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suffolk progressives

By Daniel Palumbo

The Suffolk Progressives political organization hosted a rally for reproductive rights at Resistance Corner in Port Jefferson Station June 25. 

Over one hundred attendees made their voices heard regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 decision Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned the 1973 landmark decision Roe. v. Wade and the 1992 decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey. 

Among the attendees were Skyler Johnson (D), who is running for New York State Senate District 1, and Suffolk Progressives activist Shoshana Hershkowitz, both of whom shared their passionate thoughts about this monumental reversal.

— Photos by Daniel Palumbo

Photo by Colleen Kelly

By Jennifer Corr 

Chants like “My body, my choice” echoed through big cities like Washington, D.C., and Manhattan Saturday as part of the Rally for Abortion Justice, and that same passion made it to what is known as Resistance Corner at the junction of Route 347 and Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station. 

The national Rally for Abortion Justice movement, according to the Women’s March Network, comes after comes after the Supreme Court’s rejection of an emergency request to block the Texas Heartbeat Act. 

Coming into effect Sept. 1, the bill bans abortion at the point of the “first detectable heartbeat,” which could occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy — a point that many are just finding out they’re pregnant. At least 13 other states failed to attempt enacting similar bans after being blocked by courts. 

“I believe in a women’s right to choose,” said protester Bryan Campbell, who was pushing a stroller occupied by his infant. “I think it’s ridiculous what’s going on in Texas and I’m here to support the women in my life: my partner, my friends, my daughter. This is for their future and for everyone’s future.” 

Campbell was one of hundreds of men, women and children who gathered on the busy corner, holding signs in protest of such laws. Some even took to dressing up as characters from the “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a best-selling novel and TV series that depicts a totalitarian society that treats women as property. 

Donna Reggio was among those dressed in red robes and white bonnet. 

“It’s a dystopian fantasy that’s no longer a fantasy,” she said. “We’re going backward with women’s rights and we’re here to show that we don’t want to go there anymore.” 

Before Roe v. Wade — a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973 that protected a women’s right to have an abortion without excessive government restriction — only more affluent women had access to safe and legal abortions. However, it is estimated that between the 1950s and ’60s, the number of illegal abortions, either self-induced or done through often dangerous or even deadly procedures, ranged from 200,000 to 1.2 million a year.

Rally organizer Shoshana Hershkowitz, of Long Island Social Justice Action Network and Suffolk Progressives, was on Resistance Corner Saturday to make sure her daughter did not grow up with fewer rights than she was able to enjoy throughout her lifetime. 

“Our own congressman [Lee Zeldin (R-NY1)] tried to overturn Roe in the past year,” she said. “We can’t just think of this as a somewhere-else situation. It was happening right here.” 

That’s why the LISJAN and Suffolk Progressives joined with grassroot organizations like Long Island Progressive Coalition, Long Island Activists, New HOUR for Women & Children – LI, Show Up Long Island, NY02 Indivisible, Planned Parenthood, among others, to prevent impediments in a woman’s reproductive rights from happening anywhere — including here in New York. 

“We just put out the word to the different Facebook groups and [other various groups] who are invested in keeping our rights and getting women in office,” said Kat Lahey of Long Island Rising, adding that several speakers including Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) were also in attendance. “You can see that there’s a high demand to keep women’s reproductive rights.” 

But not all were in support of the movement. Along with some disapproving remarks made by drivers who were passing by, one woman stood on the other side of the highway holding a sign, with photos of babies, that read “Please love me, I love you.” 

The woman would not disclose her name, however she did share that she goes to her local Planned Parenthood every Saturday morning to pray. She said she was especially upset about New York State’s allowance of late-term abortions. 

Yet the 2019 law, passed on the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, only allows late-term abortions when the mother’s health is in danger. 

When asked about the counterprotester, Hershkowitz said that she was more than welcome to cross the road and speak with herself and other organizers. “But I’m not changing my mind,” she said. 

It was not the first time that groups like New HOUR and LISJAN gathered on the corner, as they also showed up for issues ranging from gun safety to the Trump-era ban on refugees from majority-Muslim countries. 

“Our community has come quite accustomed to gathering in this space and standing up for what we believe in,” Hershkowitz said. “So really, it’s like we almost have muscle memory because of having to gather here for so many years.”

Photo by Julianne Mosher

Dozens of community activists from across Long Island rallied outside Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) office in Hauppauge this week, asking lawmakers to adopt “The People’s Plan.”

Earlier this month, police reform advocates created their own plan to hold law enforcement accountable and calling on them to be transparent within the community.  

“We’re gathering here today nearly a year after the George Floyd uprisings because our communities took to the street and said enough is enough,” said Elmer Flores with Long Island United to Transform Policing and Community Safety. “We are yearning for change. And for far too long our elected officials have not met our demands with the gravitas that it demands.”

Some of the plan includes civilian oversight of police misconduct, creating unarmed traffic enforcement and ending pretextual stops when someone is pulled over. 

“Mistrust is pervasive between the police and the communities they are supposed to represent,” he added. “And part of that is that we need to get to the root causes of why crime happens and how we can address it and prevent it from happening. But to do that, it requires leadership. It requires bold and effective action that’s going to change the way policing happens on Long Island.”

This plan is separate from the reform Bellone submitted to lawmakers last week, and these local activists demand the reforms be included in the plan due to the state April 1. 

Jackie Burbridge, co-founder of the Long Island Black Alliance, said to the crowd that for years the Suffolk County Police Department has been actively turning a blind eye to crime being committed in this county in order to continue harassing people who are not white. She said the recommendations that the county task force came up with don’t go far enough in preventing or mitigating discriminatory policing. 

“The plan that was released by Suffolk County in response to Governor Cuomo’s [D] executive order falls short of the transformative changes to the way we conceive of public safety that this moment in our community members are demanding,” she said. “Black and brown communities across Long Island are overpoliced, resulting in outsized opportunities for interactions between vulnerable community members and police officers. … It’s not that people are being brutalized because cops see threats. They don’t see threats in our community, they see prey. And what we need is police reform that’s actually going to address that.”

The collective groups have spent months crafting the 12, research-backed proposals for structural reform that make up the 310-page “The People’s Plan” to address numerous structural components of transforming and reimagining policing and public safety on Long Island.

Suffolk’s police reform proposal directs the county’s Human Rights Commission to review complaints of police misconduct. 

However, the police department would still have the power to investigate and discipline police misconduct. Activists say they are asking for lawmakers to consider other measures, like mental health counselors for certain situations, and create a community council to review and hold police accountable for misconduct.

Members from local groups headed to Hauppauge, too, including Myrna Gordon of the North Country Peace Group, to show their support and signs.

“How can we not be here?” she asked. “It’s what we need to do to keep fighting for peace and justice. We need to see that Steve Bellone is on board with ‘The People’s Plan,’ and every peace and justice group in Suffolk County and the Three Village area needs to be on board.”

Peggy Fort, a member of the United For Justice in Policing Long Island and Building Bridges in Brookhaven groups, said ‘The People’s Plan’ addresses not just the community, but could benefit police officers, acknowledging the stresses police officers face. 

“We’re not trying in ‘The People’s Plan’ to micromanage the police department,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is really address the problems and the racial bias that exists.”