East Orange joins protest in Irvington against racism and sexism

EAST ORANGE/IRVINGTON, NJ — East Orange was well-represented at the protest rally against racism and sexism that took place Saturday, April 9, at the corner of Clinton and Springfield avenues, adjacent to the Irvington Bus Terminal.

The rally was organized by Irvington Joint Block Association Coalition President Elouise McDaniel, in conjunction with the Essex County Chapter of the National Organization for Women, Communications Workers of America Local 1081, the People’s Organization for Progress, Irvington NAACP, Orange Avenue and Oakland Avenue Block Association, the East Ward Block Association, and other grassroots organizations.

“I was out here supporting (the National Organization for Women),” said East Orange resident Marilyn Strickland on Saturday, April 9. “I joined N.O.W. because they fight for women and women’s rights and I support them because they fight for the rights of the people. I don’t believe anyone – men, women or children – should be abused or have to be subjected to racism and sexism.”

Strickland said East Orange has had a chapter of N.O.W. for years, led by Loretta Short, who was also at the protest, along with Barbara Foley, chairwoman of the group’s task force on combatting racism, to show solidarity with the other participating organizations.

McDaniel said she was grateful for their support.

“We’re out here protesting violence against women, children, racism and all of the other negative things that are going on in the world today,” said McDaniel on Saturday, April 9. “We need people to wake up and see what’s going on. And we think the violence against women and child abuse has increased instead of decreasing and that’s why we’re here.”

“I’m so glad that the N.O.W. organization and all of these other organizations from New York and Rutgers University and all these places came out to support the people of Irvington,” continued McDaniel. “We’re going to keep pushing forward.”

Short agreed with McDaniel, saying she, Foley and other N.O.W. members came to Irvington to issue a call to arms for all people interested in taking on these longstanding social ills.

According to CWA Local 1081 President David Weiner, the Essex County Division of Family Assistance and Benefits Food Stamp program is inside the county-owned building at 50 South Clinton St. in East Orange. That’s why, Short, said, it made sense for N.O.W. to join forces with the other organizations at the protest rally.

“It’s the Essex County N.O.W. branch, but we meet in East Orange,” said Short on Saturday, April 9. “We’re protesting violence against women and children which is an issue that’s often not addressed in communities of color, because we’re so busy fighting mass incarceration and all those other important issues, and racism and sexism has a great deal to do with it. So we decided that we needed some awareness in our community, because racism and sexism keep us divided.”

Weiner said the union came to the protest to show solidarity with other progressive-minded groups fighting to protect people’s rights. He said, according to the New Jersey State Police 2014 Uniform Crime Report, 5,241 incidents of domestic violence were reported to local law enforcement authorities within Essex County in 2013.

“That’s a 50-percent increase from the previous year,” said Weiner on Saturday, April 9. “This past Wednesday, April 6, the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders passed a resolution to allow the County Prosecutor’s Office to accept $86,454 from the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice Office of Victims of Crime to help fund two domestic violence advocate job positions for one year. While, on the surface, that may sound like a good thing, let’s look a little more closely at what that actually means.”

According to Weiner, the Essex County Division of Family Assistance and Benefits, formerly the Division of Welfare Adult Medicaid and Special Services Unit, located on the fifth floor of the privately owned building on Rector Street in Newark, only has two domestic violence family service workers in that office. One employee works at the 50 South Clinton St. in East Orange.

Weiner said, “The intersection of poverty, welfare and violence against women is an important factor” in calculating the toll that domestic violence takes on Essex County communities and their resources. According to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, Weiner said, “Most single mothers live below the poverty level.”

“It is estimated that between 9 percent to 23 percent of current welfare recipients have experienced domestic violence in the past 12 months, with upwards of 70 percent reporting abuse within their lifetime,” said Weiner. “Further, another renowned academic team conducting studies involving public assistance recipients found that 20 percent of the women surveyed reported being sexually abused as children and 18 percent (reported) being physically and sexually abused while growing up. Significant numbers of adolescents who became pregnant reported being abused as children. The Essex County Division of Family Assistance and Benefits services one out of every five residents of all of Essex County with staffing levels that haven’t been increased since 1999, despite a huge spike in the number of Medicaid and food stamp cases that has occurred, particularly since the 2008 great recession.”

Weiner said, “If the politicians of the state of New Jersey are at all serious about effectively servicing victims of domestic violence, they are going to have to appropriate and spend a lot more money and provide many more resources to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and to the Essex County Division of Family Assistance and Benefits.

“If not, thousands of predominantly female domestic violence victims and their families will be left vulnerable to retribution through more violent attacks and even deaths.”

Essex County Freeholder Lebby Jones, a former councilwoman on Irvington’s Municipal Council who still resides in town, said she voted to approve the resolution to provide funding for two domestic violence advocate jobs because it was the right thing to do.

“Domestic violence has increased in Essex and it’s a resource for men, women and children to try helping them move forward and get out of their present situations,” said Jones on Tuesday, April 12. “Today it’s a difference from when I was a young woman, when it comes to domestic violence. Gender doesn’t matter. We see these young people, men and women of all ages, and the only way they know how to resolve conflict is by hitting each other. The Prosecutor’s Office needed the funding, because they need to take care of the day-to-day operations of people coming in, filing complaints.”

Irvington NAACP President and 2016 West Ward Municipal Council candidate Merrick Harris agreed it was a good idea for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and similar county agencies to receive more funding, to be better able to take on serious issues such as racism and sexism, which is why his organization participated in the protest rally.

“We all have to do our part to make our communities, our towns, our states, our country and our world a better place. We owe that to ourselves and everyone else, too. We’re all in this together,” said Harris on Saturday, April 9.