As people and journalists walked westward along 36th Street from the R train station towards Hillary Clinton’s campaign event in Industry City on Saturday, they were greeted by group of protesters chanting “Sunset Park Is Not For Sale” and holding signs equating Industry City with displacement.
“It’s disgraceful for Hillary to speak at a place that is actually leading [the forces of] gentrification by people who’ve said they want this to be the next Williamsburg, Greenpoint, or DUMBO,” said Elizabeth Yeampierre, community activist, advocate, and leader of Sunset Park’s environmental-focused nonprofit, UPROSE. “Their ‘innovation economy’ is really the ‘displacement economy.’ We need green buildings, carbon neutral industries, and jobs that can support families, not [low-paying] retail jobs.”
Yeampierre’s concerns about the types of jobs being generated at Industry City resonated with fellow Sunset Parker Joanne Mejias, who noted that “the job issue at Industry City needs to be revisited because it’s only right that if they’re in our backyard, that we have very qualified people who can work there.”
But it also didn’t keep Mejias from expressing her excitement that her candidate of choice was visiting her own hometown neighborhood and speaking to her and her neighbors.
“We’re the movers and shakers for Hillary,” the educator said of herself and her friends/neighbors, who were attending the Clinton campaign rally as VIPs invited by rally co-host Congressmember Nydia Velazquez. “We supported her the first time she ran, and love Obama, too. Now, with her, she is the best qualified candidate: brilliant, a scholar, and level-headed. She’s an inclusive candidate who has served New York State well. Her education agenda is my agenda, especially for single parent families, working families, and women.”
The difference in the two women’s reactions was stark, yet both are part of the Brooklyn and Sunset Park constituency that Clinton was courting by deciding to hold her in-person campaign event here. Both are Latina women, Brooklynites, educators, active community advocates and leaders, respected, and registered to vote.
That focus was on display in Clinton’s speech to the nearly 300 people who packed the Landing Cafe’s hallway space inside the waterfront industrial hub.
She spoke about her support for the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform, making conditions better for farm-workers, guaranteeing equal pay for women, eliminating student debt, expanding health care coverage, defending a woman’s right to choose and make health care decisions, investing in small business entrepreneurship, fighting the gun lobby on closing the gun show loophole and other reform measures, combating climate change (including with more solar panels), and investing in manufacturing and engineering jobs upstate.
The crowd’s reaction to her speech was enthusiastic and positive. Even the reaction to a lone female protester –who criticized Clinton for her support for and by big banks, and for her perceived ignoring of less affluent neighborhoods in her campaign stops — was calm and reinforcing: the crowd simply chanted “HILLARY” loudly to drown her out and Clinton staff calmly exhorted her to stop.
After the speech, 10-year-old Britney Espinoza said that while she initially was unsure of what to expect from Clinton, after hearing her speak, she is optimistic that the frontrunner for the Democratic Party nomination “will support us because we need help from her for families who are being separated when ICE (the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency) deports parents.
“It makes me feel upset when my friends feel upset and have to stay in a shelter or by themselves, awaiting adoption,” the fifth grader explained, saying that some of her friends’ parents have been deported to Mexico, Ecuador, and Guatemala. “Politics is a little scary. I hope for a future where kids have their parents back and parents have documents. I want to grow up and help people get their documents so they don’t suffer from discrimination or getting killed.”
Espinoza’s mom, Laura, who has been active with Sunset Park’s participatory budgeting process through Councilmember Carlos Menchaca’s office, agreed, saying that her daughter’s education is her priority.
“Clinton will help people pay for college,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of money and I hope the president can help. [My daughter] has only one chance for the future.”
Hillary Clinton has thus far only visited two Brooklyn neighborhoods in-person during her campaign: Medgar Evers College in Crown Heights, and Industry City in Sunset Park.
She is next due to speak at the Democratic Party debate with Bernie Sanders on Thursday, April 14 at the Duggal Greenhouse inside the Brooklyn Navy Yard — another site of Brooklyn’s working waterfront.