Between Councilman Mark Levine's community conversation and state Senator Daniel Squadron's town hall, both held last week, around 400 people showed up to discuss the results of the recent presidential election. Levine's event, which was not on the schedule before Election Day, was planned directly as a result of the overwhelming response his office has fielded in the last two weeks. Squadron's annual fall progress update had been planned for months, but he threw out the agenda and spent the entire time answering questions from the public instead. Nearly all of them were about the election.
“There's been an outpouring of concern,” said Levine, whose district stretches from West 96th to West 165th Streets. “Some are describing the trauma they're feeling as comparable to after 9/11. But I have to say, on a more inspiring level also, the passion for activism and involvement exceeds anything I've ever seen.” He estimated that there were 300 people at his event, many of whom felt threatened by President-elect Donald Trump's commitment to deporting immigrants and his anti-abortion views.
Squadron's event was advertised as an update on the town halls he held this past spring, but it became clear that the standing-room-only crowd had come for more than a discussion of potholes. “The truth is we have probably the biggest turnout we've ever had, and I know why that is,” he said. “A lot of us ... are disturbed by the results of the election last Tuesday. We're really glad you're here.”
Squadron's district covers most of Lower Manhattan as well as parts of Brooklyn, but some speakers said they had come from other districts purely out of a desire to participate. “Whatever your take on what happened,” said Squadron, “engagement, a redoubling of efforts to get involved, building the civic architecture to stand up for our values is the most powerful thing you can be doing.”
At his community meeting, as well as Levine's, residents touched on everything from climate change to foreign policy to healthcare. “What are your thoughts about a New York-based [healthcare] exchange?” Lower Manhattan resident Steven Abramson asked Squadron. “Could we save [the Affordable Care Act] for New York? Is there something we could do should this catastrophe occur?” In response, Squadron called the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act “enormously serious.” “One of the very few things that President-elect Trump immediately moderated was that if you have a pre-existing condition, if you're in your early 20s, we're not going to take it away from you,” he said in an attempt to reassure people. “It's very hard to do away with Obamacare without doing away with Obamacare, so that would be a particularly Orwellian project. But we'll see what happens.”
In the community room at 50 West 97th Street, a much smaller group of about 30 people spent last Wednesday night zeroing in on the future of housing. Larry Wood, a community organizer at Goddard Riverside, told the residents he wanted to focus on local resources for tenants instead of speculating about Trump's potential impact. “I don't want to talk too much about the national scene, but I know there's a lot of concern about policy issues in the long term,” Wood said. “Some people are asking me if it's possible that a conservative Supreme Court could strike down the rent laws. I don't know. Everything's on the table.” However, he predicted that Section 8 and public housing budgets would take a hit. To offer some help, he came armed with a handout listing useful organizations and websites of local housing and homeless advocates.
Councilman Corey Johnson, who represents Manhattan's west side from West 63rd to Canal Streets, hosted what he called an organizing meeting on Sunday night at the LGBT Center in Chelsea. “My hope is that we can get people to channel that emotion, whatever it is — anger, anxiety, fear — into action,” he said. “Because democracy is not a spectator sport. A lot of scary, difficult things are going to be presented to us and we have to organize and fight back.” At Sunday's meeting, Johnson informed attendees of numerous ways — like donating to worthy causes and joining their community boards — they could do just that.
As less than 10 percent of Manhattan residents voted for Trump, it is no surprise that their response to his win has been so forceful. Still, Johnson said he has never seen this level of outrage. “It didn't even feel this way after President [George W.] Bush was reelected in 2004,” he said. “A lot of people are comparing it to September 11.”
Though too late for the presidential election, local elected officials are making use of their positions to comfort and organize their constituents because as they see it — and as the Facebook page for Johnson's event concludes in all caps — complacency is not an option.
Madeleine Thompson can be reached at email@example.com