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Local activists call for change on Long Island

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More than a month after the George Floyd killing, his death continues to have a profound impact on communities thousands of miles away from Minneapolis. Activists everywhere have mobilized in an attempt to demand change from their local elected officials.

Protests have taken place all throughout Long Island, eliciting action from supporters and counter protestors alike. Last month, a protest in Merrick went viral when counter-protestors were filmed disrupting the otherwise peaceful demonstration.

West Hempstead resident Nicole Fodera, who attended and helped to organize Merrick’s protest, said she felt a need to do more for the cause. She teamed up with Gabriella Pulice and Hampton Lamar to co-organize a protest at Hall’s Pond Park on June 9.

“I think the community of West Hempstead needed a demonstration,” Fodera said, “because while it’s a very diverse town, we can’t ignore the segregation we see within the community. I’m [the] third generation of my family to grow up in West Hempstead and graduate from the high school, so I feel a very strong connection to the town and definitely wanted the community to show up and show out for justice.”

Social media has also been a very powerful tool used by young activists to support the cause in any way they can. Fodera started running the social media accounts for Young Long Island for Justice, an organization dedicated to giving young progressives a place to commiserate with like-minded people. The group started in 2018 under the moniker “Young Progressives of Nassau County.”

Kiana Abbady, a member of the Young Long Island for Justice Steering Committee, admitted to seeing a significant increase in membership in the organization recently. Abbady, of Freeport, decided to get involved with the group because although she had previously worked as an activist in a “covert” manner, she wanted to mobilize others. Like Fodera, Abbady kept her efforts close to home by putting together the Justice for Akbar demonstration in her hometown.

“On Long Island, we have the ability to really move the needle,” Abbady explained. “We’ve just been sleeping at the wheel, and I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

Her fellow Steering Committee member Jonathan Goldhirsch started getting involved in activism after the 2016 election. Goldhirsch had attended numerous marches and protests in the past. However, he noticed a key difference between Black Lives Matter protests and others he had previously attended.

“I’ve been to more protests in these few weeks than I have been in my entire life,” Goldhirsch said. “You see a lot more young people, both high school and college students. Young adults in their 20s and 30s [are] coming out and showing support.”

Both Goldhirsch and Abbady mentioned the tendency that young residents have to move away from Long Island, and how the only way to prevent that is to be more receptive of the needs and voices of young people.

“At the end of the day, this is not a debate on politics, it’s a morality issue,” Fodera said. “I believe [that] since the murder of George Floyd, more people are seeing this civil rights movement for exactly that — systemic moral injustice.”

Fodera stressed the importance of being safe and following guidelines for protests as well. The Nassau County Police Department must be informed of planned protest routes at least 24 hours in advance, she said. These routes must be completely adhered to by anyone who is looking to take part in the demonstration.

“As for the coronavirus, which is still a very real concern of mine,” Fodera said, “everyone attending demonstrations should always, always wear a mask, carry around hand sanitizer and get checked after protests. In my experience, everyone at the demonstrations have been awesome and wear masks and try their best to remain socially distant.”