Staten Islanders gathered Saturday at noon for 45 minutes to express their solidarity in opposing New York State’s, and New York city’s continued shutdown, in an event called “Back2Work – Take a stand for your freedom,” organized by Steve Margarella, owner of Margarella Asphalt & Concrete, a Port Richmond business that weathered Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Three speakers addressed the crowd, each focusing on how the extended shutdown is harming small business. First was Steve Margarella, then Sam Pirozzolo spoke, and finally it was Leticia Remauro’s turn.
It’s been a while since the shutdown began. Fifty five days, exactly. New York State has been on PAUSE since March 22.
While this measure had been initially undertaken to “flatten the curve,” about 200 islanders gathered on Saturday at noon in the old DMV parking lot in the Showplace Bowling Center to protest, claiming that it’s about time the shutdown ends.
Governor Cuomo now claims it’s about keeping the state closed until the time is right, fearing another spike in cases. And so, the narrative has changed, and many Staten Island residents are reacting. Strongly.
While the state has begun opening back up today, May 16, NYC will be under lockdown until June 13. Right now, it’s only upstate regions being taken out of lockdown.
Islanders demanded, earlier today, that Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio end the lockdown immediately, citing lasting damage to small businesses across the island, and the very real destruction of the livelihood and economic security of countless island employees. An impassioned chant of “What do you want?” by Mr. Margarella was met with a chorus of “We want to work!” by attendees.
Under blue skies along with perfect Spring weather, Staten Islanders, many holding flags and wearing face masks, stood and listened to various speakers taking turns at the podium, as reporters form NY1, CBS, and other local press outfits took photos and interviewed attendees. Food and drink was available for those hungry or parched, provided by John’s Catering.
Steve Margarella, organizer of the event, had this to say, “I thanked you earlier for coming here today but I really, really mean it. When I started all this, I got to thinking about all this, it became dreadfully apparent to me, that what we’re experiencing now is not as a result of the virus. Just my opinion.”
“But I believe what we’re experiencing now is ideologically and financially driven. I don’t think this has anything to do with the virus…I think that this governor, and other Democratic governors, is using this as a tool to whip this administration and to beat us in the process. I refuse to be a tool of this governor. I will not let this governor and this mayor use me…hopefully not use you.”
“You know, many years ago in the 18th century there was a group of people in Boston who were not going to take it anymore. And it was a very small group of people. Those men, were not large in number. But they wanted to send a message. Much less people than we have here today, in fact. But for anybody standing here in this parking lot today…they’re going to tell me a business that I can’t tell them how to safely open..respectfully open. Keeping everyone safe, including employees and clients and customers. It’s not about the virus, people. It stopped being about the virus a long time ago.”
“Do you remember being told that we were going to go back to work after they flattened the curve? Is the curve flattened? So why aren’t we back to work?! So, what we’re faced with today, you and I, is an interesting situation. Because Il Duce, for those of you that are of my generation, you know who Il Duce wass. It was Mussolini, for the younger ones, he ran a fascist government in Italy in the 20s…has proclaimed that we can’t go back to work until his 12 markers are met. Well, there’s a problem with those 12 markers. He says they’re scientifically designed by doctors and epidemiologists. And those markers have to be hit before it’s safe for us.”
Mr. Margarella may have a valid point here. These markers are arbitrary, to say the least. Requirements include a fourteen day drop in hospitalization or fewer than fifteen new admissions in a fifteen day roiling average; a fourteen day decline in hospital deaths,or fewer than five total deaths over three days; a rate of new hospitalizations below two per 100,000 residents; at least 30% of hospital beds unoccupied; at least 30% of ICU beds unoccupied; at least 30 tests per 1,000 residents per month; at least 30 contact tracers retained per 100,000 residents. Where did these precise numbers come from? Are these even realistic metrics, even in the best of times?
Steve Margarella continued, “So you’re telling me that the essential workers that are digging ditches and doing sewer work, and repairing sidewalks for the city of New York are not safe, but if I go to work and I do a sidewalk then I’m not safe…but they are safe, because they work for the city. They have this magic immunity. They can work, but you and I doing the same trades, we can’t work. Not only can we not work, they want to fine us out of business.”
“Our Bill of Rights has a 14th Amendment…men that are much wiser than me can explain it better than I can. Our Legislature has sold us out. They have sold us out, because they have given Il Duce the right to suspend OUR Bill of Rights. Where are our religious leaders? Where are our priests, rabbis, and imams? Why did they allow it? Why did they not stand up for us? Why didn’t they say this is not OK? You can’t tell my people not to come to service. We have a God-given right in our Constitution. You do not have the right to tell me we can’t…”
In an Interview with NY1 reporter Amy Yensi, an unnamed female attendee had this to say, “I want people to be free to work. Free to live. Free to go outside. Just free to go to he beach. Free to live. I don’t want to be a prisoner.”
An unnamed man standing with the woman who made the statement above had this to say:
“I own a construction business. We’ve been shut down…we’re still paying insurances on our trucks, on our houses, on our businesses..our utility bills, and every day we get played and it gets longer and longer. It’s time to stop.”
Sam Pirozzolo, the community activist planning to run for City Council, the same man who had the giant T torched on his lawn, spoke next. Mr. Pirozzolo had his own take on the lockdown:
“The disparities of how prejudiced this governmental shutdown is…I can stand out on line at Costco for three hours. I can shop inside Costco for 2 hours breathing the same air everyone else is breathing..but I can’t go buy a pair of sneakers.”
“The NFL is going to put the football players back to work..when they can tackle each other and sweating and grunting and breathing ,but I can’t get a haircut. You can go to CVS, but you can’t go buy a sofa. It’s just unfair how the governor thinks that…what’s the difference between Target and some poor people, business owner who’re trying to operate on Victory Boulevard, on New Dorp Lane, on Hylan Boulevard?”
“We have to start to open things back up. It’s not a switch. I could open my business up six days a week…no one is coming in the door…business is..at a standstill because the media is driving everybody crazy. There isn’t one thing we’ve been told that hasn’t been contradicted…there’s no reason that furniture store, a clothing store, a book store, can’t behave as responsibly as Costco, as Lowe’s, as Walmart…that’s bulls***. People need to go back to work…there’s no reason that no business cannot follow safe protocols.”
Before leaving the podium, Mr. Pirozzolo attacked a meme that’s been circulating on social media that has fostered a false assumption that people who want to work don’t care about anyone other than themselves:
“The premise that just because we want to get back to work, we don’t care about anybody else…almost 1,000 of our grandmothers, grandfathers., mothers,fathers, brothers, sisters, have died on Staten Island. Let’s have a moment of silence for our fellow Islanders. It’s definitely a very sad thing that we’re going through. People are talking about waves. There’s going to be a second wave. There’s going to be a third wave. If we haven’t cured the common cold.”
“If we haven’t cured HIV. If we haven’t cured so many of these other viruses, why are we waiting for a cure to be able to be back to work? So I really think it’s insulting that when I said I want us to get back to work, I don’t care about everybody else’s lives. I do care about everybody else’s lives, but as my mother used to say, “Life’s for the living.” But there are people who can’t put food on the table.”
Leticia Remauro, a Staten Island small business owner herself, President & CEO of The Von Agency which deals with Public Relations, has also served a role in city government and has authored a number of books. She’s also been a community organizer and helped get Lower Manhattan back on track after 9-11-2001.
She began with, “I want to know…if you received enough PPP, unemployment, or stimulus, to keep your business going…to pay your bills…Are you whole after this pandemic?”
An audience member responded with, “No! We’re IN a hole!”
Leticia continued, “They never, ever were responsible for creating one job…they never, ever have been responsible for creating wealth. They never, ever, were responsible for helping a family send their child to college with money that they sunk into their business to create a job to create a salary. Never. Because they came from college to community organizing or to government, and that’s where they sit. And, ladies and gentlemen, they are the ones that are telling US what we can do for our business. How is that even possible. It shouldn’t be.”
“You know, I’ve done a lot of things in my life and I’ve come to a lot of tragedies and I was in leadership during 9-11 and I was in Battery Park City and that is a government agency…You know what we all did following 911 to get the economy back? Because people from all over the world were saying, ‘New York City can never recover. it’s unsafe. We’re going to get a bomb dropped on us. It’s unsafe.’ The way we handled that tragedy is we opened everything up and we got everybody back to work. And, that’s what has to happen here. ”
“I’m tired of hearing from people that, ‘We are in this together.’ If one more celebrity sits in their mansion next to their baby grand piano and says, ‘We are all in this together,’ I’m going to puke….we need a plan…how are we going to get business back on track.”
This is not about politics. This is about reality. Facts. Basic science. But what happens when those that we trust to administer solutions have a political motivation? What happens when we defer to a single scientist, one theory amongst many, to our own collective detriment?
There’s no denying that the greatest risk to life, worldwide, is economic hardship. Trying to “save the patient by taking his life” is ludicrous. Destroying our economic and social stability, under dubious pretense, by ignoring the plight of small business, will result in a far greater number of deaths, and that’s a fact. Small business drives local economies, and the extended shutdown is undeniably hitting these hardest.
There’s no denying that COVID-19 is a serious matter. Likewise, there’s no denying that nurses, EMTs, and other first responders have been given hell to deal with. But that doesn’t mean we should dispense with intelligent debate or stop questioning authority.
Through all this, we’ve learned something. Maybe next flu season, we’ll be more careful. Maybe the death rates won’t ever be so high again, and 60,000 deaths from the annual flu will be just a memory.
We’ve learned the value of hand-washing, and sometimes even wearing a mask. Flushing with the lid down. Self-isolation when you’re ill with a contagion. But we’ve also witnessed, firsthand, how governmental response must be carefully measured, and we cannot be led by fear or partisan motive.
This is America’s greatest test. Some say that it was World War II. The divisiveness during the Vietnam War. But never in our history have our basic rights been taken away without a discussion, never before was mere debate frowned upon. And, never before was it all based on “science.”
Science is about hypothesis and theory. Coming to conclusions based on ever-changing data. Not about strict adherence to doctrine. That’s not science. It’s religion. We can’t fight COVID-19 by making it up as we go along; we need all the scientific data, all the ideas of medical professionals, economists, and others in a position to figure out how to best respond to this crisis.
In a civilized America, we should be able to ask questions without those with differing viewpoints calling us names. And, we should stand up for ourselves, our neighbors, those less fortunate. Isn’t that why we have the Bill of Rights, after all?
Social media has its place, but if it’s devolved into nothing more than an echo chamber where senseless memes are propagated and hatred is stirred over a segment of the population wishing to keep their families fed, it’s definitely time for society-wide self-examination. Listening to one another’s views must again become a part of American life.
Those of Liberal, Moderate, or Conservative, Republican, Democrat, or any other politic leaning, all need to eat. Americans must put their differences aside and begin realizing we’re all in this together, and if we trust our elected officials to make decisions, and they fail by receiving poor advice from medical authorities, we’ll all be impacted.
Blind trust is a bad idea. Not just that, it’s a wholly un-American concept that any nation loving freedom should abhor.
Note to Reader: If you’re interested in attending the next rally that’s being held, it will be held on May 21, 2020, at 5:30PM at Jefferson Plaza in Annadale. The address is 34 Jefferson Boulevard. Please wear your face mask and practice social distancing!