Medical students skip class to protest the repeal of Obamacare in front of the Fox News building in Midtown, Manhattan. Photo by Sophie Herbut
In front of the Fox News building on Avenue of the Americas this evening, a band of mostly medical students in white coats, huddled together and protested against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act as cars zoomed by next to them, some honking in agreement.
“We believe that it’s important to protect people’s healthcare,” said Alex Gomez, a fourth-year medical student. “And protecting the ACA is the first step to doing that.”
It was beginning to turn dark as another large group of medical students crossed the streets to join the crowd already in place. Their signs were colorful and creative, some quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, but the most common sign had a simple message: do no harm.
“I went into medicine so I could help people who are in pain and who needed help,” Gomez, 31, said. “We as doctors can prescribe medications, give appointment, we can perform surgery but unless we work on changing the laws we can’t be sure out patients stay healthy.”
Trump has made it his initiative to repeal the ACA, or Obamacare, since his presidential campaign. This protest comes after Trump signed an executive order to “minimize the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens of the Act.” Many people believe this is the first step in completely repealing the ACA, leaving millions uninsured.
Gomez said that while the ACA is not perfect, it is still more comprehensive than anything be proposed to replace it. He said he would like to see it reformed, not repealed.
Toby Cohen, a third-year medical student, said that the repercussions of repealing Obamacare would affect his sister who is self-employed. Without the ACA, his sister’s insurance rate would be much more expensive than that of an employee of a large organization.
“Insurance premiums are cheaper when you buy in bulk,” Cohen, 29, said. “It is expensive for a lot of people but the other options are much more expensive.”
The other options would either be in purchasing insurance individually or going without it and paying for hospital bills.
“People without insurance don’t see their doctors regularly,” said Cohen. “They can end up in the emergency room and end up bankrupt paying those bills.”
Many have predicted tragedies that could happen if the ACA is repealed and it is not unreasonable to think the worst when someone’s life is at risk.
“There is literature that says that if the ACA is repealed 43,000 people will die,” Gomez said.
That statistic is what inspired the protesters to drop on the sidewalk suddenly, lie down and stay quiet for a few minutes, feigning death.
Two women who had stumbled upon the protest stood on the sidelines. They were an older couple who said that they knew if they “head to the Trump tower, [they] would find a protest.”
“If they don’t have the ACA, the hospitals will eat the cost and the people will go bankrupt,” Donna Templeton, 69, said.
She works as a nurse practitioner in Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey in the mental health and addiction department. Templeton said many of her patients receive Medicaid and without it the entire department would probably be in danger.
“If the mental health patients lose their insurance they don’t get their medicine,” she said.
Templeton said that if they get rid of the pre-existing conditions clause of the ACA, her wife, Sandra Powers, might be in trouble.
“I got back problems, I have an eye condition,” Powers, 58, said. “Where am I going to go?”
Powers said she’s disagreed with politicians in the past but it’s never been this divisive before but she says that she continues to protest and fight for her grandkids.
“I feel like they’re systematically trying to get rid of human rights,” she said.
Jose Marti Park in Union City was created in 2008 as a tribute for the Cuban community in the area. Photo by Sophie Herbut
The Jose Marti Park in Union City, is a small, gated park named after the famous Cuban poet. It was once nicely decorated with a tile Cuban flag behind a bust of Jose Marti and lined portraits of famous Cubans. Now the tiles have been taken down and the small display has been weathered and barely recognizable.
But it is still a gathering place for the older local Cuban men. A place to smoke cigars, play dominos, talk about family, memories and Cuba.
These men came to America with nothing except an idea. They left their families, friends and the few things they owned for freedom. They came for a chance to work, earn and build a better life.
“Personally, my country is here,” Fernando Andreu said in Spanish recently at the park. “I have my children and grandchildren here. Cuba is lost now.”
Fidel Castro’s death in November shocked the Cubans of Union City. It was a day that brought, reflection and pain.
Many Cubans immigrated to Union City to seek political and economic freedom after Fidel Castro gained power. North Jersey and New York have the second highest Cuban population in the United States. Their influence gave Union City the nickname “Havana on the Hudson.”
Now after Castro’s death, many older Cuban-Americans are not expecting any liberation to come to the island.
“With the communism, there are different people who live there,” Andreu,66, said. “They don’t think the same as we do. [Cuba] is not the same.”
Born in the capital of Cuba, Havana, Andreu and his family left when he was eight years old in the 1960s, as Castro was gaining control of the government. Because his dad was taken as a political prisoner for working in the previous government, Andreu left Cuba with only his mom and his sister.
“When we came, we were political refugees,” said Andreu. “[Now] Cubans step foot here and automatically have [citizenship]. Many people from Latin America would love to have the same thing.”
Andreu and his family came with nothing and lived in poverty. They collected welfare until his mom was able to get a job at a factory to support the family. He learned what it meant to work and earn his own keep. After spending most of his life in the U.S., he’s disillusioned at the thought of a free Cuba.
Miguel Alonso, 60, doesn’t believe Castro’s death meant anything for Cuba’s freedom. He said the hold of communism on the country is far greater than the one man.
“Fidel died to me 10 years ago,” Alonso said in Spanish. “They are just announcing it now.”
Alonso grew up in Havana, under Castro’s government. He left when he was 24, by himself.
“I was young, I came on a boat with the desire to come to the United States for liberty,” Alonso said. “What all Cubans want.”
Alonso escaped through the port of Mariel on April 27, 1980. The port was opened temporarily and a large number of rafts and boats full of people entered the U.S. He said it was the quickest and easiest way to escape.
“I knew people in the United States,” said Alonso. “I knew here you had to work.”
Alonso immediately got to work in construction because that’s what he worked as in Cuba. He had the skills and the opportunity. He said while he grew up around communism, he still believed in democracy.
“No one agrees with communism,” he said. “Communism demands people to be communist. It didn’t work in Europe; it definitely would not work [in Cuba].”
Alonso also said that with Trump as president, he’s unsure where the future of Cuban-Americans are headed.
Francisco Guzman, 63, lit a cigar as he stood against the green fence of the park.
Guzman grew up in Havana and he came to the U.S. when he was 26, after he sought asylum in the Peruvian embassy.
“One Saturday when they said that people could enter, I just went,” said Guzman in Spanish. “I spent 13 days in the embassy.”
Guzman immediately started working when he arrived to the U.S., working in a factory at first in Philadelphia. When he moved to Union City, he started working in agriculture. Guzman’s parents and his brother escaped Cuba, but his sister is still there. He said she will never leave so he helps her with as much as he can.
“I send her clothes and I give her money so she can buy what she needs,” Guzman said.
He said many Cubans who used to live in Union City have moved out to look for jobs and start their families. The ones who’ve stayed have been there for most of their lives.
“The Capitalist goes wherever there’s a job,” said Rijo Alvarez, 50.
Alvarez sat on one of the tables of the park with a cigar poised in his hand. He spoke casually about his life as though it was as common as an afternoon walk. He listed all the jobs he had from construction to electrical work.
“I’ve done things here I wouldn’t have ever been about to do in my country,” said Alvarez in Spanish. “My [Cuban] brothers would have stepped on my head.”
Alvarez moved from Cuba to New Jersey when he was 14. His father was a political prisoner, but was able to take his entire family and leave the island. He was one of the lucky ones. Alvarez’s parents started working immediately when they arrived and Alvarez was enrolled in school.
“I follow a philosophy, not a person,” said Alvarez. “The philosophy to be free. I want to be free and do with my money what I think I should do with it. I wanted to think what I wanted and read what I wanted.”
Alvarez said Castro’s death didn’t faze him. He was American. For him, Castro has been dead for years. But he said that both the U.S. and Cuba would have to change.
“Things have to change [in the U.S.],” said Alvarez. “Cubans aren’t the only ones who deserve the treatment they’re getting. All the Latin American brothers also deserve it. We should all be equal”
Taide de DeLeon (left) supports Belinda Bricketts (right) as she photographs the runners in the TCS New York City Marathon. Photo by Sophie Herbut
Taidé de DeLeon watched the sweaty runners come through Downtown Brooklyn in shorts and tank tops. She was bundled in layers of dark sweaters, a scarf covering up to her nose and a beanie pulled down to her eyebrows.
This is DeLeon’s first time watching the marathon. She came from Panama to accompany and support her friend, Belinda Ricketts, 59, who was photographing the runners. The two are longtime friends and travel partners.
Downtown Brooklyn was closed off for the marathon on Atlantic Avenue. Blue police tape sectioned the sidewalk for the spectators, but many spectators were not fazed it and stood on either side. The shops were mostly empty or closed and not much attention was on anything but the runners.
DeLeon’s friend, Ricketts, had been photographing the TCS New York City Marathon as a hobby since she came to New York at 18. This is the first time she invited DeLeon.
“I’ve always loved sports, especially the marathon,” Ricketts said in Spanish.
The runners came in waves and one woman stopped in front of the two friends to catch her breath. Ricketts learned her name and cheered her on to keep running while snapping pictures on her Canon camera. DeLeon clapped encouragingly.
In Panama, DeLeon, 67, was a history teacher with no plans for traveling because it wasn’t in her budget. Even with her husband as an economist, money was tight.
Now that her daughter’s graduated from college, she and Ricketts have plans to travel the world.
“I’ve always wanted to come to the United States with someone who spoke English,” DeLeon said in Spanish. “My husband wasn’t as desperate to travel as me. Neither was my daughter.”
Ricketts and DeLeon met in Panama, in 2008, while Ricketts was there to settle some property issues. The two quickly became friends and planned numerous trips together.
But in 2014, Ricketts was diagnosed with breast cancer. The two postponed all their travel plans for Ricketts to go through treatment in Panama and DeLeon to help her through it. Now they stood on the sidelines as runners passed by, Ricketts photographing them and DeLeon supporting her still.
Barely done with her treatment, Ricketts clapped, cheered and filmed the runners as she stood in the sun with an open neon green jacket. She could have easily been mistaken for a volunteer.
“I wasn’t too worried to lose material things,” said Ricketts of her life before being diagnosed with cancer. “Money only lasts a short time. [DeLeon] said money calms the nerves but that calm is temporary.”
Another wave of runners passed by and DeLeon turned to clap for them as the music roared. Ricketts pulled out her phone to film the runners since she wasn’t quick enough to snap any pictures with her camera.
“If it were not for [Ricketts], I would have only done [few] things in my life,” said DeLeon. “She’s mobilized me.”
Stephon Rose, 27, (left) and Finella Jarvis, 31, (right) hold up signs with Rikers Island statistics during a rally against the troubled prison yesterday. Photo by Sophie Herbut.
When Finella Jarvis’s brother was arrested, he was sent to Rikers Island for months to await his trial before being transferred upstate. She panicked and worried about her brother’s safety. Jarvis knew Rikers Island to be a legal cage for human beings that devolves them into desperate animals.
“It was heart-wrenching because that’s my twin,” Jarvis, 31, from Canarsie, Brooklyn said. “So just imagine going to court dates and going to appeals and just waiting for your brother to be exonerated and to be released. It takes a huge toll on the family and unfortunately our mom passed away when he was in there.”
Jarvis and hundreds of protestors gathered on Steinway Street and 30th Avenue in Astoria, Queens yesterday to urge the closing of Rikers Island. The protesters marched to Hazen Street and 19th Avenue, the edge of the bridge to Rikers Island, chanting to free their sisters, brothers and friends.
Rikers Island has been heavily criticized over claims and reports of extreme violence among inmates and correctional officers, corruption among the officers and contraband being snuck onto the island. Most recently an officer who pled guilty for covering up and helping beat an inmate to death.
Jarvis’s brother was charged with a felony weapon charge. He was released this past December on appeal.
Rikers Island has a notorious reputation. Mayor Bill de Blasio says he is trying to reform the prison. His plan includes giving some correction officers stun guns to help decrease violence and added mental health units. Glenn Martin, the founder and president of JustLeadershipUSA, an organization dedicated to cutting prison population, said that the reforms are like “lipstick on a pig.”
Jarvis said Rikers Island is too far gone for anything to help. She said the best solution is to close it down.
“Rikers needs to be shut down because it’s just a tool that just perpetuates the demise of the black, the Latino, and every underprivileged community” Jarvis said. “No one is being rehabilitated there.”
Jarvis’s brother graduated with a degree in Africana studies from Brooklyn College and is on his way to law school. But she knows there are not the same opportunities throughout every community.
“They’re people that made mistakes,” she said. “They come from communities that are underserved, underprivileged and they don’t have some of the opportunities that our white counterparts have.”
Jarvis said there needs to be more avenues for people to rehabilitate and learn from their mistakes instead of being branded a criminal and then having less opportunities than they did before.
Walter Rodriguez, 45, from Claremont, Bronx, works in the Bronx Defenders, a public defense organization for residents in the Bronx. He said he sees clients wait years in Rikers Island for their trial in “deplorable” and “dehumanizing” conditions.
“By closing Rikers, it could help expedite justice because then we’re not warehousing people,” he said. “It’s part of a broken down criminal justice system.”
Rodriguez said that getting a court room to open in the South Bronx takes so long and therefore his clients are forced to wait in Rikers Island. He said targeting these petty crimes and having people wait so long for a trial is a “funnel for criminalizing people and then bringing them into jails.”
Stephon Rose, 27, from Canarsie, Brooklyn said that these police tactics target minorities and low-income neighborhoods and once they have a criminal record, it’s almost impossible to come out of it. She said some of the laws are so obscure that not many people know about them.
“You’re treated like a hardcore criminal,” Rose said. “Whether you’re a murderer or you jump the turnstile.”
Rose said that detainees suffered emotional, mental and physical abuse as the cost of a small crimes. She said a resolution would be to provide education on these minor laws to make sure people don’t commit crimes they don’t know are against the law.
Protestors held signs with shocking statistics on the population of Rikers, as well as the amount of money, $209,000, being channeled into every inmate.
“The statistics say that 89 percent of Rikers [detainees] are Latino and black,” said Rose. “That number is disgusting.”
Ironically, Rikers Island was named after Abraham Rycken, a slave owner.
“There’s no reason why African Americans and Latinos are still minorities, but they’re the majority in our city jail,” Jarvis said. “As a whole, as a community, everyone should be out here supporting this cause.”
Pooja Kumbri, 23, from Harlem said that the best way to address people who have committed crimes is through compassion and understanding.
“So many people there for crimes of poverty,” Kumbri said. “Which is a larger issue than the individual.”
As the rally approached its destination, police officers patrolled the barricade put up to prevent the protestors from crossing that point.
“It’s ironic to see so many corrections officers protecting the island as if we want to go to Rikers Island,” City Council member Daniel Drom pointed out to the now halted crowd.
Batman fans Bill Spinelli, left, and Anthony Ceddia, right, wait in a block-long line in Ryders Alley to meet the creators of Batman. They were chosen in a raffle by Midtown Comics to celebrate Batman day. Photo by Sophie Herbut
Everyone loves Batman. He has managed to keep his swagger for 77 years. But as times have changed, Batman has remained a straight, rich white male who transcended the death of his parents by becoming a straight, rich white man in a bat suit.
Some fans are longing for a change.
“I feel comics in general have this problem,” said Thomas Tremberger from Midwood, Brooklyn, about the lack of diversity in lead comic book characters. “It’s so hard to get people invested in [more diverse] characters that until pretty recently [DC comics] didn’t have any faith in.”
Longtime fans of the character waited outside of Midtown Comics yesterday on DC Comic’s Batman Day, to meet the creators of Batman. The line was a block long hours before it began.
Some fans want to keep Batman straight and white.
“There’s room for change without having to change the characters themselves,” Anthony Ceddia of Crown Heights, Brooklyn said.
The DC Universe is a web of multiple fictional worlds and dimensions. They’ve used this system to create new diverse characters like a Muslim Green Lantern, black Batwing, and a transgender wedding in Batgirl.
“They’ve introduced a lot of new characters, a lot of diversity, and each character is amazing in their own right and at the same time they’ve never had to change Batman,” Ceddia said. “Which is what I think is great about it.”
These diverse characters have their own stories that run parallel to the original. But these minority characters don’t replace the old characters and they rarely break into the mainstream of movies and television like the Batman has done time and again.
“It’s not really the fans’ fault if they’re not really buying stuff because it hard to be invested in [a new character],” Tremberger said. “You have to sort of build from the ground up to get characters to be like, beloved.”
Tremberger did not think DC’s approach to diversity worked because it kept the minority characters separate and made it difficult for fans to attach themselves to them.
“There’s always room for diversity,” said Bill Spinelli of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. “However, I’d be happy with [DC] going the opposite route of what Marvel’s doing where they need to put diversity into characters that are long established and alienate [the] fan base.”
Marvel, on the other hand, has been making their main characters more diverse. They replaced Thor with a female and Iron Man with a young black woman.
“When you’re introducing new characters, you’re always going to have people getting paranoid about us ruining their childhood,” Marvel writer, Brian Michael Bendis, told Time.
Spinelli preferred DC’s approach to diversifying its characters by creating separate universes and having those gain as much popularity as the original and widely known characters. He said this was the best way to bring in more fans without angering existing fans.
“Is separate but equal ever equal?” Tremberger retorted.
Some fans were more attached to Batman’s character than his appearance.
“[If DC] change[s] him,” said Keith Martinez of Crown Heights, “bring in someone new—a girl maybe—that would be pretty awesome. Some people overthink it a lot. If they change the color of his skin, it still has the same impact.”