Haldane grad stresses need for ‘lateral information’
In June, Cassie Traina, a 2017 Haldane High School graduate who is a student at Sarah Lawrence College, founded a grassroots organization called Cold Spring Community Action. She spoke with Michael Turton about it; her responses have been edited for brevity.
Why did you start the group?
It was formed in response to recent activism in town and to Scott Morris being hired as a Cold Spring police officer. When Morris was with the New York Police Department, he was involved with the 2012 killing of Ramarley Graham, a black teenager. [Morris was the supervisor at the scene.] It was clear to me that Cold Spring needed a place where people can get information, discuss it and come together as a community.
Was forming the group a reaction to the national situation?
I’m inspired by it. In some ways Cold Spring is a tiny model of what’s happening in America. I’m interested in lateral information — information coming from members of the community, not from a trickle-down from the government or other institutions or organizations. It’s everybody sharing information they have, on-the-ground, firsthand accounts of what’s happening.
Do you have a background in community activism?
In high school, my sister founded Women Empowered. I was a director. It was important to us to give voice to girls and young women in town, a place to connect and discuss issues. And I’ve always been interested in town politics.
What issues do you feel Cold Spring needs to address?
A lot of issues have become politicized that are ethical and moral issues that should be ingrained in our everyday conversations, such as women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and now, on a major scale, black rights. With so many black teenagers being murdered by the police, it is absolutely necessary that we have these conversations. Racism is the No. 1 issue. Cold Spring has a lot of white, straight people who think their experience is the norm. Anything that goes against that norm, we need to address.
How is race an issue in predominantly white Cold Spring?
It’s a huge issue because we are predominantly white. I recently spoke with a local young black woman who wrote on social media about the racism she has experienced here. She faced a backlash — people denying her experiences. In high school I saw a lot of people actively denying things, even Haldane staff. I’ve seen people deny local history, the enormity of the KKK presence in our town that no doubt we still feel the effects of today. Some people in this town see the Confederate flag as a symbol of heritage. We’re not exempt from those conversations.
In your view, what were the recent Trump demonstrations in Cold Spring about?
Mr. [Edgar] Polhemus had every right to show his support for Mr. Trump [with a banner positioned on Route 9D]. And members of my generation had every right to go there and say, “I don’t believe that [Trump] stands for our town, for the people in it.” When you protest the president it’s political, but it’s also about the things he represents, which, in a lot of ways, is anti-blackness, anti-LBGTQ, anti-women.
How can racism be confronted?
Community action. That’s why I started this. The information about Scott Morris was always there. Two newspapers in town could have done that research. Many people in town could have done that research. We weren’t curious enough. Community action was effective. Within a day of sending emails, within a day of calling, Mayor [Dave] Merandy announced that Scott Morris was resigning. At the June 9 village board meeting, the mayor was uncomfortable. He had no respect for the email campaign. He said many things against it, that it was mob mentality. But I don’t see it as mob mentality. We saw an issue and we took action.
The Village Board said it did its research, was aware of the incident and felt Morris was a good hire. How would you respond to that?
It’s more of an issue that the board knew everything than if it had not known. The fact that it knew and still thought it was an appropriate hire proves there is systematic racism in our institutions. We didn’t think that police brutality would get back to our town. We thought we were in this bubble.
What did you mean by a comment in The Current that citizens and elected officials need to feel connected?
After the June 9 board meeting, I tried to contact Mayor Merandy at least five times. I tried to contact Officer-in-Charge Larry Burke and the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department. I have not received a response from anyone. They don’t want to talk to me, obviously. That’s where Cold Spring Community Action comes in — it’s a platform where anyone can bring information to the table and discuss it, whether or not our elected officials want that conversation. The information about Scott Morris came from other citizens. The information about the [Trump] protest was from a video by someone who lives here. That’s how we’re getting this information.
Truth to power. Go for it, young lady. 😉
Does Cassie Traina live in Cold Spring? How long has she lived here? Or does she live in Nanuet? Is she from the Bronx? Just asking as someone whose family has been here for generations and whose hometown really is Cold Spring. With all due respect, she does not represent my views or the views of many other natives of Cold Spring with regard to our police department or our village, and we are not racist nor do we suffer from “white privilege.” Many of us blue-collar workers, “Back the Blue” and supporters of President Trump. Perhaps The Highlands Current would like to do another story interviewing someone whose hometown really is Cold Spring since birth and has a different view?
Kudos to Cindy Trimble. We have a lot of clearheaded young people due to their brainwashing by Marxist professors and socialist teachers. Their parents underwent the same indoctrination. From climate change to white privilege to the hatred of our police and armed forces, their spiel is repeated over and over again. They can easily divest themselves of these horrors by living in less offensive places, preferably on foreign soil. My Cuban friends can recommend their old neighborhoods in Havana.
As a newcomer to Cold Spring who has felt nothing but welcomed by this beautiful community, I was a bit surprised at the reaction to your interview with Cassie Traina.
I haven’t met Cassie but she sounds like an impressive person who is working to make the world a better place. She was, however, called a brainwashed Marxist and outsider whose family apparently hasn’t lived here for enough generations, even though she graduated from Haldane High School.
What sort of message does this send to young people and people of all ages who choose to make their home here? Keep your mouth shut and don’t get involved in your community?
As a not-so-young actual “outsider,” I humbly suggest that we should listen more, not less, to younger generations — wherever they come from — and let them lead, because frankly we older generations have not done such a great job. And if having a deep history here is what confers legitimacy, I would also suggest that the Munsee and Mohican people who were driven from these lands centuries ago would have a better claim.
Great idea! I welcome the voices of “native Cold Springers”! Please include a translator so we can read your commentary in Lanape or Munsee. Sarcasm aside, it may be the most enlightening exercise for all parties to hear from people who support President Trump. I would also love to hear their thoughts about his own immigrant story. How his mother, a Scottish immigrant married his father, a first generation American whose father came here from Germany. To Rena Corey: Let the young people have their views. They may be different from your own but that is the price for progress.
I think people confuse “white privilege” with “white guilt,” because no one suffers from privilege.
Guilt is certainly something that white people do suffer from, so to avoid it, they deny that they have anything to feel guilty about.
Privilege is when someone has an easier time getting something, and it applies to different scenarios, in addition to race. It could involve people of different economic classes. The fact that white people have privilege is just that: a fact. It’s just easier to get things. If you’re a white man getting pulled over because your brake light is out, you most likely will not be told to get out of the car, as happened in Cold Spring to a Black friend of mine.
Our job is to increase the privilege to Black and brown people. The first step is to listen to them and believe them. Part of increasing privilege is peeling away one’s own views of what you think when you see a Black or brown person walking down the street. Or in a job interview. Or at a party. Or to your neighbor. It’s a lifelong action, and one will encounter a different action every day.
Cassie Traina, thank you for having the courage and dedication to take action on these important issues in such a direct way. This is exactly what we need. [via Facebook]