Leaders and volunteers gathered on the steps of a Patchogue church Thursday to launch an initiative designed to encourage immigrants and people of color to vote in local elections.
"The issues in local elections matter as much if not more as the issues we worry about in a presidential year," said Steve McFarland, coordinator of the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, an advocacy group whose goals include increasing electoral participation in working-class communities.
Representatives of at least 12 different groups stood behind him on the steps of the Congregational Church of Patchogue.
"Does police reform matter to our communities?" McFarland asked. The leaders and volunteers shouted, "Yes!"
"Do we need a Suffolk County that continues to be more open to immigrants?" he asked to another resounding, "Yes!"
The mobilization effort is aimed at influencing issues such as housing, education and job reforms in upcoming county elections, according to Long Island Wins, a nonprofit communications organization.
The kickoff event in Patchogue included speakers from advocacy groups Make the Road NY, New York Communities for Change, SEPA Mujer, Strong Youth, New York Immigration Coalition, Long Island Wins, Sisters of Saint Joseph, Long Island Progressive Coalition and La Fuente-Long Island Civic Participation Project.
Claritza Suarez, 16, of Brentwood, a leader with Make the Road NY's Youth Power Project, wore a black T-shirt emblazoned with the words "Eric Garner can't vote but we can." She said her organization aims to address community issues, such as police reform.
"Black, Latino, immigrant and trans lives matter," she said.
Jessica Reyes, 22, of Central Islip, a volunteer with SEPA Mujer, said she has been attempting to register communities of color to vote for several weeks.
"Our community deserves to be heard," she said to applause.Jared Reid, 28, of Brentwood, who is a field organizer for the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, registered one person to vote on the steps of the church.
Reid, who was carrying nine voter registration clipboards, said he and four or five others planned to spend the day attempting to register voters at the Patchogue train station and at Patchogue shopping centers.
"I do it so that people of the community can have a vote," he said. "A lot of us are unaware that we have the power to make decisions for ourselves."