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A smashed car window couldn’t stop my political activism

Marilyn M. Yasus: Carolyn McCarthy won election. The

Marilyn M. Yasus: Carolyn McCarthy won election. The next morning, to my great surprise and anguish, my car's rear window was smashed. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto / suman bhaumik

On the evening of Dec. 7, 1993, the admitting department at Winthrop Hospital in Mineola was notified that there had been a mass shooting on the Long Island Rail Road at the nearby Merillon Avenue station in Garden City. Those of us ready to end our day shift in that department would have to stay to see how many wounded would be brought to our emergency room, which was on full alert.

Clinical staff members remained on the job and on-call doctors were summoned.

The next day, Newsday reported that one of six people killed was Dennis McCarthy, 52. He was the husband of longtime Mineola resident Carolyn McCarthy, a nurse. Her son, Kevin, 26, was among the 19 injured.

A year earlier, my interest in gun control was piqued by a lecture at Adelphi University presented by James Brady and his wife. He was the White House aide shot during a 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. Surgeons removed a bullet from our president’s lung. Brady had brain damage that left him in a wheelchair and with difficulty speaking. At Adelphi, Sarah Brady made a dynamic plea for gun control by sensible regulation.

That cause motivated Carolyn McCarthy to run for Congress in 1996. She came to speak to my women’s club, the Welcome Wagon Club of Searingtown, Albertson and the Willistons. As I heard her tell of that horrific day in 1993, I recalled how our hospital had mobilized.

I enlisted in McCarthy’s campaign. I worked the phone bank for hours. I also did “visibility,” showing up with others in the campaign to carry signs and show support wherever she might speak or debate. I put her bumper sticker in my car’s rear window.

In my Williston Park neighborhood, I campaigned house to house. I rang doorbells, and if someone answered, I said, “Hello, I am Marilyn Yasus, your neighbor from around the corner. I am supporting Carolyn McCarthy for Congress, and I hope you will consider voting for her.” If no one was home, I left literature.

After going to about eight homes, I had a very uncomfortable feeling. I turned around and saw a tall man I recognized as a neighbor standing with his arms folded across his chest. He stood in the street next to his car and scowled at me.

My blood ran cold, but I determined that he was not going to block my right to campaign for my candidate. I continued visiting houses as he glared. My citizenship was being tested. I knew my rights, and felt that speaking to him would give him a forum to berate me and my candidate. It also would be a form of giving in. I held my head high and stayed the course.

Ten days later, McCarthy won election. The next morning, I went out to my driveway. To my great surprise and anguish, my car’s rear window was smashed. My thoughts went back to the showdown on Capitol Avenue. Of course, it could have been done by anyone who hated what the bumper sticker for McCarthy represented — fear of losing his or her firearms.

My work for the 1996 McCarthy campaign turned my life toward political activism. While a student at Nassau Community College in 2001, I was recruited by Wellesley College to go to Massachusetts to complete my bachelor’s degree. I lived on campus for three years, majored in political science, and traveled two days a week to Sen. John Kerry’s headquarters in Boston. When Kerry ran for president, I was an intern for his campaign. It was life-changing to go to events at the Kennedy compound and to Kerry’s home in Boston.

I encourage every citizen to understand the important issues, get involved and make your voice heard.

Reader Marilyn M. Yasus lives in Mineola.