PLAINFIELD, NJ - A packed room of concerned residents filled the Senior Center on East Front Street in Plainfield on Thursday night for 'A Critical Conversation' town hall meeting with Mayor Adrian O. Mapp.
The purpose of the town hall was to arm community members with relevant information as the country moves forward under an administration that will be led by President-elect Trump.
"Our goal is to provide answers in what may seem to be a time of uncertainty for many," said Mayor Adrian O. Mapp, "and to ensure that we protect the rights of every person in our community. These are important and valid concerns, and it is the intent of my administration to provide as many answers and resources as we possibly can to address the issue."
Each of the panelists provided a background of the work they and their organization do to advocate for others, and how possible changes on the national level will have a local impact. They shared strategies their organizations might be contemplating in light of the change in administration, and how local governments, houses of worship, community groups and residents can help shape their work around human, economic and civil rights for everyone.
According to Data USA, the City of Plainfield, unlike surrounding towns, is comprised of just 69.6% who are U.S. citizens. This is lower than the national average of 92.9%. As a point of comparison, 96.5% of Westfield residents are U.S. citizens, and 85% of Union County residents are.
The largest share of citizens in Plainfield, NJ are Black, with Hispanic being the second most common.
Thursday's speakers included Todd A. Cox, the Director of Policy at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. He noted that with the President-elect’s selections for key cabinet positions, the country is under a threat to its democracy, and he urged the audience to make sure government representatives are supporting legislation like ‘ban the box’ and anti-bias policies.
He told the crowd they should talk to their members of the Senate and Congress, and find out where they stand on important issues, and find out their position on someone like Sen. Sessions. He suggested residents call Sen. Booker and Sen. Menendez to tell them to get behind issues like the Democracy Act, a bill to expand voter access.
Adriana Abizadeh is the newly appointed Executive Director at the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund. Her entire career has been in the non-profit sector, and she is passionate about serving others.
Ms. Abizadeh wanted those in attendance to “know your rights” if ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) or the police were to show up. She stressed the safest place was in one’s home, followed by a church or school. A person should be aware of the rights he or she has, and have an action plan in place if taken, accounting for family members, especially children.
Panelist Ari Rosmarin of the ACLU of New Jersey has been the Public Policy Director since September 2013. His manages the ACLU-NJ's legislative and policy advocacy work at the State House in Trenton and in communities throughout the state.
Mr. Rosmarin reminded the audience that states and cities have a voice in immigration policy, keeping those at the national level from deputizing state and local police. He told residents they need to stay engaged and involved. He said, "get loud" because you won't get your rights redressed by staying quiet.
Craig Garcia is the political director for New Jersey Working Families Alliance and Vice President of Communication for the Latino Action Network. He coordinates the organization’s electoral program and issue campaigns, including raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, strengthening state wage and hour regulations, and guaranteeing all workers paid sick days.
Mr. Garcia noted that after being comfortable for the past eight years, communities need to focus and build the groundwork to push progressive issues as we move forward in this political climate.
He said there is a need for storytellers, to come to city council meetings, state assemblies and more. Real people need to be heard, not just lobbyists.
Pastor Paul Dean is the Senior Pastor and founder of Visions of God Family Worship Church in Plainfield. He is also the founder and President of Healing Hurting Hearts Ministries that speaks to the broken-hearted and abused. His Black Men Rise - A Run for All Lives 5K was held Thanksgiving weekend in Plainfield.
Pastor Dean asked for a show of hands for those in attendance age 18 to 32; very few stood. He asked, "where are the Millenials"? This demographic is who needs to be engaged, especially in a city like Plainfield.
Reverend Damaris E. Ortega is the 12th Pastor of the United Church of Christ Congregational in Plainfield, making history as the first female, Latina, and openly gay pastor of the church. She has passionately worked towards the inclusion and full participation of the LGBT people into Church, and has organized clergy to advocate for LGBT rights. She has worked from inception on the “A La Familia” project, sponsored by The Human Rights Campaign and worked with The Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Unidas.
Ashley Vazquez attends the Plainfield Academy for the Arts and Advanced Studies. She is a member of the National Honors Society as the Student Council Representative, and is also a member of the Junior Statesman of America for the PAAAS Debate Team. When she was asked what can be done to support her and her generation, Ms. Vazquez responded that while parents and grandparents want to keep them safe, it’s necessary to trust and give them independence, to have faith in them to do the right thing. She stressed that while they need guidance, they don’t need to be lectured.
Members of the audience came to the microphone to ask questions and express concerns.
Nancy Piwowar thanked the mayor for holding the town hall, and suggested, as a donut community, surrounding towns' mayors need to come see the people of Plainfield. She suggested a summit meeting with these mayors.
Calvin Reed, a Constituent Services Representative for Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, urged audience members to attend a Congressional Town Hall in Somerset this weekend, where a panel-style discussion regarding the legislative work being doing in Congress, and what priorities should be focused on in the 115th congress would take place.
Resident Kim Montford stated that emotionally the panel was well timed to provide necessary information, but suggested that there be a "one stop shop" for resources such as those presented to make it easier for folks to learn about grassroots efforts.
Mayor Mapp concluded the town hall noting the progress the City of Plainfield has made:
- Adding additional police officers to the academy this year and next
- Hosting community events like National Night Out
- Working with young people by hosting a youth summit, and running a program with the Plainfield Police Division, who mentored 45 young people over the summer
- Hosting a recent “Peaceful Plainfield” roundtable
He also cited statistics on falling crime rates, proclaiming that “Plainfield is a very safe city”. The mayor referenced the recent spate of shootings and homicides, acknowledging that despite the progress the city has made, any loss of life pains him. And that while there are so many good things happening in the city, bad things can still happen.
Mapp implored the crowd to bring a young person with them the next time they attend a panel like this one.
Despite an invitation from Mayor Adrian O. Mapp to all local media outlets to attend 'A Critical Conversation' town hall meeting, he noted only TAPinto Plainfield showed up.