|As printed in Newsday — http://www.newsday.com|
Published: April 5, 2011 6:18 PM
Political activism alive on LI
By MICHAEL DAWIDZIAK
The citizens gathered to protest unfair taxation and disproportionate representation. They met in local eating and drinking establishments and lodges to discuss their plight. Some gave impassioned speeches on the need to repeal the burdensome tax that was imposed by politicians sitting far away, not fairly representing their region. Others called for better representation for a group of people not given an equitable legislative voice.
In short, people who felt they were being unfairly treated met to agitate for change.
No, it wasn't a meeting of the Sons or Daughters of Liberty in Boston or Philadelphia protesting the Stamp Act or tea tax, and it didn't occur 200-plus years ago. These meetings were held last week right here on Long Island.
The first one, last Tuesday night, was for an organization called Tax Relief Now!, which is dedicated to the repeal of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority payroll tax. More than 400 people packed the room at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury to listen to full-throated speeches and show solidarity. Conspicuous by their absence: most elected officials. Suffolk Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) and Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon) were there and spoke, but the crowd was primarily made up of a cross-section of local business people and citizens who came together for a cause.
There was some skepticism about whether the event would draw a crowd. But Long Island builder Jack Kulka gave the gathering legitimacy and support by serving as one of its co-chairs. Kulka -- never shy about getting involved with social, civic or political issues -- was clearly in the Sam Adams role that evening.
And if he was Adams, the evening's John Hancock was the organization's founder, Bill Schoolman. In his speech, Schoolman, the owner of Classic coach and Hampton Luxury Liner, argued this burdensome tax is unconstitutional (he filed a lawsuit against the MTA on those grounds in December), and said, "Tonight we are here to celebrate the beginning of a tax revolution -- a return to our basic principles, where each taxpayer has a vote, and each vote actually matters." Sentiments worthy of the Sons of Liberty.
The next evening, the Daughters of Liberty took their turn. More than 500 people crowded into the ballroom of the Melville Marriott to attend "Ready, Set, Lead! Empowering Women in the Political Process," an event hosted by the Nassau and Suffolk County Women's Bar Association and sponsored by women's groups and companies from around Long Island.
Once again, there had been early concern about a successful turnout. Women, just like men, often divide along party lines, and many political insiders doubted they would unite for a leadership conference. But unite they did.
The event was chaired by attorney Linda Kevins and spearheaded by Val Manzo, the first president of the Suffolk County Women's Bar Association, Shari Lee Sugarman, its current president, and many other women leaders.
The program featured a video greeting from Sandra Day O'Connor, the first female Supreme Court justice, who set the tone by quoting Madeleine Albright, the first female secretary of state: "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other." CNN reporter Sandra Endo served as the moderator as Richard Schaffer, John Jay LaValle, Edward Walsh and Frank MacKay, chairmen of Suffolk's Democratic, Republican, Conservative and Independence parties, spoke and answered questions about getting involved in politics and how to secure a nomination.
America has a long history of peaceful organizing to advance social and political causes. Our origins lie in these practices. It's inspiring to see that spirit of political activism alive and well on Long Island.
Photo credit: AP Photo/DAN LOH | Norman Rockwell's "Spirit of '76"