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Washington

With Washington leading the way, we have become a divided nation, bickering, fighting, shouting and disagreeing as if we’re at a competing pep rally.

What are we to do?

Perhaps we need metaphors to turn the thermostat down.

To start with the obvious, perhaps we are a nation of onions. No, we don’t give everyone bad breath and, no, we don’t cause gas. We have layers, as Shrek so famously described in his eponymous movie. The surface, which everyone sees, has a layer of anger and frustration, but peel back a few of those layers and we’re filled with sympathy, empathy and concern for our friends and neighbors who, like us, are pursuing the American Dream.

Sticking with the food metaphor, perhaps we’re a kitchen stocked with incredible ingredients trucked in from all over the country. You may never have been to Idaho, but I can assure you that the simple potato in that state is remarkable for its flavor and texture.

While we have all these wonderful ingredients, perhaps we have a kitchen filled with too many cooks, who are changing recipes and oven temperatures so often that the food we’re baking will inevitably be unrecognizable and either vastly overcooked or undercooked.

Then again, perhaps we’re an enormous cruise ship in the middle of a vast ocean. We’re slowly turning but, because we’re such a huge vessel, we move and change direction at a rate that’s hard to perceive, especially when landmarks are either too far away or are masked by an enveloping fog.

Perhaps we’ve become a collection of angry bees, buzzing loudly, perceiving threats from everywhere and everyone — even inside our own honey-producing hive. Are we truly threatened from within and without, facing insurrection among the ranks of other bees, or are we surrounded by majestic purple mountains? Are we creating such cacophony that we can’t hear the birds singing around us?

We may be a batch of apples, looking suspiciously at the other fruit in the bin, wondering if any of us have turned bad, threatening the entire bunch.

Maybe we’re on a roller-coaster ride, racing up and down, screaming and shouting as we circle tracks that we fear might need repair, hoping to return to where we were so we can regain our equanimity on solid ground again.

Maybe we’ve become a boulder gathering size and momentum as it plunges down a hill. Our anger and frustration propel us forward, even as we ignore the kinds of moments and people who could, and should, unify a country. Have you been to a sporting event lately? I’m not thinking of the athletes as unifying forces.

I’m talking about the salutes to members of the military that often occur during the seventh-inning stretch in a baseball game or during a stoppage in the action in the middle of a hockey game. People throughout the stadium — those who think Trump is either a superstar or an imploding supernova — stand and cheer together, thanking these humble men and women for the sacrifice and service to our country.

Those heroes among us are the few who might do the impossible, catching the boulder or slowing it down as it cuts a path of emotional destruction through an outraged nation.

Then again, maybe the best metaphor to keep in mind amid the finger-pointing and criticism and self-doubt is the document that got us this far: the Constitution. It is the enduring net that protects the country and its citizens, even when we seem to be shadow boxing against each other on a high wire at the top of a circus tent.

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What would happen if it rained on our intransigent politicians in Washington?

Well, for starters, the Democrats would all vote “no.” They’re voting “no” on everything anyway, so the rain probably wouldn’t affect them.

While some Republicans like Sen. John McCain would immediately acknowledge the rain, others would call it a nonstory. When the GOP couldn’t discount the reality that people were getting wet, they would decide it was President Obama’s fault because he didn’t stop the rains when he had a chance. The Republicans would find some regulation, which they suggested Obama enacted, that allowed or encouraged the rain, and would immediately set about doing the important work of undoing that regulation.

Sure, Obama knew about rain in Washington when he was president, but he didn’t enact a single policy or procedure that could have prevented the wet stuff from ruining barbecues and costing people money. He ignored an important proposal many years ago to put a retractable dome over Washington that would have created jobs and saved people from getting wet.

The New York Times would blame President Trump, his administration, his family and the Russians, especially President Putin, because all are at fault for everything. They probably planned during their meetings last year to distract everyone from their collusion to cause it to rain just when everyone was getting ready for a picnic. The Times would find some damning email in which someone joked about the rain, or in which the word “rain” might have been a code word, and would remind everyone that rain is synonymous with “pain,” which the paper is feeling from this new administration.

Competing polls would begin as soon as the first drops fell. One poll, which the current administration and Republicans would ignore and discredit, would suggest that even Trump voters are frustrated by the rain and feel that Trump promised them it would never rain again, except at night when they were sleeping. They would be upset that the billionaire Man of the People didn’t protect them when they wanted to attend their daughter’s softball game or when they wanted to go on a company picnic to a site that had previously been off-limits during the Obama administration because it was a protected area where young birds and fish were breeding.

At the same time, another poll that the Democrats would ignore would indicate that Trump voters were thrilled that they didn’t have to spend money watering lawns that, thanks to the new and limited Environmental Protection Agency, they could spray with a wide range of cheaper, job-creating pesticides that may or may not harm some people and a few turtles. This poll would suggest that these voters would be thrilled if the rain continued strategically through 2020, when they would be even happier to vote again for Trump.

Trump might tweet about how sad the rain was for Democrats and might suggest that it would be raining even harder if Hillary Clinton was president. Trump might engage in a twitter war with Chelsea Clinton or Rosie O’Donnell.

CNN would cover the twitter war extensively and would then claim that the entire discussion was a distraction from the real issues, which they would cover in a small box in the corner of their webpage.

Stocks would continue to rise as investors bet that people would need to spend more money on umbrellas in the short term, and on new food for other picnics some time in the near future when the rain stopped.

When the skies cleared, everyone would take credit before heading to the beach, unless they lived in New Jersey and were thwarted by an
unpopular governor.

While millions across the globe took part in the Women’s March on Washington and other sister marches Jan. 21, hundreds met on the corner of Route 347 and Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station to make their voices heard.

“The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized and threatened many of us — immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault — and our communities are hurting and scared,” a website established to organize the marches states in its mission.

Community members who attended the event from across the North Shore reiterated many of those concerns during the march in Port Jeff Station, which according to the site was the only affiliated sister march on Long Island.

“I wanted to say something today to make all of the anxiety, the anger and fear go away, but that’s not going to happen. It shouldn’t happen because times are rough and the current circumstances call for anxiety, anger and fear.”

—Kathy Lahey

“Getting out here in unity and letting our voices be heard is crucial,” Port Jefferson resident Kathy Lahey said over a megaphone to those in attendance. Lahey said she was responsible for organizing the sister march, getting the word out and getting it officially recognized as an affiliate on the website. “We are all in this together. Together we will fight for equality, for fairness and for justice. I wanted to say something today to make all of the anxiety, the anger and fear go away, but that’s not going to happen. It shouldn’t happen because times are rough and the current circumstances call for anxiety, anger and fear.”

Women, men and children of all ages, races and backgrounds were represented at the march. The March on Washington and all of those affiliated were set up intentionally to coincide with President Donald Trump’s (R) inauguration Jan. 20 as a means to combat what they view as his alienating rhetoric during the campaign, and since his election victory, as well as to voice opposition for several policies on his agenda and nominations for his cabinet positions. Health care, equal rights, demanding the release of the President’s tax returns and immigration policy were among the topics most frequently referenced by signs and chants by attendees.

President Trump addressed the worldwide marches through his personal Twitter account.

“Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don’t always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views,” he said Jan. 22, though he later added if all present had gone out and vote they may have been heard sooner.

Many in attendance said they weren’t sure what to expect when they decided to attend, but were blown away by the unity and solidarity they felt upon arriving.

“My initial reaction when I pulled up was I burst into tears because I’m sad that we have to be here, but in the end I’m left feeling very empowered because even though the road to progress is a jagged road, in the end love will always win,” Daniela McKee of Setauket said. McKee said she is a teacher, and brought her own kids with her to experience the event. “I think it’s important that they learn from a very early age that they have to fight for what they believe in and for their rights and equality.”

Joyce Edward of Jefferson Ferry, who is in her 90s, shared her reasons for marching.

“We’re going so far back, it’s sad,” she said. “I think it is important and I hope that maybe our congress people will pay attention. I don’t think Mr. Trump will. He pays attention to one person: himself.”

“My initial reaction when I pulled up was I burst into tears because I’m sad that we have to be here, but in the end I’m left feeling very empowered because even though the road to progress is a jagged road.”

—Daniela McKee

Edward added that her deep concern for where the country is headed for her children and grandchildren inspired her to get out and participate.

She questioned if 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who has been a vocal Trump supporter since he emerged as the likely Republican Presidential candidate, would be an advocate for those unhappy with the President’s beliefs and proposed policies.

“If he’s behind Trump then I’m not behind him,” Jeff Schroeder of Greenport also said of Zeldin. “It scares me that someone so far off from the ideologies of people I know is running our district.”

Zeldin addressed the march in an emailed statement through a spokeswoman.

“2017 presents new opportunities to improve our community, state and nation,” he said. “To move our country forward, unity amongst the American people is the most critical necessity. Ideological differences will always exist, but the pursuit of common ground must be the highest priority. In Congress, I have always been and remain willing to work with absolutely anyone to find common ground on anything wherever and whenever possible.”

New York State Sen. and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D) was among those marching in New York City.

“Thank you to all the New Yorkers, Americans and people in NY, Washington, and all over the world who laced up your shoes today,” he said in an email. “It was only the beginning.”

Several marchers said they were encouraged by the overwhelming support the large crowd provided for them.

“We just need to be heard — the frustration about what’s going on. I have a daughter. I have a wife … it can’t get worse in my mind.”

—Mitchell Riggs

“It’s so heartening that people realize that they can actually be involved in changing things in government,” Sherry Eckstein of Huntington said.

Allyson Matwey of Wading River expressed a similar sentiment.

“I did not know what to expect coming here today, and I’m just in awe that there’s men, women, children — all ages, all everything here today, and it’s amazing,” she said.

Mitchell Riggs of Middle Island attended the march with two of his children, while his wife attended the New York City march.

“We just need to be heard — the frustration about what’s going on,” he said. “I have a daughter. I have a wife … it can’t get worse in my mind.”

While addressing the crowd, Lahey stressed the importance of seeing the march as the beginning of a movement, and not a solitary event.

“President Obama also said at his farewell speech that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged and come together to demand it,” she said. “And here we are — hundreds, maybe thousands — standing together on a street corner in solidarity, a group of ordinary people getting involved, getting engaged, demanding that our servants do what we hired them to do. … Contact your representatives on a regular basis. … Let them know we are here, we are involved, we are engaged and we are not going away.”

A local effort to ban a popular ingredient in beauty products has support on the federal level.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman visited Long Island recently to announce the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, a bipartisan federal bill that would ban cosmetics containing plastic pellets called microbeads, which are frequently smaller than 1 millimeter in diameter and are found in face washes, shampoos, beauty products and other soaps.

Because of their size, most wastewater treatment systems are unable to filter out the microbeads, so they are released into local waterways like the Long Island Sound. But microbeads accumulate toxins in the water, and fish and birds ingest them. Public health could be at risk if the fish are reeled in and eaten.

Schneiderman reported that about 19 tons of the small pellets pass through New York wastewater treatment plants each year.

Gillibrand’s bill has sponsors and co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, most of them from the Midwest, according to a press release from the senator’s office. It is similar to a New York state-level bill of the same name, which is Schneiderman’s effort to prohibit the sale and distribution of products containing microbeads.

“These tiny pieces of plastic have already caused significant ecological damage to New York’s waterways,” Gillibrand said, “and they will continue to do so until they are removed from the marketplace.”

The state bill passed the Assembly in the last session but was not put up for a vote in the Senate, despite having more co-sponsors than the number of votes it would have needed to pass.

New York is not alone in pushing to ban microbeads — Illinois has already given them the axe, and other states are considering similar legislation.

Many local residents first heard about the issue when Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) led her colleagues to passing a law that required the county to study how a microbead ban would affect health and the economy.

She commended officials for their anti-microbead effort on the national stage.

“The threat posed by microbead waste is of national consequence,” Hahn said in the press release. “The cumbersome task of tackling this issue [from] municipality to municipality and state to state will never prove as effective as a federal approach.”

Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of the local Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said there are other effective alternatives to microbeads, such as apricot shells, salt and oatmeal.

“The public expects facial soaps and toothpaste to clean our face and teeth, not pollute our waters,” Esposito said. “Plastic microbeads pollute our waters, contaminate our fish and shellfish, and could end up back on our dinner plates. They are completely unnecessary.”