Codger column: Marching orders

Codger and Crone

COURTESY PHOTO Codger and Crone on the march in New York City, January 21.

Codger lost interest in marching during the last century, while in the Army.

Yet there he was last Saturday, stepping along toward Trump Tower with 500,000 like-minded citizens including his wife, Crone, and their pals from North Cartwright Road, Valerie and Marty Levenstein. Since the new president had already been inaugurated the day before, this was about reminding him, his appointees and other elected officials that there were issues we were concerned about and for which we would hold them accountable.

After all, he did promise in his inaugural address: “You will never be ignored again.”

The concerns of Shelter Island are easy to ignore from Washington, even from New York, but the signs carried above that bubbly river of people flowing uptown were about immigration, education, health care, climate change, jobs, discrimination, all of which matter as much on Grand Avenue as on Fifth Avenue or Pennsylvania Avenue.

All politics is local. The nominee for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, a billionaire who never attended a public school and didn’t send her own children to one, gives Shelter Island School Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik appropriate pause. Will she start taking money from public education, he wonders? DeVos believes in charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools. Great timing. Shelter Island needs students and funding.

Codger’s knees freeze thinking about his property taxes paying for, say, a Ross School tuition.

It’s easy enough to see how accessible, affordable health care is important on this Island with its aging population and self-employed workers. Do you want as secretary of health and human services an orthopedic surgeon and Georgia congressman, Tom Price, long a voice for doctors over patients?

Obamacare and Medicare are in the cross hairs of the new administration. That’s why Codger and Crone recently called the Washington office of the Island’s congressman, Lee Zeldin —  (202-225-3826 — to add their names to those who didn’t want Zeldin to vote against the Affordable Care Act. A polite young man took the call. Will it have an effect? Zeldin is up for re-election in two years and he might have a tougher challenger then.

Let’s not forget that it was people marching and demonstrating, sometimes at peril, that helped lead to civil rights legislation and the end of the Vietnam War.

Codger has met and interviewed Donald Trump several times over the years and found him, as Codger has said before, entertaining but unreliable. In the 80s and 90s, Codger had no strong feelings about him other than the journalist’s shameful gratitude for a subject who made it so easy to fill notebooks and airtime, even while lying and bragging. It was a main reason why Trump was not held accountable in the early months of the campaign.

But let’s not make it all about Trump. Mocking and denigrating Trump, even if it makes you feel better, is less effective than convincing elected representatives and other policy makers that we have just begun to march and make noise and vote, especially when those policies directly affect us.

The environment, anyone? This is a vulnerable Island and the nominee to head the environmental protection agency, Scott Pruitt, sued the agency 14 times while Oklahoma Attorney General. If ever a place needed environmental protection, it’s our home. Local laws need to be strong, sure, but there has to be federal back-up. Pruitt is a fool for fossil fuel, no friend of clean air and water, and a denier of human-caused climate change. Lots of luck, plover lovers.

The Island’s current controversies over rental regulations are as much about economics as they are about quality of life. So how would the policies of the proposed treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, affect us? A former Goldman Sachs executive, he reportedly presided over 36,000 foreclosures in his next job. More recently, he failed to list almost $100 million in assets that he, um, forgot about. Lucky man.

Will Mnuchin give priority to programs that afford tax breaks for small businesses and the working and middle classes or that provide breaks and bigger loopholes for corporations and the kind of rich second-home owners whose houses are dark all winter. Codger thinks they don’t ever rent out rooms. Do you really think their tax bonanzas will trickle down to those who do?

Or pay for the seaplane from Crescent Beach to Wall Street?

We haven’t even gotten to immigration, no small matter here.

For Codger, as well as for Crone, Valerie and Marty, the march was not just a protest against Trump and his policies or about Republicans and Democrats, it was affirmation that hundreds of thousands of people, millions across the country, could joyfully combine their diverse hopes and fears to try to create a better world, country and Island.