By Aleeza Kazmi, Sophia Ricco, Briana Panetta, and Meng Yuan
At least two protests were held within one week outside of Rep. Lee Zeldin’s Patchogue office, one over the issue of gun control and the other about what protesters called the congressman’s complicity with President Trump’s agenda.
Zeldin, a Republican who received nearly $9,000 from the National Rifle Association during the 2016 election cycle, came under scrutiny by progressive groups after supporting Trump’s statement that “both sides” were to blame for the violence at the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville.
On Thursday October 5, around 40 protesters gathered outside of the congressman’s main district office to protest for and against gun control.
Those in support of gun control were there to demand more strict rules on gun regulation and raised awareness of gun violence. Another group of protesters were there to defend the 2nd Amendment rights and believed more gun control laws cannot stop criminals, James Saccardi, a protester who strongly opposed strict gun control, said.
“I am a defender of 2nd Amendment Rights,” Saccardi, the founder of the ‘Lee Zeldin Defenders’ group on Facebook, said. “More strict laws on gun control will do nothing to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. Criminals do not follow the law, that is why they are criminals.”
Protesters in support of gun control started the protest with the Bob Dylan song, ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, Jeff Keister, a leading gun control advocate at the demonstration, said.
“Gun rights advocates may not understand that the laws as they exist now make it easy for guns to fall into dangerous hands,” Keister said.
The officials of the Village of Patchogue took little notice of the gun control protest.
“I was not at the protest, and I have no knowledge about it.” John A. Krieger, the Deputy Mayor of the Village of Patchogue, said.
Zeldin has accepted nearly $15,000 from the National Rifle Association since his first congressional run, according to the Federal Election Commission.
“Protesting plays a role in affecting change but can’t do it on its own,” Luis Montes, Managing Partner of GSL Consulting Group, communications and political consulting firm, said.
Four days after the gun rights protest, on Monday October 9, a little more than three dozen people gathered in the rain outside of Zeldin’s Patchogue office to protest what they call the congressman’s “complicity” with President Trump’s agenda.
Jewish action group Bend the Arc came together with Long Island based progressive groups to organize the protest. Jewish people account for 4.6% of Zeldin’s congressional district, according to the 2010 census.
Zeldin is one of only two Jewish Republican representatives, out of 30 in total.
Zeldin has voted lockstep with President Trump since his election and supported the president’s statement that “both sides” were to blame for the violence that erupted after neo-Nazis and white supremacists marched in Charlottesville in August. His support sparked a petition demanding he be removed from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.
“We are gathering here today at this time in the Jewish Calendar during the high holiday season because the high holidays are a time of awakening, accountability and atonement,” Kayla Glick, Bend the Arch Community Organizer, said in the protest’s opening statement. “And this year, Rep. Zeldin has so much to atone for.”
The Long Islander reached out to Zeldin’s office and they declined to comment on the protest.
Progressive groups have protested outside of Zeldin’s main district office in the past, but have never received a response from the congressman.
“I get these ridiculous letters from him when I send him something either by email, or telephone or fax,” Phyllis Hartmann, Long Island resident and Bend the Arc member, said. “He sends me some very unthoughtful general response back. He’s never actually responded to anything, he’s afraid of all of us, or doesn’t care about all of us.”
The protest organizers compiled a list of demands that included Zeldin censure President
Trump, call for the firing of Stephen Miller, vote to remove all Confederate symbols from the Capitol, and pass a DREAM Act with no attached funding for a border wall or immigration enforcement.
Last month, Trump announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which protects minors brought into the country illegally as children, who are also known as “dreamers.”
After Trump announced the end of the Obama-era program, Rep. Zeldin put out a statement on his website.
“It is great to pursue the American dream and to consider yourself a ‘dreamer’ and everyone in the United States legally should consider themselves ‘dreamers’, but you have to follow our laws. Period. We should not reward or excuse criminal behavior,” Zeldin said in the statement.
“These programs help protect for many families,” Rodman Serrano, a community organizer for the progressive group Make the Road New York, said. “It’s the only protection they have and it’s really unjust that we have a congressman who is not being responsive and he’s not being responsible to his constituents.”
Serrano’s parents are immigrants from El Salvador and are living in America under Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The renewal of TPS designations are at risk under Trump’s immigration laws.
Protesters also expressed their concern over Zeldin’s response to recent alt-right demonstrations. The night before the Bend the Arc protest, Nazis gathered again in Charlottesville, N.C., this time outside the local synagogue as they observed the Jewish holiday Sukkot. Zeldin has not made any public comments about this recent Nazi demonstration.
“As a constituent of Congressman Zeldin, I was quite disappointed in his response to the violence in Charlottesville, his silence on the appearance of KKK flyers in Patchogue and Amagansett this past year, his demonization of immigrants, and his support of the proposal of the wall in Mexico and Trump’s travel ban,” Shoshana Hershkowitz, founder of Suffolk
Progressives, another group in attendance, said.
At the protest, Rabbis from Long Island called on Zeldin to make moral judgments in congress.
“Our Torah commands, ‘See I have placed before you today, life and good, death and evil, choose life,’” Jan Uhrbach, a rabbi at the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons, said in her speech at the protest. “There are moments in life where the choices before us are especially stark, and the stakes in our choosing especially high.”