(Editor’s note: This is the third in an occasional series that will explore questions and answers of City-wide significance raised at Senator Daniel Squadron’s recent Community Town Hall meeting. This installment focuses on the local impact of the presidency of Donald Trump.)
State Senator Daniel Squadron is urging constituents who are distressed at the prospect of America being led by Donald Trump to get involved instead of getting discouraged.
At the Senator’s November 15 Community Town Hall meeting, Tribeca resident Diane Lapson raised the issue of women’s rights, saying, “our new president and vice president are saying that women should be punished if they exercise their reproductive rights. And the vice president doesn’t believe in dinosaurs. This is very frightening. A lot of people I know are still in a state of shock and depression. But women’s rights always seem to come up when they’re trying to get us not to pay attention to something else.”
Senator Squadron responded, “a woman’s right to choose is settled law in this country. Let’s be very clear about that. Long before I was born, it was settled law. And the fact that it’s been a political issue to energize certain sub-groups doesn’t change the fact that the Supreme Court spoke on this very clearly, and has declined to reverse itself in a nearly unprecedented way for 43 years.”
That noted, the Senator also acknowledged that rhetoric about abortion, both during the campaign and in the first days of the Trump Administration, “are the first signs that we are in a time of extra-constitutional risk.” He added that, “many of these issues come down to the Supreme Court not being extraordinarily radical relative to the vast majority of the American people and settled law. But we’re going to have to fight for that.”
Ms. Lapson was followed by a Tribeca resident who gave her name only as Becky. She noted, “I’m just afraid. I saw that our president has a new best friend named Steve who is going to be in the White House.” (This was a reference to Steve Bannon, who edited a right-wing extremist website called Breitbart News before joining the Trump campaign, and is now the White House’s chief strategist.) “Are their any advocacy groups that are in formation or already exist to minimize that influence and protest it?”
Senator Squadron replied, “Absolutely. The first step in being prepared to combat it is coming out and being part of this. You are setting the stage to do that, by being engaged and seeing what’s happening in your community. But there are a lot of great organizations. My mother for a long time worked at the ACLU. My father spent a lifetime supporting the American Jewish Congress, with which he joined the March on Washington with Martin Luther King. Planned Parenthood is an extraordinary organization that is under threat, as we know. It is really worthwhile to be part of organizations like these.”
Invoking a larger context, the Senator added, “certainly at the point at which I believe our Constitution, our laws, or our values are being undermined, that is not a political issue. That is an issue for which I will use my office and hope to be able to rally my constituents across party lines to protect who we are.”
In the meantime, he suggested, “your instinct that being involved locally is important is correct. So stay involved. One great way is the community board. It’s an inspiring exercise, because it is participatory democracy from volunteers who take very, very seriously the responsibilities that are given to the board. And it’s a great way, on monthly basis, to become part of government at the local level.
(Editor’s Note: Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who appoints Community Board members for two-year terms, is now accepting applications from those interested in serving for the 2017-2019 term. Community Board members have responsibility for monitoring the delivery of City services, planning and reviewing land use applications, and making recommendations for each year’s city budget. Applications are due by 5:00 pm on February 3, and can be submitted online, via mail, or in person. For more information, please browse manhattanbp.nyc.gov and click on the Community Boards tab on the left side of the page.)
Battery Park City resident Howard Pulchin observed, “New York is supposed to be an open melting pot. But we are seeing more and more incidents of hate. Just a few days ago, an Indian immigrant was told by two women, “you border hoppers better go back to Mexico before you are forced to for your own good. What can we do to make Lower Manhattan a place of less hate?”
Senator Squadron answer, “I think we’ve all felt it on the street-the sense that this way of interacting with other humans is suddenly acceptable, and in fact, one of the spoils of victory, which is pretty stomach-turning. We need to have forums at the local level for ongoing engagement. We need the courage and focus to remember to stand up, whether we’re the ones being targeted or not, whenever we witness that. Do this in a way that’s safe and doesn’t put yourself or anyone else around us at risk. But make clear that we stand against this whenever we see it.
“It is really, really important to remember that mutual respect and welcoming shores are the American way, and especially the Manhattan way,” he reflected. “We are just not an island off the coast of the United States, we are the first stop in the United States. My district includes Liberty Island and Ellis Island. I love those places because they represent who we are as a country. This is what Ellis Island represented when my grandparents came as toddlers, this has to be something that we think of constantly for the next four years.”
photos by Robert Simko