‘Activism for All’ Ramps Up in Ocean County

opens in a new window‘Activism for All’ Ramps Up in Ocean County – Victoria Ford, The Sandpaper

Like never before in U.S. history, people across the political spectrum – those who identify as Democrat, Republican, Independent, apolitical, progressive, conservative, feminist, or eschew labels altogether – are choosing this moment to get involved, be it for the first time ever, or for the first time in decades. Some say they are urged by a sense of civic duty or moral imperative to fight for their beliefs, to challenge the people in power and to make what they hope is a positive difference, whether in their community or in the big picture.

In the weeks since a Jan. 21 bus trip that ushered 100 local protestors (with widely varying political and personal motivations and principles) to the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., here at home the movement – or “marathon,” as co-organizer Christine Rooney of Ship Bottom describes it – has continued on several fronts.

The New Jersey Organizing Project, headed up by Cedar Bonnet Island’s Amanda Devecka-Rinear and Manahawkin resident Joe Mangino, has added the causes of healthcare and climate change to their ongoing work in seeking justice for victims of Superstorm Sandy. NJOP held kickoff meetings Jan. 28, attended by about 100 people in different parts of Ocean County, sharing stories, ideas and readiness to dig in and work with neighbors for families and values, according to the organization. The main bases covered were “economic security and dignity” with regard to the potential loss of healthcare coverage for 800,000 New Jerseyans; Sandy recovery, in fighting the foreclosure crisis, contractor fraud, and the state RREM disaster relief program “clawbacks” of demanding return of certain promised grant amounts; a “shore keeper” strategy, with respect to future extreme weather and sea level rise; and next steps (meetings in Atlantic City and Monmouth bayshore areas are planned the last weekend in February).

On Jan. 26, Rooney and Devecka-Rinear (along with Tuckerton resident Bonnie Richmond and local businesswoman Becky Tarditi) held an “Activism: 101” workshop at the Barnegat branch of the Ocean County Library. Rooney described it as “a low-key, soft introduction” to activism, attended by about 20 people, where Devecka-Rinear gave a training and Rooney followed up with a PowerPoint presentation.

Rooney feels the focus should not be what she and others are against, but rather what they are for: health care, environmental protection, social security, anti-discrimination, funding for the arts and world peace.

People want to have a voice, and they’re looking for ways to be effective, according to Rooney. She administers a Facebook page called March on LBI/Ocean County Women as an online gathering place for information and resources. There, she and others post upcoming actions, rallies, vigils, advice on phone calls to make and letters to write to legislators, and links to such entities as MoveOn.org, Wall-of-Us.org and New Jersey Citizen Action so people can participate in whatever ways work best for them.

On Jan. 29, some area residents joined the protests at Philadelphia International Airport against the president’s ban on travel from certain Muslim countries. The following Tuesday, more than 100 demonstrators gathered at Congressman Frank LoBiondo’s office in Mays Landing (while he was away in Washington, D.C.) to express their dissatisfaction with the travel ban. Among them were Valerie Vaughn and some of her fellow Little Egg Harbor citizens. Vaughn described the experience as spiritually enlightening: An imam from a local mosque led a group in prayer, then Vaughn sang an a capella rendition of Bob Marley’s “One Love” and everyone sang along.

Two days later, on Feb. 2, a group of 15 from LBI and the mainland – nearly all first-time activists, according to Karlyn Ippolito of Surf City – went to LoBiondo’s office and met with District Director Linda Hinckley in the congressman’s absence.

“We spent about an hour discussing our concerns with the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act,” Ippolito said. “Many of the people around the table told of their personal concerns.” They all signed a letter and left it in Hinckley’s care, requesting an appointment with LoBiondo and emphasizing the need for “town hall”-style meetings where he can field questions. As it is, according to Ippolito, LoBiondo holds town halls via teleconference with tens of thousands of people on the line, which she feels is not the ideal format for getting questions answered and concerns addressed.

“We were told he will not be back in district until March – not one day – and it is too soon to begin setting up appointments for March.” Hinckley suggested they try scheduling a meeting with his appointment secretary in Washington, D.C.

“Our impression was that while Ms. Hinckley was unfailingly polite, there was no sign of anything changing,” Ippolito said.
Friday, Feb. 3, Tarditi visited the mosque of the Islamic Society of Monmouth County in Middletown with about 300 others in what was described in reports as a multi-faith display of solidarity for the local Muslim community. Tarditi considers herself an activist for human rights. When she participates, she said, it’s on many levels, spiritual, political, emotional and physical (as in actions/ demonstrations).

“Passersby were mostly supportive,” Tarditi said, noting only one or two exceptions. The congregation was very appreciative, offering repeated thanks and refreshments and inviting supporters inside the mosque for the service, which Tarditi described as “interesting and friendly.” The resounding message from the service was for human beings to treat each other with dignity and respect, she added.

At press time, candlelight vigils were being planned for Wednesday, Feb. 8, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. (and every Wednesday) outside the offices of Congressmen Frelinghuysen, Lance, LoBiondo, MacArthur and Smith, in light of plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The idea is to urge legislators to prevent funding cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, and to ensure 30 million people can keep their healthcare coverage.

— Victoria Ford