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North Country Peace Group

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Local teens have been adding their voices to weekly rallies in Setauket.

Every Saturday morning, drivers can count on the grassroots activist North Country Peace Group on the corner of Route 25A and Bennetts Road and the North Country Patriots across the street. For three weeks now, Three Village school district students and their friends have joined the Peace Group to protest police brutality and call for justice and equality, joining forces with Black Lives Matter groups across
the country.

Myrna Gordon, of the North Country Peace Group, said she is proud of the young people and happy that they have joined them. She said one week more than a dozen joined them, but two weeks ago more than 250 protesters stood on the corner, and this past Saturday, there were more than 150 rallying. She said there was no advertising about any themed protests.

“I think they know that our corner is such an important part of our community, and they know that we have been there for issues of peace and justice, and all of a sudden said this is where we’re going.”

She called the students “truly inspirational and a credit to their generation.”

“They are amazing young people, and they are going to carry the baton through all of this,” she said.

During the teenagers’ visits to the corner, they crossed over to the Patriots’ side (upper left photo), Gordon said, and continued to display their Black Lives Matter signs.

Gordon has been part of protests since the 1960s, and she said sometimes movements die out quickly, but she had advice to the young people to stay the course.

“They need to be tenacious,” she said. “They need to be vigilant. They need
to vote.”

While tensions may have lessened slightly between the U.S. and Iran after the assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, many Americans are still bracing for the possibility of conflict.

Protesters took to the streets around the nation Jan. 9 to oppose the escalation of war with the Middle Eastern country during what was coined as No War With Iran: Day of Action. At the intersection of routes 347 and 112 in Port Jefferson Station, which has been dubbed as Resistance Corner, two dozen protesters took part in a rally organized by North Country Peace Group, a local activist organization.

Myrna Gordon, a member of NCPG, said Americans need to say enough is enough when it comes to war and aim to stop being consumed by war and militarization. She suggested that people read the poem “Suicide in the Trenches” by Siegfried Sassoon reflecting the tragedies of World War I.

“This is not a glorification when we see the military and the militarization of what’s happening in our country,” Gordon said. “Listen, I support the veterans. We are very supportive of them, but we’re not supportive of war, and this is what the North Country Peace Group is about. That’s what our main goal is, to say, ‘End this absolutely foolish nonsense that we’re engaged in.’ This is a horrific thing for our future, for our young children, for everything.”

She suggested investments should be made into items that promote peace such as the Peace Pole installed in Rocketship Park in Port Jefferson village, which reads “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in 10 different languages, including the motions for sign language and braille.

“We have to get back to so many things that promote peace,” Gordon said.

Nancy Goroff, Democrat primary candidate for Congressional District 1, participated in the Jan. 9 rally

“I think it’s important, especially in today’s politics, for people to make their voices heard,” she said. “Government needs to be responsive to the will of the people, and far too often that’s just not happening. From anti-war rallies to the women’s marches, times when people stand up and speak are good for our democracy.”

She expressed her concern over the current situation with Iran.

“With Iran, the real question is whether eliminating Suleimani leaves America safer, and that’s still an open question,” Goroff said. “The stakes could not be higher, but time and again we have seen President Trump [R] making critical military and foreign policy decisions based on his own political goals, rather than what will actually help this country.”

Also among those protesting in Port Jefferson Station Jan. 9 were two members of the Long Island Chapter of Veterans for Peace, Camillo Mac Bica, of Smithtown, and Ray Zbikowski, of Huntington Station. Both veterans fought in Vietnam, and Bica is an author and philosophy teacher at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

Veterans of Peace includes vets and nonveterans working to raise awareness about the horrors of war. Zbikowski said there is a misconception about those who fought overseas in a war.

“The myth is if you’re a veteran, you are supportive [of war],” he said. 

“War has been so glorified with mythologies that we have come to know the myth without the reality,” Bica said.

Zbikowski agreed.

“It’s important to educate the public, even if they’re passing by, make them aware of what’s going on in this country as well as overseas,” he said.

People driving by either honked their horns in support or shouted at the protesters from their open windows.

Bica said when one opposes a rally such as the Jan. 9 event, it’s because they don’t realize the potential horror of war.

“People pass by and they yell things but they’re not the ones going,” he said. “Their kids aren’t the ones that are going. If they had skin in the game, the cost-benefit proportion would be different. They might not say, ‘Let’s go to war.’”

The veterans added that while every community in the U.S. was impacted by the Vietnam War due to most people knowing someone who went off to fight, with less than 3 percent of Americans knowing anyone who’s in the military today, many have not come in contact with a recent veteran. 

Bica said it creates a separation between what’s going on in the military and the average citizen’s life.

“The killing and the dying that’s going on is going on in our names, while we look the other way, and we think we’re untouched by it,” he said. “There’s blood on all of our hands.”

Activists wave to drivers beeping their support during the Families Belong Together rally in Setauket June 30. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

Two grassroots activist groups have become staples on the corners of Route 25A and Bennetts Road in Setauket every Saturday, but this past weekend residents out and about likely noticed something different on the south side.

Activists join members of the North Country Peace group for a Families Belong Together rally in Setauket June 30. By Rita J. Egan

While a dozen or two members of the North Country Peace Group meet every Saturday at 11 a.m. with signs in tow on the southeast corner of the intersection, and a similar number of conservatives, members of the North Country Patriots, gather on the other side, June 30 the south side drew approximately 300 activists as the NCPG hosted a Families Belong Together rally. The protest was organized to stand in unison with hundreds of thousands of Americans across the nation who participated in similar events in several cities including Washington, D.C., New York City and Miami.

The rallies were held to protest the separation of immigrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border that occurred as a result of President Donald Trump’s (R) newly instituted zero-tolerance policy for prosecuting illegal immigration, which has resulted in the detention of thousands. Trump recently signed an executive order meant to end the policy, though many families remain separated as officials work to undo the effects of the policy.

Attendees held signs that read, “11,869 children held captive”; “Yes, Melania, we do care”; and “Put ICE on ice.” NCPG members said many children are still separated from their families and there are fears that many may never find their parents.

Activists join members of the North Country Peace group for a Families Belong Together rally in Setauket June 30. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“This is not what our country is about,” said Myrna Gordon, of Port Jefferson. “Detaining children — separating families — is a crime, and this is the time that we now all have to come together and resist the policies of the Trump administration. Detaining families is not a solution. It’s a jail sentence that some of our immigrant brothers and sisters are facing.”

Many on hand at the rally said they felt the current situation is reminiscent of the Holocaust.

“We need to remind all Americans of the horrors that preceded the Holocaust,” said Marci Lobel of Setauket. “This is reminiscent of what occurred in Europe in the lead up to the Third Reich, and we have to stand up for what is right, what is humane, what is civil and what is lawful. These people are coming to our country seeking asylum. All human decency dictates that we stand up to protect them. If we don’t stand up for them, who will?”

Setauket’s Susan Perretti said she sees the separation of families along with cuts to Medicare and ineffective gun laws as moral issues.

“It’s almost like we have forgotten about the common good,” Perretti said. “So, my big cry is, ‘Whatever happened to the common good?’”

Activists join members of the North Country Peace group for a Families Belong Together rally in Setauket June 30. Photo by Rita J. Egan

While the North Country Patriots didn’t organize a counter-rally, about two dozen members stood on the corner like they do every Saturday, except this week a handful remained until around 3 p.m. just like a few on the other side did.

Jim Soviero, of East Setauket, said the peace group’s rally reminded him of his nephew who was a solider in Iraq 14 years ago and separated from his young children, and the Angel Families in this country whose loved ones were killed by undocumented immigrants.

“You have over two dozen Angel Families that were separated, and they will never be united,” he said. “When my nephew went overseas, he was separated, and he never knew if he was going to be reunited.”

Setauket’s Howard Ross, who held a pro-life sign, said he and others were upset by a sign across the street that read, “God is Watching.”

“How can they stand there and say protect immigrant children and not protect our own children,” Ross said. “There are 1,000 babies being murdered every day due to abortions.”

Setauket resident George Altemose said the stance of conservatives is misunderstood.

Members of the conservative organization North Country Patriots stand across the street with signs like they do every Saturday on the day of the rally. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“Nobody wants to see families broken up,” Altemose said. “Nobody wants to see kids in jail. I think what we would like to see — we would like to see everybody obey the law as it stands.”

Altemose said he feels obeying the laws applies to everyone, from immigrants to the president, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and those who don’t like a law, need to follow it until it is changed.

“I think that the other side implies that this side likes to see children taken away and put in custody and families broken up, and it’s just not true,” Altemose said. “I don’t think anybody likes that.”

Back over on the Families Belong Together rally side, NCPG member Bill McNulty said one day a woman asked him about his stance on immigration and families being separated. He said he told her that many Central American countries’ social orders have been disrupted by American policies leading to violence. McNulty said the woman told him that people still should not cross the U.S. border illegally.

“I said, ‘Madam, if you were involved in the violence that these people are facing in these disrupted countries, you would take steps to protect yourself too,’” McNulty said.

A year after millions of Americans participated in women’s marches across the U.S. following the inauguration of President Donald Trump (R), Long Islanders are still rallying to raise their voices — and signs — with the hope that elected officials in Washington, D.C., will hear their cries.

On Jan. 20, women, men and children gathered on the southeast corner of routes 347 and 112 in Port Jefferson Station for the 2018 Women’s March Rally Long Island: A Call to Reclaim Our Democracy. Despite a similar event taking place in New York City, hundreds from Suffolk and Nassau counties chose the Port Jeff Station event organized by grassroots activist groups Long Island Rising and the North Country Peace Group. In 2017, the Women’s March held at the same location drew 2,000 participants, according to a press release from the organizations. This year’s event once again gave residents an opportunity to voice their concerns about women’s rights, the environment, immigration and many more issues facing Americans.

Kathy Lahey, a founding member of Long Island Rising, said she felt hopeful about the future after seeing so many women in attendance, and she hopes elected officials will hear their concerns.

“Women are going to step up to the ballot box in November and [beyond] and create a country that works for all of us, not just a few.”

— Kathy Lahey

“To me it’s billionaires and the corporations and very few people that are getting their way right now, and people are suffering,” Lahey said. “Women are going to step up to the ballot box in November and [beyond] and create a country that works for all of us, not just a few.”

Susan Perretti, a member of the North Country Peace Group, was also optimistic after the rally.

“It is clear that status quo is not going to fix the mess America is in,” Perretti said. “And with the marches and rallies this past weekend, I feel confident that we are ready and willing to do what it takes to bring back the America of compassion for the poor and vulnerable, of respect for the dignity of all people, the America of inclusion not exclusion.”

Margaret Allen, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook, attended the event with 25 congregants from her church.

“I was in New York City last year for the march, and this is nothing compared to that in terms of people, but in our relatively conservative area, this is a good turnout,” Allen said. “And, we are getting a lot of people honking.”

At times, the cheers of participants and honking from drivers passing by drowned out the voices of guest speakers such as former Suffolk County legislator and congressional hopeful Vivian Viloria-Fisher and Tracey Edwards, former Huntington councilwoman and Long Island regional director of the NAACP New York State Conference.

Leslie Luft, owner of Absolute Yoga Studio in Woodbury, said she traveled to the Suffolk County event with teachers and students from her school, choosing it over the New York City rally.

“We came out here to stand up for women’s rights,” said Elyce Neuhauser a teacher with Absolute Yoga Studio. “We came to stand up for human rights, to support each other, to create a peaceful community and country.”

Maryanne Vogel said she was glad the group made the trip from Nassau County to exercise their rights in a peaceful way.

“It’s just wonderful to see all the people out here — men, women and children,” Vogel said. “And, the honking of the horns, it just makes me feel good to be an American today, and an American woman.”

Dan Cignoli, of Coram, who attended last year’s event in Port Jeff Station, said he is politically active because he believes people need to do something about an administration he feels is at war with Americans. He found this year’s gathering invigorating.

“The Women’s March last year and this year has brought out the activists in everybody,” Cignoli said. “It’s wonderful to see.”

“The Women’s March last year and this year has brought out the activists in everybody.” It’s wonderful to see.”

— Dan Cignoli

Across Route 347 on the northeast corner, about a dozen people stood with American flags and pro-Trump signs. Howard Ross and Heather Martarello, members of the North Country Patriots who stand on the corner of Route 25A and Bennetts Road in East Setauket every Saturday morning to show support for Trump, said it was important for them to be there.

Ross, who served in Europe during the Vietnam War, remembered coming home in 1963 in his uniform and being spit on. He said for him it’s important for people to participate in events such as the rally, even if they are on the opposing side, and voice their opinions. Ross said he has two granddaughters and sees how much the country has negatively changed since he was a child in the 1950s.

“I get upset for them that’s why I feel we have to do more for this country,” Ross said.

Martarello said when she first arrived on Saturday the size of the crowd on the southeast corner seemed daunting to her but she said the rally was a peaceful one.

“They are entitled to express their opinions, and we want to express ours,” Martarello said. “Not only to get our voice out but to reach out to people going past, who when they see that huge crowd on the other side, and think, ‘Wow, there are so many people there, everybody thinks that way.’ But, then they see us, they say, ‘No, everybody doesn’t think that way. See, there are people who think like us.’ They realize a lot of people feel the way we do.”

Back on the southeast corner, Cindi DeSimone, of Farmingville, who attended the event with her 5-year-old twins Jake and Kate, said she attended similar rallies in the past, but this was the first time she brought her children. While Jake held a sign that read, “Boys will be boys” with “boys” crossed out and replaced with “good people,” Kate held a sign with the same sentiment about girls.

“I think that the times are scary, and I only hope that we have something to leave to our future generations,” DeSimone said. “I think everybody can do one thing. What I’m doing is trying to teach [my children] to be good stewards of the environment and be respectful of each other.”

This post was updated on Jan. 24 with the full story.

Peace group now focuses attention on proposed renaming of school of medicine to include Renaissance

Members of the North Country Peace Group plan to continue organizing demonstrations at Renaissance Technologies in E. Setauket despite the announcement that co-CEO Robert Mercer is stepping down. File photo by Rita J. Egan

The end of a co-CEO’s reign won’t stop an activist group from demonstrating outside of his hedge fund’s East Setauket office, especially after members heard a local university school of medicine may be renamed to include the company name.

Robert Mercer, of Renaissance Technologies, announced in a Nov. 2 letter to investors that he will be stepping down as co-CEO and resigning from the firm’s board of directors as of Jan. 1. In the letter, he stated he would remain a member of the technical staff and be involved in research work.

For nearly two years, the North Country Peace Group, a local peace and social justice organization, has often held demonstrations in front of the entrance of Renaissance Technologies. Most recently, the group held an August rally protesting the alleged contributions of millions of dollars to alt-right causes by Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, and the pair’s alignment with the ultraconservative online media company Breitbart News.

“We were shocked [when we heard the news], because we immediately thought look what we’ve accomplished,” said Bill McNulty, a member of the North County Peace Group.

An activist at an Aug. 23 rally in E. Setauket. File photo by Rita J. Egan

He said the sense of accomplishment was short-lived after news reports of companies pulling their investments from the hedge fund, and he said he believes this was the determining factor for Mercer stepping down and not the group’s demonstrations.

“I don’t feel he’s really stepping down,” said Myrna Gordon, a member of the activist group. “In his statement, he said he was still going to be involved with Renaissance, that he would still be doing work there. The only thing that was changed was the word co-CEO. He’s still there. So, we feel that he’s still entrenched in the company.”

Members of North Country Peace Group were alerted to an Oct. 2 Stony Brook Council meeting where it was proposed to rename the Stony Brook School of Medicine to the Renaissance School of Medicine. The council serves as an advisory body to the campus and Stony Brook University’s president and senior officers. In the webcast of the meeting available on SBU’s website, council chairman Kevin Law said a resolution regarding the renaming was approved electronically a few weeks prior and needed to be ratified by the council members at the Oct. 2 meeting.

Dexter Bailey, senior vice president for advancement and executive director of the Stony Brook Foundation, said during a presentation Oct. 2 the reason for the renaming was due to the generosity of 111 of the 300 Renaissance employees over the last few decades. The university received its first donation of $750 from one of the firm’s employees in 1982, and through the years Renaissance employees have donated $508 million to the university. In 2011, Renaissance Technologies founder and former CEO Jim Simons and his wife Marilyn donated a historic $150 million.

“These are individuals who have graduated from the top schools around the world — a lot of Ivy League grads — and to be able to have them adopt Stony Brook as one of their philanthropic priorities has really been a pleasure,” Bailey said.

He said many of the donors like to keep their contributions private, and the university looked for something that the employees could reflect on and take pride in.

Members of the North Country Peace Group will now keep an eye on developments for renaming the Stony Brook School of Medicine to Renaissance School of Medicine. File photo by Rita J. Egan

“We feel that naming the school of medicine will not only recognize the 35 years of history, but it actually sets the stage for future giving.” Bailey said.

During voting for the resolution, only one council member, Karen Wishnia, who represents the graduate student body, opposed the proposal. Wishnia said in a phone interview after the meeting, that even though she recognizes the generosity of the Renaissance employees and Simons, she “couldn’t in good conscience vote yes for this” largely because of the association with Mercer.

The next step for the resolution is for the university to obtain approval from the State University of New York chancellor and board of trustees.

McNulty and Gordon said members of the North County Peace Group strongly believe a state school of medicine doesn’t need to be renamed after a company, even if its employees are generous. They said the group has struggled in the past with how to separate the employees of Renaissance from the CEO.

“It puts the employees in a strange spot,” McNulty said, adding it’s understandable how those making good salaries with the company may be reluctant to admit Renaissance may be involved in negative activities. “We have had people come out of the company’s office who have been supportive of the information that we’ve imparted, and we’ve had others who have given us the [middle] finger.”

The two said the North Country Peace Group plans to continue demonstrations in front of Renaissance and educate the community about the renaming of the medical school. Gordon said when she watched the video of the Stony Brook Council meeting she was surprised there was no discussion after the vote was taken, and she wonders why the university hasn’t been more transparent about the proposal that involves a state school of medicine paid for by taxpayers.

“I would be pleased and honored to have the Stony Brook School of Medicine right up there in the forefront, and once big money corporations start buying landmarks, arenas, stadiums, you’re dealing with a whole other type of situation,” Gordon said. “We should be proud that it’s the State University of New York at Stony Brook. We should be proud that it’s the Stony Brook medical center.”

A Renaissance representative did not respond to requests for comments by press time.

By Rita J. Egan

A local activist group is asking a Long Island billionaire and his daughter to stop funding the alt-right.

According to a press release from the North Country Peace Group, Robert Mercer, billionaire co-CEO of the Setauket-based hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, and his daughter Rebekah have allegedly contributed millions of dollars to alt-right causes due to his alliance with the online media company Breitbart News.

The group held a rally in front of the company’s entrance on Route 25A Aug. 23 because members feel Breitbart News has provided a forum for white supremacist, sexist and other racist voices.

Approximately two dozen protesters were in attendance with signs in tow. During the rally, Charles Perretti of Setauket grabbed a megaphone and addressed the crowd.

“What does [the Mercer family] want?” he asked. “They want to control the public dialogue. They want to advance their attitudes and values at the expense of true representative government and the spirit of one man and one vote.”

Perretti said Mercer supports the current Republican presidential administration, referring to that of President Donald Trump (R).

“What do we want, the people on the corner?” he said. “We want concern for the common good.”

The statement inspired protesters to respond repeatedly: “Concern for the common good.”

In recent months, the local peace group has organized or participated in several rallies covering various topics including Trump’s proposed transgender military ban, climate change, alleged use of force by police and a sister event to the Women’s March on Washington.

Peace group member Rosemary Maffei, of Setauket, has been in attendance for much of the group’s protests. She said attending political demonstrations is something she feels she needs to do for herself personally and for the country, and she appreciates being around like-minded residents.

“I feel it’s important to let people see that there is resistance to Trump and the Republican Party, especially here on ‘red’ Long Island,” she said. “Sitting home and doing nothing while the country is being torn apart is something I don’t understand.”

Mercer did not respond to a request sent through an executive assistant at his company for comments about the rally.

This post was updated Aug. 30.

 

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Community members call for Trump’s impeachment. Photo by Alex Petroski

On the south corner of Routes 347 and 112 in Port Jefferson Station about 100 community members gathered to call for the impeachment of the 45th president of the United States July 2. And after hearing about the demonstration on Facebook, a few dozen of their neighbors assembled on the north corner of the intersection to voice their support for President Donald Trump (R). Though only six lanes of highway and a median separated the two groups, the ideological gulf between protestors and their interpretation of the first six months of the Trump presidency is seemingly growing by the second.

Jim Barr and other pro-Trump community members oppose the rally. Photo by Alex Petroski

Members of political activist organizations The North Country Peace Group, Long Island Rising and others organized the Impeach Trump rally. The groups have been involved in organizing similar rallies since Inauguration Day Jan. 20 to speak out about Trump’s position on climate change, women’s health care rights, nuclear proliferation and to commemorate International Women’s Day. To coincide with The Women’s March on Washington D.C. Jan. 21, a sister march boasting attendance in the thousands took place at the same corner.

The march calling for Trump’s impeachment Sunday had a different feel from previous events for two major reasons — a sizable group of Trump supporters gathered across the street to oppose the rally, and attendance was substantially lower compared to not only the massive Jan. 21 event, but to all others organized by the groups of late as well.

Organizers from the two groups on the south corner pointed to the holiday weekend as an explanation for the waning number of attendees, rather than a potential decrease in enthusiasm for the Trump “resistance.”

Though citizens on both corners acknowledged the heated political discourse is having an overall negative effect on the country, neither seemed ready to concede any ground.

“The country has never been divided to the extent it is now, and the anger level is very, very high,” said Bill McNulty during the event, a member of the North Country Peace Group who has had a political radio talk show at Stony Brook University for 25 years. When asked how a rally calling for Trump’s ouster days before July 4th might contribute to that divide, McNulty suggested supporters of the president are among those most likely to suffer from his policies, especially regarding health care and the environment.

Community members call for Trump’s impeachment. Photo by Alex Petroski

McNulty admitted discussion of Trump’s impeachment is premature due to the Republican majority in the House and Senate, and because investigations regarding possible collusion between his campaign and the Russian are still in the early stages.

“What we have to do now is draw together these different organizations and focus on a couple of particular points that will enable us to really throw a fright into these politicians,” he said, also conceding political opposition from his corner would be productive if focused on specific issues, though he didn’t back down from his belief Trump is not fit for office.

Across Route 347, most attendees declined to answer questions. Sean Bergin, a Ronkonkoma resident explained his motivation for occupying the north corner.

“They are out here actively trying to undermine a dually elected president,” he said, gesturing across the street. “The Democrat policies that they put forth have flooded Long Island’s streets with blood-thirsty gangsters in the form of MS13, and cheap heroin, which is killing our kids by the dozens and the hundreds every goddamn day. None of the media has the guts to point at Barack Obama’s failed immigration policies as the cause of that. We have a president now who’s putting a stop to that, and those people are terrified because they know it’s the end of the Democrat party.”

Jim Barr, a Selden resident, Trump supporter and President of Long Island ABATE, a group dedicated to the training and education of American bikers, said the source of the anger across the street is Hillary Clinton’s loss in the election.

“This is the United States of America — key word ‘united,’” he said. “We’re all supposed to be on the same page. I didn’t vote for Barack Obama. That’s the last person I would have voted for, but I didn’t cry when he got elected.”

Barr admitted he wished someone would screen the president’s tweets, but said he’s happy Trump hasn’t changed from his demeanor during the campaign.

Sound Beach resident Noreen Morrison, a member of Long Island Rising, explained the thinking behind a July 4th-weekend rally calling for the impeachment of a sitting president, and the possibility it could heat up political rhetoric.

“It’s the only thing we have available to us, peaceful protest,” she said. “I don’t want to see this country come to armed conflict between political factions.”

Though there has been chatter on the Democrat side, no substantial move towards impeachment has accumulated to this point.

Members of the North Country Peace Group organize a Ban the Bomb rally on the corner of Bennetts Road and Route 25A in East Setauket June 17. The group shows support for the current United Nations talks to adopt a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

A local grassroots organization played their part in a worldwide demonstration to support negotiations of the United Nations to adopt a treaty to ban nuclear weapons June 17.

“There are 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world, and 90 percent are controlled by the United States and Russia, 1,800 of those are on high alert.”

— Susan Perretti

The Women’s March and Rally to Ban the Bomb took place in New York City, though activist groups around the world including in East Setauket, organized simultaneous events to the New York City march to make their voices heard. The North Shore Peace Group put together their own Ban the Bomb rally on the corner of Bennetts Road and Route 25A in East Setauket, where the members stand every Saturday holding signs featuring messages of peace and in opposition of the policies and agenda of President Donald Trump (R). The women-led marches were not exclusive, as people of every gender, political affiliation and background were invited to speak out.

Nearly two-dozen activists were at the intersection holding signs with messages such as “Peace is Patriotism,” “Abolish All Nukes” and “Support U.N. nuclear ban talks.”

Port Jefferson Station resident Rosemary Maffei, who joined the group after last year’s presidential election, explained why the North Country Peace Group decided to participate in the show of support.

“It’s a worldwide event, and we just want to make sure that our little corner of Setauket here is represented on such an important happening in the world with possible nuclear proliferation,” she said.

Bill McNulty of Setauket said the “Ban the Bomb” message fits the mission the North Country Peace Group has been supporting for 15 years.

“Basically the banning-the-bomb effort ties into this idea that the bomb, the nuclear weapon, has been described over the years as being the taproot of violence,” McNulty said. “We’re anti-war. We’re anti-violence. We advocate for nonviolent, peaceful resolutions to our problems.”

A member of the North Country Peace Group holds the photos of soldiers who died in recent wars. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Peace group honors soldiers

By Rita J. Egan

The Women’s March and Rally to Ban the Bomb in East Setauket coincided with the North Country Peace Group’s annual reading of the 41 names of Long Island soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. After the members’ demonstration, they stood in a circle, holding up a photo of each soldier and reading his name as well as some information about them, including family members left behind.

Two members from the North Country Patriots, who stood on the opposite side of Route 25A across from the Peace Group in an opposing rally, came across the street holding a big American flag toward the end of the readings. One said that any memorial honoring soldiers needs flags. After the rally, one of the men, who asked not to be identified, said he tried his best not to interrupt the ceremony but he kept thinking to himself, “They were honoring our soldiers, but there was no American flag.”

Rosemary Maffei, of Port Jefferson Station, said the group feels showing the soldiers photos and reading their names is the group’s way of honoring the men who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“We had flags at the ceremony but this is a time to remember and reflect, not flag-waving,” Maffei said.

Port Jefferson’s Myrna Gordon, another active member of the group, echoed McNulty’s sentiments.

“We feel that nuclear war is something that we have to stop,” she said. “And the buildup of armaments, and the buildup for things that might be devastating to the world, is something that we are tuned into very much. So today it’s ‘Ban the Bomb,’ next week it might be something else. We’re not a one-issue group, but we are a peace and justice organization, and we stand firmly in solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world.”

Setauket resident Susan Perretti said the statistics the group gathered from a video produced by Reaching Critical Will, a program of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, are disturbing. She said nuclear bombs are the only weapons of mass destruction that are not yet outlawed in a comprehensive and universal manner.

“The information we were given is there are 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world, and 90 percent are controlled by the United States and Russia, 1,800 of those on high alert,” Perretti said. “And they are 1,000 times more powerful than the ones the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and not to mention the irreversible damage to the planet.”

Lisa Karelis of East Setauket held a sign decorated with three flags that read “We Are All Americans,” and carried a small flag. She said she wanted to show that peace-loving citizens are also patriotic.

“I think it’s very important especially with what’s going on in politics, and the uncertainty of the person who has the finger on the button to particularly see how dangerous it is to have nuclear proliferation,” she said. “It all boils down to humans. After all humans make decisions. Anything that we can do to make it more difficult for something to happen inadvertently, or under the control of one person who may not be thinking clearly or wisely, is very important. And it’s for the benefit of all humanity, that’s why one of our signs has the Earth on it. It’s not an American issue, it’s a human issue.”

In recent months the North Country Peace Group has also organized or participated in several rallies covering various topics including climate change; excessive use of force by police; the political donations of Robert Mercer, billionaire co-owner of the Setauket-based hedge fund Renaissance Technologies; and a sister march to the Women’s March on Washington.

The U.N. talks regarding nuclear weapons are taking place until July 7. The U.S. has taken the position to boycott the discussions along with about 40 other countries, according to Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

Co-CEO of East Setauket-based investment firm connected to major money behind Trump administration

 

A large group of political protesters paraded along busy Route 25A in East Setauket March 24, aiming their outcry not just at the administration in Washington, D.C., but a reclusive hedge fund billionaire by the name of Robert Mercer residing in their own backyard.

Mercer, the co-CEO of an East Setauket-based investment firm and resident of Head of the Harbor, has been under the spotlight for being the money behind President Donald Trump’s (R) administration, maintaining a major influence on the White House’s agenda, including its strict immigration policies.

Mercer, a major backer of the far-right Breitbart News, reportedly contributed nearly $13.5 million to the Trump campaign and, along with his daughter Rebekah, played a part in securing the leadership positions of chief strategist Steve Bannon and campaign manager Kellyanne Conway.

Regarding Mercer as the administration’s puppeteer-in-chief, protesters assembled to bring public attention to the local family’s power in the White House and the influence “dark money” has had in America.

“I think we’ve reached a worrisome point in our history that a single individual can have the kind of influence that Robert Mercer has, simply because he has a huge amount of money,” Setauket resident John Robinson said. “I think he’s an extremely dangerous individual with worrisome views. He just wants government to not be around so people like him and companies like his can plunder to their heart’s content.”

The short march, made up of several protest groups including the North Country Peace Group, began at the CVS shopping center and landed at the bottom of the hill where Mercer’s Renaissance Technologies sits. Leading the march were local residents wearing paper cutout masks of Trump, Bannon and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), each strung up like puppets and controlled by a resident in a grim reaper outfit, representing Mercer.

Equipped with signs reading “Mercer $ Bought Trump We Pay the Price” and “Resist Mercer,” Long Island residents stood in front of the investment firm’s office and participated in a mock debate with the faux-political figures. The topics ranged from Mercer’s denial of climate change to Zeldin’s stance on the now-pulled American Health Care Act.

Sue McMahon, a member of the grassroots coalition Building Bridges in Brookhaven, had only recently learned about Mercer’s heavy involvement in Trump’s presidency and his close proximity and participated in the march to expose him.

“I’m very concerned we have a person like this among us who holds the power of the Republican Party,” McMahon said.

She said she’s particularly troubled by the administration’s overwhelming ignorance of environmental issues, its emphasis on money and the extreme views of Breitbart News.

“This is not the America I grew up with, this is not what I want,”she said. “I’m not normally a protester, but I believe we all have to stand up now.”

Paul Hart, a Stony Brook resident, said he was there to support democracy.

The American people have lost representative government because campaign contributions are now controlled by the rich, he said, and it’s hard to think about the needs of constituents when they don’t contribute in a way that’s beneficial to a politician’s re-election.

“The average person has absolutely no voice in politics anymore,” Hart said. “Bbefore, we had a little bit, but now, we’re being swept aside.

One protester referred to Mercer as one small part of a larger picture, and expressed concern over a growing alt-right movement throughout the country that prefers an authoritarian government that runs like a business.

“I guess that’s what Trump is all about,” said Port Jefferson resident Jordan Helin. “But we’re seeing what the country looks like when it’s being run like a business, [and it’s scary].”

Myrna Gordon, a Port Jefferson resident and member, said her organization has held previous actions against Renaissance Technologies, and was among the first grassroots groups on Long island to take notice of how entrenched in the White House Mercer and his family are. According to her, Rebekah Mercer is in many ways more powerful than her father.

“We cannot take the focus off [Rebekah Mercer] right now, because she’s become a powerful force in this whole issue of money in politics, buying candidates, everything we see in our government,” she said.

Since Robert Mercer is local and lives in our community, she added, it’s time that we showed our strength and our voice regarding what this money is doing to our country.

The North Country Peace Group attends Port Jefferson’s Dickens Festival for a sixth consecutive year to share their message about social injustices. Photo by Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson’s 21st annual Dickens Festival brought together members of the community and neighboring areas for a weekend full of events based off Charles Dickens’ novel, “A Christmas Carol” Dec. 3 and 4. But for a group of local activists, the event was a reminder about social consciousness.

The North Country Peace Group, established in December 2002, has been periodically visible on the corner of Route 25A and Bennetts Road in Setauket to share its message. For the last six years members of the group have used the village’s holiday festival to expand their audience.

Myrna Gordon, a member of the group since its inception, was among the people passing out informational flyers and holding props in front of their faces to simulate being behind bars, which included the message “Debtor’s Prison — Justice for some, not for all,” among others with similar themes.

The group believes in nonviolent activism as a means to combat social injustice, poverty and inequality. They use the festival as a platform to highlight analogous issues in Charles Dickens 19th century London and present-day America.

“It’s important that people don’t forget while they’re moving around and being festive and being joyful, that we have a lot of things in our country that are filled with social injustice, economic injustice, class injustice — and we’d like to bring attention to it to let people think about it,” Gordon said while standing on the corner of East Main Street and Main Street in Port Jeff Village, where the group set up shop for the afternoon. “While they probably have thought about it for the last 18 months, it’s something that we’ve been doing here for six years now, and we feel it’s important to be part of this event. I’m a Port Jefferson resident, so I feel that this is my way of making a statement but in a different way.”

Gordon referenced the outcome of the presidential election as evidence that instances of social injustice may be heading in the wrong direction in 2016 America. She said she was concerned about the future of the Supreme Court, health care for women and education, among other issues going forward as a result of Donald Trump’s (R) surprising victory.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said she had no problem with the group’s message or desire to use a popular village event to spread their message, given that they are conscious of keeping sidewalks and streets clear for festival attendees.

“That’s democracy at its highest form of expression,” she said during a phone interview. “I applaud them for taking time out of their day to come down and relay their message.”

Gordon has lived in Port Jefferson for almost 50 years, she said, and called the area a microcosm of the United States.

“I think Port Jefferson does have things that can be better, as in any small community,” she said.

Despite the celebratory nature of the event, which features performers in Dickensian attire, and the group’s use of props, Gordon said she wasn’t worried their message would be construed as part of the festival.

“They may not get the full scope of it, but I think once they see the signs a connection is being made,” she said. “Especially when they see the words ‘debtor’s prison,’ and then they read the contemporary statements underneath the signs. The same things went on then that are going on now.”