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Long Island

Advocates tap LI's diverse communities on National Voter Registration Day

Make The Road staffer Denise Pearce assists James

Make The Road staffer Denise Pearce assists James William Smith, 73, of Brentwood, who has never voted with his voter registration in Brentwood on Sept. 23, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Members of a coalition of about 20 advocacy groups stressed the importance of registering voters in Long Island's diverse neighborhoods as they work toward an Oct. 10 deadline for adding to the counties' rolls.

The Brentwood event -- part announcement, part pep rally -- was one of Tuesday's initiatives on National Voter Registration Day, a campaign that spawned its #celebrateNVRD social media hashtag and involved about 2,000 groups across the country.

"The face of Long Island is changing, the immigrant population has grown and voters of color are making our voices heard louder and louder," said Steve McFarland, coordinator of the Long Island Civic Engagement Table.

A handful of advocates also hit the pavement, approaching people on Brentwood Road around noontime. At nearby Ross Park, they found James William Smith, a Jamaica native living in Brentwood who told them he had never registered in his 73 years of life.

Denise Pearce, a Central Islip resident with the advocacy group Make the Road New York, lectured Smith about his duties and told him he needs to be an example to younger citizens. He signed up on the spot.

"We have to show the young ones," she told him.

"If we don't stand, they'll never do it," Smith conceded.

Pearce said she's registered more than 80 voters over the last several months, as one of squadrons of volunteers knocking on doors in communities such as Brentwood, Central Islip, Hempstead, Uniondale and Westbury. The effort has yielded about 3,000 new voters this year on Long Island, McFarland said.

Group leaders representing Hispanics, Haitians, Muslims, women's and reproductive rights, and working families cited a list of issues, from raising the minimum wage, to improving schools or fighting for immigration reform, and seeking equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Polly Henry, an Amityville resident with the Child Care Council of Suffolk's Parent Leadership Initiative, said it is up to each person to empower their communities.

"We can be that voice for our children by registering and casting our votes," said Henry, 57, a naturalized citizen from Jamaica. "So often we feel disenfranchised but we did that to ourselves by not voting."


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