State attorney general Eric Schneiderman addressed the packed Common Council Chamber in Kingston’s city hall last Thursday, leaving little doubt as to his own political leanings. The prosecutor detailed a plan of attack on a local level against the recent reversal of liberal public policies concerning immigration, incarceration, environmental protection and affordable healthcare.
“We have to advance progressive reforms at the state level if they’re not happening in Washington,” Schneiderman said at the latest in a slew of Citizen Action of the Hudson Valley events. “There is no such thing as an issue that is untouchable, and there is no such thing as a safe Republican seat …. We do not wait until 2020. We do not wait until 2018. We start now.”
He outlined a three-pronged approach to spur policy changes: to “fill in” by replacing lost federal programs on a state level, to “fight back” via protest and community engagement, and to “move forward” with a positive outlook, encouraging new political candidates on a local level.
According to Citizen Action’s Facebook page, the numerous questions posed fell into major four categories: the maintenance of environmental protections, the legality of withholding funding from sanctuary cities, the accessibility of affordable healthcare and the repair of the criminal justice system.
Rashida Tyler of the Citizen Action Leadership Committee talked about turning resistance into action by “becoming the change that we want to see.”
“We believe that the future is local,” she said. “ If you want to change the House, Senate and president, you need to talk to people one on one. It’s not about political party. It’s about connecting with people power.”
Tyler asked Schneiderman questions based on the subject areas that Kingston people had asked on the Facebook page.
On the subject of the threats posed by climate change, Schneiderman noted the activism within Kingston. He hoped to continue to work towards clean power at the state level. “We are still in coalition, even if Trump wants to pull out of the Paris Accord. We’re still in,” he said.
What about Trump’s threat to withhold funding from regions that adopt sanctuary-city policies? “There are severe constitutional restrictions on the federal government’s ability to pull money away from a local government because they don’t like one area of that government’s policy,” he said. A city and its local law enforcement should be able to decide that it is safer for everyone if immigrants do not fear the police.
Schneiderman also discussed his commitment to defending the Affordable Care Act. Calling attention to the flaws in the House repeal-and-replace bill, he noted the increasingly visible rifts within the different Republican factions. He expressed confidence that these will prove advantageous in the fight for access to affordable healthcare.
How to facilitate parolee reentry into society was the final question addressed by the attorney general. Schneiderman felt that mass incarceration in America and the institutional racism behind it were not only unjust but also ineffective. He emphasized the importance of making it easier for parolees to vote. “We have to take every step possible for them to fully participate in our society,” he said.
Kingston mayor Steve Noble, who considers environmental protection a “personal issue,” stressed the importance of either keeping the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act or replacing them at a state level. He said the proposed Pilgrim Pipelines between Albany and New Jersey would be “detrimental to hundreds of water bodies.” Citing the bill that passed through the Senate on June 23 to give the state additional say over anchorage locations in the Hudson River as evidence, Noble insisted that protesting voices matter.
According to Tyler, members of Citizen Action of the Hudson Valley had made 2000 phone calls, knocked on 500 doors. and have driven entire blocs of people who have never voted in Kingston to register thus far this summer. The group aspires to amass enough volunteers to knock on 175 doors each — the entirety of Kingston—in just one day through its community canvassing initiative. The organization has been holding protests every Friday — so-called “Faso Fridays” — at noon outside congressman John Faso’s office at 721 Broadway.
Bob Gelbach, a retired political science professor and recent transplant to Saugerties, was supportive. “I’m extremely impressed with the level of organization and commitment and genuine human concern of the people of Citizen Action and the public officials and citizens [in our county during] the short time that I’ve been here,” said Gelbach, “These issues are going to take a while to develop.”
Those interested in getting involved with Citizen Action can contact Callie Jayne at cjayne@citizenactionny,org.