Democrats’ conversation disrupted by demonstrators

From left, Kenya Gadsden, facilitator, with state Sen. Michelle Hinchey and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand at the Northern Dutchess Democrat get-together at the Stissing Center in Pine Plains Sunday, March 3.

Judith O'Hara Balfe

Democrats’ conversation disrupted by demonstrators

PINE PLAINS — Motivating New York Democrats in 2024, a conversation with U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and state Sen. Michelle Hinchey was held Sunday, March 3, at the Stissing Center for Arts and Culture.

Kenya Gadsden, who is running on the Democratic ticket for Dutchess County clerk, talked briefly about the importance of this year’s political contests, asking if the audience understood the enormousness of the outcome of the vote.

She introduced Hinchey, saying that she had been voted “Advocate of the Year 2022” for her work in affordable housing, and also noted her work on aging water infrastructure and other environmental issues.

Gadsden introduced Gillibrand by saying that she was originally voted into Congress in 2006 and, in 2009, was appointed to fill the seat in the Senate left by Hillary Clinton. In 2010 she was voted into the Senate, where she has served since, advocating for health care, the environment, jobs and equality.

The discussion centered on the need for the Democrats to mobilize, to come together working toward the 2024 election.

Upstate priorities

Hinchey said that in many matters, the interests of upstate New York are left on the table. Reliable internet, accessible health care and other interests are left wanting because the communities are small. Getting the message out is imperative and can make a difference, she said.

Getting free breakfast and lunch to schoolchildren was a priority, she said; last year, that goal was 88% attained.

Chris Drago, county legislator for Dutchess County District 19 — which includes Stanford, Pine Plains, North East/Millerton — cited the need for change. In particular, he underscored the need for broadband accessibility and emergency services in the area.

Gillibrand said that violence is one of the main problems facing New York, but that while people think it is being caused by gun proliferation, the actual problem is illegal gun trafficking.

She also brought up some of the problems including sexual abuse in the military and the lack of equality for transgender and LGBTQ people.

She is sponsoring a bill that will provide free college tuition to 1,000 students, provided they serve the government for five years in a cyber-related discipline after their education.

About 25 protesters, some carrying signs, disrupted the discussion at the Stissing Center in Pine Plains Sunday, March 3.Judith O'Hara Balfe

War in the Middle East, division at home

Shortly after she began to speak, several audience members rose, some holding signs, chanting, “No cease fire, no vote,” referencing the ongoing devastation in Israel and Gaza. Some of the signs stated, “Stop the genocide.”

Gillibrand acknowledged that there was a need for discussion on the subject because it is a situation everyone cares deeply about. She tried to speak to the protestors while they continued to chant.

Gadsden began to sing, “There’s a train coming, you don’t need a ticket, you just get on board.”

Pine Plains and state police escorted the protestors out. Gillibrand said that the Middle East situation is dividing us. She summarized that on Oct. 6, a plan had been devised to allow for a two-state solution, that Jordan was providing support for the process, and that the attacks on Oct. 7 ended that plan.

She said that Hamas are not freedom fighters, but are paid by Russia. She said that the money the United States gives to Israel is for defense purposes, and that Biden is pushing Israel to the peace table.

At this juncture, the Rev. Peter Cook, executive director of the New York State Council of Churches, rose and questioned the accuracy of her statements. Gadsden offered to see him afterward and exchange phone numbers.

Hinchey, like Gillibrand, encouraged everyone to work for the reelection of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, naming the accomplishments of their administration, and adding, “The House of Representatives is a s— show. They don’t want to stop assaults on the LGBTQ community, don’t want to help kids with food or college,” she said.

Both Hinchey and Gillibrand agreed that the party has to be united and lift up the Biden and Harris team. Gillibrand said, “The great protector of our nation is democracy, but,” she admonished, “to be strong, democracy must be exercised” by voters.

Climate crisis

Hinchey said that we are not talking enough about the ongoing climate crisis, and that we’re not doing enough to mitigate it.

“We need to have sweeping change,” she stated, “or our kids and grandkids won’t have a future. This is uncomfortable, but necessary. Young people are asking, ‘Can we have a family?’ We have to make changes.”

She added, “If we lose next year, we’ll be asking, ‘How do we stop the damage?’”

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