New York State is investing in and supporting families in need of child care, SBCC has had to reduce enrollment, creating a longer wait time for families needing to enroll their children. In addition, we have had to reduce our operating hours, which also limits families’ access to much needed child care.

Jennifer Rojas, Executive Director of the Child Care Council of Suffolk, stated: “Child care is so important for working families, yet the child care system is in a crisis, making it harder to recruit and retain staff. Without a significant change in how we as a state and county support the child care system, it will continue to get harder for Suffolk County families to find appropriate child care. We need sustainable and meaningful investments that will make child care affordable for all families and ensure that the child care workforce is appropriately compensated and supported.” 

Read more in the New York State Special Task Force report “Supporting Families, Employers & New York’s Future: An Action Plan for a Strong and Equitable Child Care System” at https://ocfs.ny.gov/reports/childcare/Child-Care-Availability-Task-Force-Report.pdf  

Contact your NYS Senator and Assemblyman to thank them for their support for funding but let them know that more is needed to restore full staffing and deliver quality care.  

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.

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By Lisa Scott

Tucked away on the Ammerman Campus of Suffolk County Community College is a remarkable entity most residents are unaware of: The Center for Social Justice and Human Understanding, home of New York metropolitan region’s largest collection of Holocaust artifacts.

In a three-room museum, over one hundred original objects are displayed and viewed by hundreds of students every year since its inception in 2003. The collection of photographs, documents, uniforms, and historic newspapers tell the story of the Holocaust, beginning with Hitler’s rise to power and ending with the horrific images captured by liberators at the end of the war. The collection is both impressive and moving. The Center also maintains two smaller collections of artifacts- one dedicated to documenting the transatlantic slave trade and another dedicated to the life and legacy of Jackie Robinson. 

In support of their mission to educate the community on historical events, and to promote cultural understanding and respect for human dignity, the Center hosts academic programs for students at the College and the public. In the last academic year, programs were dedicated to a wide range of topics; one focused on human rights abuses exposed during the World Cup, another on the story of an enslaved woman on Long Island during the American Revolution. Ultimately, all of the work is anchored in the lessons of the Holocaust and the need to acknowledge all lives as valuable. 

This approach is also taken in the support the Center provides students at the College. Center staff is integral in the work of several task forces focused on the needs of students from marginalized communities. These include LGBTQ+, undocumented, and those facing basic needs insecurities. The Center serves as a landing place for these students often connecting them with the resources and assistance they need. 

The latest endeavor of the Center is By Design: The History of Oppression on Long Island, a documentary series focused on the untold stories of the region’s past and how they impact residents today. Episodes highlight stories such as the influence of the KKK in the development of Suffolk County’s landscape, the Nazi camp in Yaphank during the 1930s, and the existence of migrant labor camps on the East End among many others. The project is a collaboration of the Center and the Radio and Television Production Program at the College. Suffolk County Community College students help produce each of the episodes which are being shared with college faculty and the broader community in order to stimulate dialogue and create meaningful change in our communities. 

The Center aims to achieve those same goals with high school students. Annually, the Center hosts Unity Day, a gathering of several hundred students who come together for a day focused on empowerment and leadership. Students hear a keynote speaker, work together in breakout sessions, and meet with community organizations who can offer them valuable resources. This October, Unity Day will feature Kane Smego, an international spoken word poet and artist, who will energize and inspire students from schools across the island. In addition to Unity Day, middle school and high school students visit the center for field trips that include a presentation from a Holocaust survivor, guided tour of the collection, and workshops. 

The work of the Center is timely and necessary. In a world where division and extremism are growing exponentially, there is a need for organizations like this to foster greater inclusivity among residents of Suffolk County. We encourage seniors, parents, students and elected officials to visit the Center at the Huntington Library, Suffolk County Community College, 533 College Road, Selden. Slowly read and observe, engage with staff and let the collection move you to a deeper grasp of the evils in our shared past. Visit the Center’s website at https://www.sunysuffolk.edu/experience-student-life/csjhu/ and learn how the Center promotes themes of coexistence, tolerance, and respect for differences.

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.

METRO photo

By Lisa Scott

There is a presumed lack of engagement in civics of today’s youth: an inability to discern truth from hyperbole, ignorance of our nation’s history and disinterest in government. Yet the U.S. Supreme Court and 32 state supreme courts have explicitly stated that preparation for capable citizenship is a primary purpose of education, and programs in New York State and Suffolk County do bring together education and civics.

At a League of Women Voters’ program several weeks ago, a group of high school students from six western Suffolk districts participated in the League’s “Student Day at the Suffolk County Legislature.” This program, developed with the Suffolk County Legislature’s Presiding Officer, was initiated in 2015 but interrupted by COVID. Returning to Hauppauge this year, it was praised by the participants, teachers, and legislators. 

Students (selected by their schools) knew that they would be either supporting or opposing an “Introductory Resolution” (developed in advance): ”RESOLVED, that in order to make our Suffolk County schools as safe as possible, the Suffolk County Police Department is hereby authorized, empowered and directed to allow School Safety Officers and Suffolk County Police stationed at all Suffolk County schools to be armed, including concealed weapons, in order to protect our precious schoolchildren …” 

Upon arrival, they were greeted by representatives of the Legislature and the League, and then heard from elected officials about the responsibilities and role of a legislator. Three representatives of the Suffolk County Police Department with experience in the schools then educated the students about the role of school safety officers, procedures, etc. 

Students had numerous questions and the session was thorough and informative. They then caucused in their “pro” and “con” assigned groups to debate, exhort, and plan their words and actions for the Mock Legislature. They stated later that they needed much more time to fully explore and formulate their position(s). 

They finally convened in the legislative “horseshoe” chamber, with students taking on a variety of roles: 18 as legislators, and the remaining 13 representing the public and Suffolk County Legislature staff. The student acting as Presiding Officer had a herculean task managing the “legislators” and the “public” who vied for time to speak and convince. Finally there was a roll-call vote, and the Resolution was defeated. 

Students were insightful in their evaluations: “I learned that despite the different views of the public, a legislator has to look for a way to please both parties, which isn’t an easy job” and “In AP Gov’t I learned about the congressional/national level, but seeing the similarities and differences on a local/state level was interesting. I noticed how the debate was controlled similarly in Congress but one difference was that even if the moderator has his own side he did not use that against his opponents when choosing who would speak.”

Beyond this small group example of why we have faith and hope in our young people, there are other programs and collaborations such as the League’s “Students Inside Albany” held each May over 3 days. Also  the League has joined DemocracyReady NY— a statewide, nonpartisan, intergenerational coalition of organizations and individuals committed to preparing all students for civic participation. 

The League participated in a task force to create the New York State Education Department’s Seal of Civic Readiness which is a formal distinction on a high school transcript and diploma that a student has attained a high level of proficiency in terms of civic knowledge, civic skills, civic mindset, and civic experiences. In order to obtain the Seal of Civic Readiness, a student must complete all the requirements for a New York State local or Regents diploma and earn a total of six points with at least two points in Civic Knowledge and at least two points in Civic Participation. Students may also earn points by completing a middle school Capstone project or a high school Capstone project. Several hundred NYS schools are committed to this program in the coming school year. 

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 from Town of Brookhaven

By Nancy Marr

There is substantial agreement among environmental groups that we want a circular economy — that is, we want to reduce waste by all means possible — by reducing, re-using, repairing, and recycling our waste — so that there is none, arriving at “zero waste.”

The DEC has just released a draft solid waste management plan designed to help New York State meet the climate goals of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, passed in 2019. It proposes reducing waste at its source, returning materials back to productive use, and diverting waste from landfills to avoid the emission of greenhouse gases, reaching a reduction of emission by 85% by 2050. The DEC has also issued rules requiring that any facility with over 25 pounds of food scraps either donate it or take it to a designated site for recycling. (Suffolk County has only one food-recycling site, so that requirement has been waived, leaving the food in the landfill.)

Because waste removal is a town responsibility, there has been no movement toward creating a county role which could be funded by the DEC, along with its role of regulating and overseeing town operations. Much of the municipal waste in Suffolk County is incinerated, with the ash deposited in landfills in the towns of Brookhaven and Babylon. Towns without landfills are sending their waste off the island to other states, using trucks with high rates of carbon fuel emission. Construction and demolition waste from building projects, and yard waste have been recycled more successfully, except for glass, which is currently part of municipal waste. It is being studied as a subject for recycling if markets can be developed for its final stage.   

A conference held recently (by the Evan R. Liblit Memorial Scholarship Committee) at Stony Brook University with speakers on waste to energy efforts, large scale organics management, and funding through the Inflation Reduction Act, ended with a roundtable of four of the town supervisors in Suffolk County and a representative from the NYS Department of Energy Conservation who welcomed the attendance of the town supervisors and commented on the unusually large number of people in attendance, showing a growing concern with the issue of waste reduction.

The town supervisors who participated in the conference — from Brookhaven, Smithtown, Islip, and Babylon — all agreed that they communicate regularly about issues of waste and are taking steps to reduce it but they said they cannot do it alone. How do we create and implement a regional or county approach? Most of the town supervisors reported that the residents of their towns are not aware of the problem and their part in it. To reduce our emissions by 2050 will require an accurate calculation of how the population is growing and the amount and nature of the waste.

Concern about the waste problem is most often expressed by residents objecting to measures taken to deal with the problem. In Smithtown the plan to utilize rail lines to move the waste to other states has met with opposition to the idea of railroad areas, despite the fact that it would reduce the emissions from trucks from the road and reduce road traffic. In Brookhaven, plans by Winters Brothers for removing ash by rail have also been opposed. How would people react to increases in garbage collection rates if more towns implement a Pay-as-You-Throw program, although many areas of the country now use it, substantially reducing the trash they pick up.

The supervisors cited successful efforts by teachers and schools to build understanding of the waste crisis, but how can we do more? 

Community groups are leading efforts to create community composting for our farmlands, open repair cafes, and create anaerobic digesters. Small groups of concerned citizens meet regularly as Carbon Crews, to learn new ways of reducing their footprints. Larger organizations, such as Beyond Plastics, have publicized the dangers of producing and burning plastics and are working on state regulations (Extended Producer Responsibility) to make producers aware of the costs to municipalities of disposing of the waste their products create. 

We can all do more, at home and away. If each of us cannot throw away less, little will be accomplished. Watch the DEC webinar to be held on April 11 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. to describe the Draft New York State Management Plan. For more information go to https://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/41831.html

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 https//my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county.