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‘Unity rally’ shines spotlight on health care, immigration and climate issues

“We will not!” Valerie Shelby shouted as she marched down Front Street with a paper sign in her hand that read “Our Kids, Our Planet.”

“Be divided!” a group of over 30 people behind her answered, their voices echoing up and down the street.

Despite chilly temperatures, the North Fork Unity Action Committee led a “unity rally” Sunday afternoon to raise awareness of certain health care, immigration and climate issues.

The group marched roughly three blocks from St. Agnes Church to Mitchell Park. The group communed in the park, where local resident Dave Berson performed folk songs.

Once in the park, speakers discussed the central topics with each speaker joined by Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, who offered a Spanish translation.

Carolyn Peabody of Orient, a member of the North Fork Unity Action Committee, said the group was formed after the 2016 presidential election. The rally was organized to bring the community together during polarizing times, organizers said.

“We will not be divided, we will not be distracted, and we will not be silent,” Ms. Peabody said.

Melissa Sidor, an attorney on the board of Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, said health care in America could be threatened by a pending decision on the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare.

“For those dependent on the ACA … this is a terrifying time,” she said.

Health and Welfare Council of Long Island is also working to promote census participation, Ms. Sidor said. She added that it is “critical that everyone understands the importance of the 2020 census” as many federal programs are funded by census data.

Dulce Rojas of SEPA Mujer addresses the crowd. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)

Members of SEPA Mujer, a Latino organization that advocates for the rights of Latina immigrant women and girls on Long Island, also participated in the event and marched with signs that said families belong together and free.

“What makes this a rally is that we’re standing together as one,” senior community organizer Dulce Rojas said.

At the microphone, Ms. Rojas brought attention to growing concerns over the “public charge” rule, which would make it difficult for individuals dependant on benefits like Medicaid or those deemed likely to use them in the future to establish residency. In rulings in three states this month, federal judges temporarily blocked the Trump Administration policy.

Ms. Rojas said there’s a popular saying in Spanish, “nada sobre nosotros, sin nosotros,” which roughly translates to “nothing about us without us.”

“I think that’s the message that we try to portray to the community — we have to be involved in these conversations, especially when it’s about us and our families,” Ms. Rojas said.

Glynis Berry of Peconic Green Growth and North Fork Environmental Council vice president Mark Haubner wrapped up the rally by talking about climate change. Ms. Berry urged the community to find alternatives to preserve water and keep it clean, like taking shorter showers and reducing pollutants used on grass.

Marchers walk down Front Street en route to Mitchell Park. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)

NFUAC member Enrique Oliva, who immigrated to the United States from Guatemala, said he has been directly affected by the three issues discussed Sunday. In regards to climate change, he said he watched the “tropical forest” where he grew up die because of reduced rainfall.

“People think about Guatemala, they just see people leaving the country because of violence. Yes, violence is bad — but perhaps climate change also has to do with the violence we have,” Mr. Oliva said. “I have a nephew. He’s 15 years old and I want to leave something here for him.”

NFUAC member Diana Gordon recognized that politics are often intertwined with the three broad topics of focus.

The purpose of unifying through a rally, she said, is to show that the issues apply to every person.

“Nothing is more important than climate change, immigration and health — particularly women’s health,” Ms. Gordon said. “These are issues that concern everybody, of every political persuasion.”

Ms. Shelby, who led the march, said she was motivated by her mentors. The lifelong Greenport resident and co-chair of the Southold Town Anti-Bias Task Force said she hopes the rally spreads a message of compassion.

“I want to make sure that we leave this place a better place than what it is now, what it’s turning out to be,” she said. “There’s too much hatred in the world.”

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