You might have noticed that since the election, stories of hate crimes and swastika sightings have been everywhere. But the increase isn’t simply due to a greater public interest in issues like police brutality and racially-motivated violence– hate crimes themselves have actually been on the rise. And quantifiably so: in the first 10 days after Trump’s victory, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented 867 “bias-related incidents” across the country. (And yet, the government itself has no reliable way of tracking hate crime. “That’s because reporting of hate crimes is voluntary, not mandatory,” CNN reported yesterday.)
As New Yorkers, we live in one of the most progressive and diverse cities in the nation, so we might think that hate crimes only happen in rural America, and are therefore not our problem. Unfortunately, that’s just patently false. Back in November, Governor Cuomo said that the “ugly political discourse” of the campaign trail has only gotten worse, having transformed into an all-out “social crisis” of hate crime and intolerance. “This fear and this anger, misdirected, seeks an enemy,” he said. “It seeks a target and that target has become people who we see as different than ourselves.” Recently, Cuomo launched a Statewide hotline for reporting “incidents of bias and discrimination.” According to the NYPD, hate crimes have been on the rise in the last year right here in New York City– as of November 13, 328 had been reported since the start of 2016. (As Gothamist noted, that’s a 31.5 percent increase since 2015.)
Ok, that’s a little overwhelming. So how can we even begin to respond to awful garbage like this?
Last night, City Council Member Stephen Levin convened a public meeting at Greenpoint’s Automotive High School with the goal of introducing constituents to local organizations that simply by continuing their work, will be on the frontlines of resistance to Trump’s extremist policies. Speaking at the start of the summit, Levin acknowledged that the aftermath of the election has been “alarming” and things will only get worse following “the shocking turn our federal government is about to take.” But now, more than ever, it’s time to focus on what can be done at the local level. “It’s so important that we keep the momentum,” he said. “Follow the issues that you’re passionate about.”
1. March with Planned Parenthood
Planned Parenthood, for example, is once again at risk for defunding by the federal government. Earlier this year, Trump remarked that there should be “some form of punishment” for women who receive abortions if the procedure is banned. On top of that, Republicans in Congress have been at war with the women’s healthcare provider for a while now. Veronica Aveis spoke last night on behalf of Planned Parenthood, and said that defunding “is one of the first things Republican congressmen and this administration wants to do.” People who are interested in lending a hand, she said, should first of all donate, and then join the organization in public demonstrations like the Women’s March on Washington (January 21 in Washington D.C.) and an action in Albany to follow (January 30). “I think 2017 can really be the year we make an impact,” she said, pointing to the New York State Legislature.
2. Donate to an immigrant advocacy group.
Donating money might seem like a rather lazy way to help out, but that’s the kind of backing groups like Central American Legal Assistance need the most, especially in a time when so called “sanctuary cities” like New York are being threatened with punishment by the incoming Trump administration, which has promised to cut of all funding to municipalities that refrain from arresting undocumented immigrants. The Williamsburg-based organization provides pro bono legal representation and advice to immigrants from particularly unstable and violent countries like El Salvador and Nicaragua, so unless you’re an attorney who’s fluent in Spanish, director Anne Pilsbury admitted, your manpower isn’t going to be of much use.
However, she pointed to another organization, the New Sanctuary Coalition, which serves the same communities and is in need of volunteers with even the most basic skills for things like filling out asylum applications and accompanying people to their court hearings. “Things are very scary for immigrants right now,” she said. “I’m older than anyone in this room, and I can tell you that my my entire life, I’ve never seen our democracy so threatened. Things are grim.”
3. “Organize white people for racial justice.”
Though a mix of hope and dread dominated the meeting, the night was not entirely without some awkward moments. A representative from Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) introduced her group as one that was interested in racial justice and fighting police brutality, for example by way of supporting the Right to Know Act. “What SURJ does is organize white people for racial justice,” she said. There was a deathly silence around the room.”Now when folks hear about groups of white people organizing white people, raise your hand if that makes you nervous,” a number of hands shot up immediately. “Yeah, and it should, right.”
But SURJ insists that they’re doing things a bit differently. “SURJ was formed in response to calls from Black Lives Matter and other black-led, people-of-color movements to ‘Go home, go organize your people,'” the rep explained. “We need you to bring your uncle, and your aunt, and your grandma who you don’t want to talk to, with us.” Instead of organizing alongside Black Lives Matter, the group acts as a mechanism of support– doing data entry, providing security at marches– for the movements led by people of color.
4. Support your local environmental justice group.
Trump’s platform of hate is troubling no matter who you are, but one cabinet selection in particular feels like a personal blow to North Brooklyn– Donald Trump has selected Rex Tillerson, the chairman of CEO of Exxon Mobil, as his Secretary of State. “This community knows about Exxon Mobil because of the largest terrestrial oil spill in the history of the United States,” Levin pointed out. “That was Exxon Mobil’s responsibility, it covered about a quarter of Greenpoint, so about 30 million gallons of oil underneath our neighborhood. That’s Exxon Mobil’s legacy.”
A pair of local environmental organizations showed up to the meeting: Newtown Creek Alliance , which oversees the cleanup and protection of the waterway most damaged by the Greenpoint Exxon Mobil oil spill, and NAG (Neighbors Allied for Good Growth), the people behind the Toxicity Map. Their commitment and seemingly constant activity is evidence, as Levin pointed out, that “we are an environmental justice community.”
Emily Bachman of NAG said it best: “So many of these environmental justice issues in this neighborhood have been caused by lack of oversight or responsibility for corporations, so when we have all these people being put into these positions who are anti-regulation, they’re really putting our neighborhood more at risk for what we are dealing with.”
5. Get organized, NYC.
Next week, Tuesday December 20 (6:30 pm to 8:30 pm), Council Member Antonio Reynoso will hold a meeting meeting similar to the one Levin hosted. And local electeds across the city who are part of the NYC Progressive Caucus are promoting #GetorganizedNYC as a way to rally their constituents into supporting organizations with a local stake– social justice, environmental advocates, immigrant rights supporters, you name it– and jobs that will be made much harder by the coming administration. Keep up with them by following their Facebook page.
A few more organizations represented at the meeting: