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.”