Navy battle! Activists of all stripes storm debate venue

Navy battle! Activists of all stripes storm debate venue
Community News Group / Julianne Cuba

Democratic presidential rivals Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vermont) faced off in a hotly anticipated debate at the Navy Yard on Thursday — but the real war of words was on the streets outside!

The typically sleepy Navy Street turned a hotbed of activism, as supporters of both candidates, striking Verizon workers, and both pro- and anti-Israel groups all picketed the entrance near Sands Street at various points of the day and night, hoping to catch the attention of attendees and the plethora of media outlets that had assembled there for the event.

“[We’re here] just to get our voices heard,” said Crown Heights resident Lakesha Williams, who came as part of the Verizon crew, which marched all the way from Manhattan and over the Brooklyn Bridge to the Fort Greene industrial hub.

Camp Clinton was the first to arrive on the scene, with supporters staking out the entrance with signs and banners from 11 am.

They remained the largest contingent of the day, but were eventually joined by hundreds of Berners, who set up camp on the opposite side of the street in front of the Farrugut Houses, forcing police to close down a lane of traffic to accommodate the crowds.

The two groups traded chants and waved placards at each other across the asphalt, but said they were happy to be sharing the streets.

“They’re welcome to be here as well,” said Clinton organizer Sam Powers.

Then came hundreds of Verizon workers and their allies dressed in red. The communications company’s employees have been on strike since Wednesday, when contract negotiations between their union and the organization fell through after months of negotiations.

Both Democratic presidential hopefuls showed their support for the Verizon employees on Wednesday — Sanders stood in solidarity with workers when he joined them at a protest in Brooklyn, and Clinton also stopped by a protest in the city.

But the workers’ union — the Communications Workers of America — opted to endorse Sanders, and Williams said she agreed that he is the best candidate for their cause.

“The one person who seems to be more inclined to support labor and unions is Bernie,” she said. “Hillary seems to be more of, ‘Yeah I need your vote so let me go see you,’ but the one who is actually out there, we’ve seen with the workers, is Bernie Sanders.”

The workers and Democratic die-hards eventually filed off to watch the debate, but new groups then arrived in the evening to share their views on Israel — both for and against — with anyone who would listen.

One pro-Israel protester said every candidate but Sen. Ted Cruz (R–Texas) is too lenient or wishy-washy when it comes to the country’s safety.

“They are anti-Israel, they are leftist liberals — especially Bernie,” said Ariel Kohane, who sported one of the red Ted Cruz yarmulkes the Texan handed out when he stumped in Brighton Beach last week. “Trump said he’s going to be neutral in Israel, so there’s a difference between Cruz and Trump.”

Standing right next to Kohane was a group of Orthodox Jewish men from anti-Zionist organization Neturei Karta, who had the opposite message to spread.

One Williamsburg activist said all of the candidates are bad choices because they all support Israel, which does not represent the world Jewry.

“The state of Israel is not a Jewish state — it’s a Zionist state,” he said. “We are coming out to the say the message to all the candidates — please, we are asking that they should not support the state of Israel.”

— with Julianne Cuba and Lauren Gill

Cruz-ing: Ariel Kohane came to support Ted Cruz, and protest all the other candidates.
Community News Group / Julianne Cuba