Almost a hundred outspoken opponents of President Donald Trump demonstrated outside Sen. Chuck Schumer’s Melville office Thursday, urging the U.S. Senate Minority Leader to hold Trump accountable for his controversial polices and conservative cabinet nominations that have already sparked large-scale protests across the country.
Schumer has drawn both criticism and praise for his handling of Trump’s cabinet picks since he’s taken on the role as the de-facto leader of the Democratic opposition in Congress. New York’s senior Senator has voted for a handful of Trump’s nominees and has vowed to oppose eight others, including Trump’s beleaguered Education Secretary pick Betsy DeVos, a billionaire Republican mega donor.
“We want to make sure that Chuck Schumer stands with New Yorkers, stands for our environment, stands with our students, stands with New York values, and stands up to Trump,” said Blanca Villanueva of Brentwood, representing the Long Island Progressive Coalition.
The crowd outside Schumer’s Melville office along Pinelawn Road roared when drivers honked, as speakers rebuked Trump and chanted under a cloudy sky. Demonstrators here were far more optimistic about Schumer’s ability to spearhead the anti-Trump movement than those gathered outside his Brooklyn apartment earlier this week who shouted, “What the fuck, Chuck?!?” while holding signs that read “Show some spine, Schumer.”
The hot topics ranged from environmental causes to immigration and the potential for Trump to escalate tensions abroad.
“The election of Donald Trump has been horrific. There’s so many issues that we have to bring out—especially the environment,” said John Moore, 67, of Farmingdale. “And the important point is, right now, Republicans and Democrats are not saying anything about the environment.”
Moore was on the same page as 51-year-old Donna McCarthy of East Meadow.
“What’s going on with the DPL pipeline is unacceptable,” McCarthy said, referring to the Dakota Access Pipeline project, which Trump intends to revive, after President Obama had stopped its construction because it threatened the Standing Rock Sioux’s reservation’s drinking water. “It’s an indication of this administration’s stance on the environment and it’s very distressing.”
McCarthy, like many Americans, has paid close attention to Trump’s frenetic first two weeks in office in which he signed executive orders on immigration, the Affordable Care Act and halting Syrian refugee resettlement.
“It’s all troubling. It’s not what this country stands for. It’s not what it was built on,” McCarthy said. “We should be celebrating diversity and not clumping people together as we’ve done so many times throughout history.”
For 71-year-old Martin Lilly of Long Beach, the father of two sons in the military, he’s worried about the country’s being drawn into another conflict.
“I never thought we would go nuclear, but with this guy I’m not convinced that he wouldn’t unleash some bombs,” Lilly said. “It might sound silly to say that.”
Protesters on Thursday want Schumer to block as many of Trump’s proposals as he can. But the senator’s record has been wishy-washy.
To the consternation of some progressive groups, Schumer has joined about a dozen other Senate Democrats to support the nomination of Trump’s new CIA Director, Mike Pompeo. The Republican Congressman from Kansas has called torturers “patriots” and has not ruled out using torture—illegal under international law—on detainees. He also said the US should revive the National Security Agency’s program of bulk collection of metadata, which was shuttered as a result of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s disclosures.
Schumer has been vocally opposed to some of Trump’s cabinet nominees, saying he would “vote against nominees who will be the very worst of this anti-immigrant, anti-middle-class, billionaires’ club cabinet.”
On Thursday, some demonstrators said they’d judge Schumer on his actions, acknowledging that they were willing to give him a chance.
“I’m 71, I’ve been watching politics all these years, and I like Schumer,” said Lilly of Long Beach. “I think he’s a politician, but he knows how to pick his fights, and I think he’s on his way to doing that, and I would encourage him to do what he can as the leader to change minds where he can and certainly try to impact the way things are going in Congress. I think Congress has a unique capability right now, even though Schumer is in the minority, to make what I call the ‘rigorous right’ own what they’re doing.”
“I think a lot of people like Schumer are doing what they can,” said McCarthy, adding that it’s important for voters to frequently contact their representatives to have their voice heard on most major issues. That’s what she’s been doing.
Crystal Woods of Medford, another member of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, called on Schumer to serve as a barrier between Trump and policies she considers most troubling.
“You’re in office right now because people voted for you. It’s not so hard. Protect your people!” Woods said.
Asked whom she supported during the presidential election, Woods sighed wistfully: Bernie Sanders. When it was suggested that perhaps Sanders’s perspective might influence the minority leader, she said, “That would be really nice.”
“Everybody has their own beliefs and their own policies, and you can’t push anything on anyone,” she added. “But if you can have them have an ‘aha’ moment, then you know you’ve done your job. And that’s what we’re asking for—for him to have an ‘aha’ moment.”
Helping her anchor the yellow banner proclaiming Long Island Progressive Coalition’s name was Villanueva, who reminded Schumer—and his colleagues—that voters have a long memory.
“Elected officials work for us,” she said. “We are the ones that elect them and we are the ones that can replace them as well. Our elected officials are supposed to represent us and represent what’s best for us, and this is why we’re standing in front of Chuck Schumer’s office and saying: Stand up against Trump and stand up for climate and all the other issues we care about.”
Leslie Aiuto of Great Neck offered a more pragmatic view about the senator’s stance.
“I think we don’t have much choice in the matter,” she said. “I think he’s listening. I think he’s growing a pair, as it were, so hopefully he can lead the fight. He’s in the best position to.”
Sam, a PhD student at Stony Brook University who didn’t want to give his last name, said he was participating in his third demonstration in four days. He said his housemate is marrying an Iranian man whose parents will now be prohibited from flying in for their wedding because of Trump’s travel ban. He was inspired on Sunday to protest the president’s refugee and immigration restrictions. Following a march in Manhattan that began at Battery Park, Sam offered rides to strangers he met in the protest. He ended up driving to JFK Airport with three Muslim women who were in the US on student visas and protesting there too.
“This is totally beyond the pale of what is acceptable in a democratic, open society,” he said, “and we’ve got to stand up to it now before it gets worse.”
The Stony Brook graduate student hopes elected Democrats will demonstrate as much conviction as the people who poured into the nation’s airports last weekend to protest Trump’s ban.
“Trying to compromise, trying to save their firepower for later, trying to save their credibility with the Republicans, whatever that means, it’s just not going to work at this point,” Sam observed. “If they try to resist, as we’ve seen in just the past day…the Republicans will change the rules. I think the Republicans are really going for full one-party power at this point. Just trying to compromise with them is not going to get us anywhere.”
Sam had an ultimatum for Sen. Schumer.
“My message to him would be we, your constituents, are counting on you to represent us, to stand up for us,” he said. “And if you can’t manage to do that, if you can’t stand up now, of all times, then we’re going to leave you behind, and you can expect a challenger in the primary.”
Schumer won’t be up for reelection until 2022.
(Featured photo: Chuck Schumer/Facebook)