It was a big day on Long Island. President Donald Trump was jetting in for what he thought would be a victory lap on health care and some “tough talk” to a hand-picked audience about immigration. Easy, right?
Sorry, Donald. Things didn’t work out quite the way you expected!
First, in the wee hours of July 28th, the Senate voted down your heartless repeal of health care, after months of protests by the Long Island Progressive Coalition and citizens' groups like us all across the country.
And when you arrived in Brentwood, we were already there, ready to let you know that just like we stopped you on health care, we will never let you use gang violence or any other excuse to drive a wedge into the heart of our community, to separate immigrants from their neighbors.
Donald, your message of hate is not welcome here!
Spreading the Word
Activists came together quickly once the word began to spread Monday night that Trump would arrive on Friday. At first, we didn’t know where he would be or what time he would speak, but we knew we had to seize the moment.
The timing was tight, but the message was clear: the most divisive president since the Civil War was not welcome in our community. Long Islanders of every background don’t want our neighborhoods to become a backdrop so Trump could serve up hateful rhetoric to his hardcore conservative base.
So practically overnight, an unprecedented alliance of forty Long Island organizations came together. Social justice organizations joined immigration activists, LGBTQ advocates and the groups that have sprouted up all over the Island to resist the Trump agenda on health care and other issues to forge a unified response.
Our challenge was to present a positive message, and not to get sucked into taking a position that could serve as fodder for alt-right propaganda. As organizers held conference calls on Tuesday and Wednesday, our plan came into focus. We decided to make sure that the voices of those most affected by anti-immigration attitudes and actions got a chance to be heard - and their supporters took the lead.
With 40 different groups on board, the unity statement stressed protecting family values in this way:
Here on Long Island, community members are committed to working to make sure our communities and young people are safe. And we are committed to coming together to support youth and families harmed by violence, especially immigrant families who have been the majority of the victims and survivors of this violence.
Brought together by Lisa Tyson of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, Walter Barrientos of the immigrants’ rights advocacy group Make the Road New York, and Gabriela Castillo of Long Island Civic Engagement Table, protest organizers took a proactive stand, emphasizing investing in our youth instead of vilifying them.
The statement also singled out Long Island’s two Republican Congressmen, Peter King and Lee Zeldin, for exploiting the murders perpetrated by MS13 gang members in the region to “scapegoat entire segments of the population for their own political gain.”
— Daniel Altschuler (@altochulo) July 26, 2017
As Barrientos explained, the administration has tried to paint Latino immigrants as a threatening population that must be policed the same way it has fabricated a link between ISIS and Muslim refugees to isolate them. This dehumanizing approach to social problems is unacceptable, and it must be opposed. There is a better way: it's coming together, not dividing us.
The activists preparing to stand up to Trump’s arrival had learned from their experience dealing with an earlier visit to Long Island by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, when the conservative lawman came to the federal courthouse in nearby Central Islip to denounce MS13 and fuel anti-immigrant fervor.
During Sessions’ visit, protesters weren’t allowed anywhere near the courthouse; instead they were “crunched between a highway and a golf course,” Barrientos said.
This time, activists decided to hold a press conference Thursday outside the main entrance of the Suffolk Community College campus in Brentwood when they knew the media horde would start to gather on Long Island.
It was a very strategic decision, as Tyson put it, because there must have been 30 press people for that conference and “we were able to build the narrative about immigration.” They were clear about the message and spoke with a consistent voice. The coverage went international.
“Had we only done Friday’s action, the messaging might have been lost,” said Castillo, adding that teamwork was critical and coordination was key.
On Friday, the activists gathered in a park near the campus, after enlisting volunteers to act as observers and marshals to keep everybody safe during the protest. Activists in the LGBTQ community angered by Trump’s tweets that week attacking those serving in the military also came out in force.
When Trump did address the college auditorium audience of mostly law-enforcement officers, he actually urged them to bang heads as they arrest suspects.
Law-enforcement leaders all across the country were quick to reject Trump’s ham-handed “jokes” about police violence. They know more than anyone that Trump has made it harder for police to make their communities safer, because the fear of indiscriminate roundups by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents make innocent community members too afraid to tip them off - in effect, doing MS13’s job of intimidation for them.
But does ICE care? Apparently not, as immigrants with unpaid parking tickets, or those showing up for regularly scheduled interviews, are getting locked up and deported.
“Where we are today is the result of the private prison lobby changing laws in the judicial system to facilitate the criminalization and deportation of immigrants,” explained Barrientos. This policy must be denounced, and we will resist.
And so, hundreds of protesters came together on Long Island to tell their story and speak truth to power.
In the months ahead, the movement will only grow stronger by the day as more people join in to spread the word that Trump has gone far enough. Sorry, Donald!