GOSHEN — More than 125 concerned citizens gathered at the Alamo Workers Center on Jan. 15 in hopes of organizing to push back against what many believe will be an authoritarian administration under President Donald Trump.
The group – that included women and men, young and old, and people of varying backgrounds and even political opinions – came to attend a discussion entitled “What Next? – Beyond the Election,” presented by CAN – Community Action Network of Warwick – facilitated by local resident Roger Moss.
According to CAN’s statement: “The mission of the group, now known as CAN … is to form an inclusive grassroots organization that acts as a conveyor and catalyst for positive political, social and environmental action in Warwick and the region. The organization is dedicated to a deep commitment to community and to hearing and considering all opinions.”
Moss told the crowd that they were part of “a growing grassroots movement that sprang up” even before the contentious November 2016 presidential election.
Also from the statement: “A few organizers and activists got together to discuss how this new and uncivil language and behavior would affect all sectors of our own community… (T)hey noted that bullying was already on the rise in general, and keeping the peace and avoiding divisiveness was an important aspect of this community.”
His statement continues that they wanted to give people a “safe space to discuss their hopes and fears … and perhaps take positive action.”
About 60 people took part in that initial gathering in November; they decided “that they did indeed need to act.”
Five concernsFive areas of concern emerged, and subcommittees formed to address them:
• Protecting the environment and investigating clean/renewable energy sources;
• Community safety;
• Becoming more engaged in the political process;
• Resisting “any possible authoritarian demands on our community;” and
• Communicating effectively and civilly with those “whose opinions are different than our own.”
Environment, Moss said, because of the general denial on the part of the Trump administration of climate scientists’ professional consensus that the evidence overwhelmingly points to human-caused climate disruption and because “If you don’t have a region (or a planet) that’s habitable,” no other issue matters.
Public safety, he added, because each citizen should be “able to walk down your street and not feel threatened,” especially if “someone shouts something nasty at you.”
Moss suggested a hypothetical situation where a person in this case might ask a police officer for help, only to have their fears brushed aside, because the person hurling the verbal abuse is not “doing anything illegal,” leaving the object of that abuse in a potentially vulnerable situation.
Blue line controversy ‘atypical’ for WarwickMoss went on to discuss the recent controversy in the Village of Warwick over the Blue Line painted on Railroad Avenue, initially approved by Village trustees as a show of support for local law enforcement, but which was removed after some residents complained that – while perhaps a well-intentioned gesture – only gave the appearance of supporting police officers who have used excessive force against African-American men in several recent high-profile national cases.
The line has since been painted over and then re-painted.
Moss recounted the generally ugly tenor of the public discussion during that Village meeting, noting that, halfway through, “there were threats, crosstalk,” and a kind of behavior that he believed was atypical for Warwick.
“There’s no place to be threatening the mayor of our village,” Moss said: it’s illegal, and doesn’t represent the kind of town he believes most Warwickians want to live in.
It was this controversy that convinced CAN’s members that “the work of the group is timely.”
While he acknowledged people who have a different opinion than most of the participants at the previous Sunday’s gathering, Moss stressed that, while “there should be dialogue,” there also should be discussions grounded in fact.
Group’s broad appealMoss, a retired teacher, entrepreneur and corporate executive said, “This is a regional issue” and doesn’t just affect Warwick.
Attendees at the meeting came from Woodbury and from beyond Orange County, traveling – according to Moss – from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Some of these people, he said, were looking for models of civic engagement to replicate in their own communities.
He – like many of his fellow citizens – felt that “I’ve gotta do something” in response to the presidential election.
Moss took the pulse of the room, trying to get a sense of where people’s interest lie in terms of the committees they’d be willing to participate in, and to promote the actions that would best further the issues of greatest interest. Attendees at the meeting then broke up into the separate subcommittees to discuss next steps.
In an email exchange between Moss and The Warwick Advertiser, Moss said that each of the five committees “will hold a gathering before Feb. 19 to derive an action plan.”
Engage people in local activitiesThe group’s short-term goals, he said, is “to engage the members in local activities which foster positive community spirit. They were encouraged to join/volunteer for Sustainable Warwick, Community 2000, the Alamo, the Democratic Committee and to attend Village and Town meetings. “
Long-term, he continued, is “to preserve the best parts of the Obama legacy and to build grass-roots consensus on local issues for town elections.”
When asked about CAN’s view of the Women’s March, Moss said: “The Women’s March energizes us all, but the actions to achieve the goals in the march (health care, abortion and reproductive rights, inclusiveness, etc.), will be taken up locally – interpreted in terms of our situation in Orange County.”
Moss concluded: “It has been gratifying to see so many people willing to commit their time and energies to the community and we expect more to be joining in the days ahead.
“Because of this effort, we are now even better prepared to move forward with preserving our community’s values and keeping vigilant to guard against violence, intolerance and environmental problems.”