Political activism has been on the rise across the country since last year’s national elections, and Southern Ocean County is no exception.
Following a trip to the Women’s March on Washington the day after the presidential inauguration last month, organizer Christine Rooney, of Ship Bottom, said: “This is not just about a march, but the beginning of a movement.”
A movement not about who or what people are against but for important issues like health care, environmental protection, Social Security, anti-discrimination, funding for the arts and world peace, said Rooney.
Last Wednesday night Amanda Devecka-Reiner ( co-founder of the New Jersey Organizing Project (NJOP) along with Joe Mangino of Manahawkin) and others attended a candlelight vigil in front of Rep Frank LoBiondo’s (R-2) office, while others did the same at Congressman Tom MacArthur’s (R-3) Toms River and Marlton offices to urge them not to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would cost millions their healthcare coverage, or to makes cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.
The vigils are planned for every Wednesday night from 4:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. for the foreseeable future, she added.
There are social media sites calling for vigils across the country.
LoBiondo’s office is located at 5914 Main St #103, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. MacArthur’s Ocean County Office is in the Township of Toms River Town Hall, 33 Washington St. Toms River, NJ 08753. He also has an office in Burlington County at the Gibson House Community Center, 535 East Main Street, Marlton, NJ 08053.
On on their return, Devecka-Reiner said, “What I’ve learned from more than 20 years as a community organizer – no matter who is in office and no matter what party – community members have to stand up and fight for what is right.”
Prior to last month, NJOP was solely dedicated to aiding the victims of Superstorm Sandy in their ongoing struggles.
They have now added healthcare and climate change to their agenda, said Mangino.
The Project held two “kick-off” meetings late last month one in Stafford Township and another in Brick for people to learn how to get actively involved in working for these issues.
The meetings drew more than 100 people combined, said Mangino.
They addressed people’s economic security and dignity with the potential loss of healthcare coverage for hundreds of thousands of New Jersey residents and a “shore keeper” strategy, to deal with future extreme weather and sea level rise, he said.
They learned how they can take action on those issues as well as the ongoing problems people are still faced with after Sandy, added Mangino.
The following week a group local residents headed to Congressman Frank LoBiondo’s (R-2) offices to protest the President and Congress’s plan to eliminate the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA).
The group was comprised primarily of first-time activists, said organizer Karlyn Ippolito, of Surf City, who traveled to Cape May Courthouse with 15 men, women and a child from LBI and the mainland.
LoBiondo’s district includes LBI and the southern part of Stafford Township on down through the county and beyond.
Among the group was Sari McGovern, of Manahawkin, who said the repeal of the ACA would be catastrophic to her and many more people.
Diagnosed with mononucleosis in 2005, she has developed other maladies due to a weakened immune system, including a heart condition and fibromyalgia, she said.
“I may wind up in the hospital around three times a year for my heart,” she said. “If they eliminate coverage for pre-existing conditions, I don’t what I would do.”
“I would certainly drown (in debt) if I wound up in an assigned risk pool,” said McGovern.
She said they wanted to ask the congressman to work to fix the current system, to make it a better plan, not scrap the program with no replacement in sight, said McGovern.
According to a statement from Ippolito, “We were greeted very kindly at the office and were ushered into the conference room where we met with Linda Hinckley, Congressman LoBiondo’s District Director. We spent about an hour discussing our concerns with the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act.”
Many of them like McGovern shared their personal stories, she added.
They ended their meeting by presenting a letter signed by them all and requesting a face to face meeting with the Congressman either locally or in Washington D.C.
If not he would hold town hall meetings so that people could ask him questions directly, she added.
The group was told by Hinckley, LoBiondo would not be back in the district until next month, and it is too soon to begin setting up appointments for March. To see him in Washington could only be arranged by his appointment secretary there, said Ippolito
They were also told that LoBiondo holds tele-town halls, teleconferences of 30,000-40,000 people who may then ask questions, she added.
“Our impression was that while Ms. Hinckley was unfailingly polite, there was no sign of anything changing,” said Ippolito.
“All we got was lip service,” was how McGovern summed it up.
The group was not the first area residents to protest at the Congressman’s office.
A few days after the President signed his executive order on Jan. 27 banning residents from several Muslim countries from entering the country, Tuckerton’s Valerie Vaughn and other locals joined a protest in front of LoBiondo’s office in Cape May Courthouse that she had learned about through social media.
Vaughn said while the ban did not directly affect her it was something she felt was not only unfair but illegal.
She and others she called “baby-boomers” from all over South Jersey who apparently also had no personal stake in the issue showed up for the same reasons, she said.
They soon were joined by people who had driven in from urban areas like Atlantic City, including a city councilman and clergy members, she said. There were also many Muslims in the crowd, she added.
The Iman of the one Atlantic City’s mosques spoke to the crowd and then held a prayer service in front of the Congressman’s office, she said. Vaughn recorded the speech and posted it on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oNbVNkWitT0
After the service Vaughn, a well-known singer/songwriter, said she just broke out into singing Bob Marley’s “One Love” and soon the whole crowd joined in.
Afterward, a Muslim man wearing his working clothes and boots came up to her with tears in his eyes thanking her and saying he has always loved reggae music.
“It was a spiritually enlightening afternoon. It was evident how threatened they feel. A sweet little woman with a head scarf (hijab) hugged us with tears in her eyes to thank us for coming to support them,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
NJOP will hold two more regional kickoff meetings on Sat. Feb. 25th from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the Ventnor Library, 6500 Atlantic Ave., Ventnor City NJ, 08406 and Sun. Feb. 26th from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. at the Middletown Library 55 New Monmouth Road Middletown, NJ 07748.