Posts Tagged ‘Bennett Weiss’

‘I Am Trayvon’ After Run-in With Cop

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

By Michael Kaufman

Bennett Weiss wore an “I Am Trayvon” button when he joined fellow Newburgh residents and others at a rally in that city July 17 following the acquittal of George Zimmerman. Others in the crowd wore similar buttons, including young African American men around the same age as the unarmed 17-year-old shot and killed by Zimmerman in February 2012. For Weiss the button was a gesture of solidarity, one he says “had a little extra meaning” after an incident that occurred earlier that day.

He had driven his minivan to a remote parking lot of the heavily wooded Cronomer Hill Park, where he was about to walk his dog. “I had one shoe on,” he recalls, and he was bending down to put on the other one.  At that moment a “very angry” Town of Newburgh police officer ordered him to get out of the car. “Put your hands on the side of the car. NOW!” yelled the cop. “What are you doing here?”

Weiss says he responded as calmly as he could despite the “infuriating” circumstances: “Why are you acting like this? I did nothing wrong.”

“What are you doing here?” repeated the cop in a tone Weiss remembers as “even harsher.” Although his brain screamed, “NONE OF YOUR @$$%^! BUSINESS,” Weiss explained that he was about to take his dog for a morning walk.

“He asked for my name and address and if I am the registered owner of the vehicle.” Then, Weiss says, the cop thundered, “What are you hiding in the car?”

“Nothing, officer, and I don’t appreciate being treated like this. I’ve done nothing wrong.”

“Get over there, lean against my car and don’t move.”

“He searched my car,” says Weiss. “He found nothing in it…. except my hard-to-miss 100- lb Newfoundland.”

“Why were you reaching under your seat as I pulled up?”

Weiss pointed to his one bare foot. “Uh, to get my shoes on. Did you happen to find a blue, size 13 sneaker?”

According to Weiss the officer gradually calmed down and explained that he was acting on orders from “the Chief” to crack down on suspicious characters in the park. He said several incidents of “public homosexual lewdness” were reported to have taken place on the grounds.

“After a while the officer explained that he had felt endangered by my bending over out of his sight. He said that for all he knew I had just robbed a bank and would as soon shoot him as go to jail.  Aside from the fact that no reported bank heists had occurred that morning, even the dumbest bank robber wouldn’t make a minivan plastered with easily identifiable homemade bumper stickers his getaway car.” But Weiss says they parted amicably and he was able to clear his head “on a long hike with my best friend scampering about exploring the wonders of his far simpler world.” And then, Weiss says, it hit him:

“What if instead of my being a 64-year-old, grey bearded white guy with a big black dog, I had been an 18-year-old effeminate Black guy with a French poodle? Or a 27-year-old tattooed Latino with a pit bull? Or simply a person of color of any age? How much more threatened would this veteran officer of the law have felt?

“And what if instead of being a uniformed cop, he had been a ‘neighborhood watch’ wannabe? I surely would not have stood idly by and let him abuse me like that. I would not have been able to hold my tongue. Running at my age is not an option. I would have had no choice but to ‘stand my ground.’ And had I been shot dead, the ground stood would have been his.

“So, am I Trayvon? Do I have a right to wear that button? Yes. We all do. And the ground we must stand upon has not yet been reached, so we must keep marching till we reach the higher ground.”

Judging from some of the comments I’ve heard lately and recent letters to the editor I’ve read, we’ll be marching for a long while.

Michael can be reached at




Occupy Movement Coming to Orange

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

By Michael Kaufman

The “Occupy” movement is about to set up tent in Orange County Feb. 2, thanks to a number of local activists inspired by the ongoing Occupy Wall Street (OWS) campaign. “It is truly amazing how a small, leaderless movement centered in a half-acre park in lower Manhattan captured the imagination of the world and rapidly spread to over 80 countries and 1,000 cities,” says Newburgh resident Bennett Weiss. 

Weiss, a jewelry and arts and crafts maker, says the last year will be remembered as “the year ordinary people took to the streets. From Tahrir Square in Cairo to Madison, Wisconsin, something special was happening: Voices long silenced by fear or deadened by hopelessness rang out in protest. No movement better encapsulates the raw and awesome power of people coming together in new and vital ways than the Occupy movement. And now it’s coming to Orange County.”

Weiss, of course, is one of the organizers. A longtime activist for peace and social justice he was a frequent visitor to Zuccotti Park before protesters were forcibly removed by police. He was also the organizer of a September “Rally for Economic Justice” in New Canaan, Connecticut, home to more than a few well-to-do corporate executives, including General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt. “What better place to demonstrate against the concentration of wealth than one of the places where it is concentrated,” he said at the time.

During his visits to Zuccotti Park he created and distributed more than 3,000 buttons bearing messages, such as “Economic Justice,” “Wake Up From the American Dream, Create A Livable American Reality” and “We’re the 99 Percent.” These activities were described in an article in the Times Herald-Record, eliciting a sarcastic comment from a reader who suggested that by accepting donations for the buttons Weiss was “exercising his rights under our capitalistic system to make money and take a shot at being among the one percent.” This, the reader suggested, seemed “somehow counter intuitive for the OWS crowd.”

Weiss calmly replied, “I don’t ask a penny for my buttons, but rather state clearly and emphatically when asked how much my buttons are, ‘Please make a small donation if it’s easy to do so and please do NOT make any donation if it’s not easy… all I ask is that you wear your button all the time.’ Doing this, I have raised money for a cause I strongly believe in, paid for my button costs, given away thousands of free buttons, and had the good fortune to meet and talk to some of the most dedicated and interesting people. 
“But perhaps more to the point,” he continued, “I DO understand your cynicism. We live in a culture where the bottom line is all that makes sense and greed is the only plausible explanation for hard work. We have arrived at a place where venality is considered the norm and claims of non-monetary motivation are suspect. How sad.”

Weiss says the launching of Occupy Orange will be anything but sad. “This meeting will be a  celebration of the momentous successes of the past year, a pep rally to keep our  spirits high for the  challenges that lie ahead, and an opportunity to learn  firsthand from experienced Occupiers what it’s like on the ground  (sometimes  literally on the ground) of an Occupy site.  There will be great food, music, and speakers from unions and community groups.” 

Sponsoring groups thus far include Orange County Peace and Justice, CSEA of Orange County,   Democratic Alliance, Community Voices Heard of Newburgh, and District 1199, Service Employees International Union. 1199 members were among the earliest trade unionists to show support for OWS.

“The Occupy movement, by raising awareness of the massive dissatisfaction with economic injustice has started a vigorous dialogue that we will keep open,” says Weiss. “Whether your primary concerns are local, as in the case of the Valley View Nursing home closure, regional, as in the case of our escalating home foreclosure rate, or global, as in climate change and never-ending wars, you will find  that promoting economic justice  plays a big part of the solution.”

Diane Newlander of New Windsor, agrees. I’ve been to Occupy groups on Wall Street, in New Paltz and Poughkeepsie, and wondered why there was no ‘Occupy  Orange.’ Now that it is 2012, the time has come to get organized. We are the 99%.  Join us!”

Weiss says there will be “great food” served at the Feb. 2 event but attendees are also encouraged to bring canned goods for a food drive to benefit the needy of our community. The first Occupy Orange meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 2, at Mulberry House, 62-70 West Main, Middletown. “It’s going to be a lively, dynamic extravaganza,” he quips. “I guarantee it or your money back. There’ll be lots of politics, philosophy and pizza for all.”

And if Newlander’s name seems familiar, it is. She has served as chair of New Windsor Concerned Citizens, and was a member of the New York State Advisory Panel on Transportation Policy for 2025. She also was president of the League of Women Voters of Orange County. Her involvement is but one example of Main Street joining with Occupy Wall Street in the fight for economic justice. And if you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s the economy, stupid.
 Michael can be reached at

A ‘Raindrop’ for Economic Justice

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

By Michael Kaufman

Bennett Weiss points to the front-page story in the New Canaan News with mixed emotions. Weiss, a longtime Newburgh resident, was organizer of a recent Rally for Economic Justice in New Canaan, a suburban Connecticut burgh that is home to more than a few well-to-do corporate executives and rich celebrities.

“It’s an accurate report,” says Weiss. “Of course I was disappointed in the turnout.” But Weiss adds that the event was “hugely successful” in other ways. “As part of the big picture … it was one raindrop in what I hope is a gathering tsunami.”

According to the New Canaan News article, “Over the weekend, a slew of protests against wealthy corporations and individuals took place on Wall Street. But the financial district was not the only setting for these rallies. New Canaan Town Hall served as another backdrop for around 40 individuals who wanted ‘to protest against the concentration of wealth in the very places where that wealth is concentrated.’”

The Wall Street protests have continued despite being largely ignored by corporate-owned media until recently, when video of an ugly incident of police brutality went viral over the internet. It remains to be seen whether they will grow to “tsunami” or even small flood proportions.

Back in New Canaan, Weiss told a reporter, “We are not here to throw barbs at any particular people. This is to just keep the conversation going and hopefully by having it in New Canaan, we’ll perk up some ears that might have been deaf to this issue for a little too long. As far as particulars about New Canaan, well we have Jeffery Immelt (CEO of General Electric) and a whole lot of other people that we consider part of the problem.”

Immelt and some 6,000+ other readers of the News were provided with the link to the Economic Justice Now website (, as well as a quote from the site: “Economic Justice means medical care and jobs for all. It means an end to the gross imbalance of political power between the haves and have-nots. It means ending wars of empire. It means putting people before profit. It means putting our common needs ahead of individual luxury.”

“The protesters gathered on the lawn in front of Town Hall listened to speakers tell stories, recite poetry and even sing a few songs,” the article continued. “Their hope was to raise awareness in New Canaan and solicit assistance from anyone willing to join the cause.”

Speakers included Richard Duffee of the Green Party, who urged attendees to “sign up to create and work with an organization that will advocate equality in Connecticut.”

Ralph Nazareth, an English professor from Nassau Community College, said, “The wolves of double speak, ravenous greed and blind power are not just at the door. They are in the house and they are mauling us. That is why we are here on this beautiful day.”

Trudy Goldberg, of the National Jobs for All Coalition, said the best way to tackle unemployment is for the government to directly create new jobs. “The best and only solution is direct job creation by the federal government modeled on the work programs of the Great Depression,” said Goldberg. “This not only gave jobs to the unemployed but did much to improve the nation’s physical, social and cultural resources.”

Goldberg also spoke of the threat to democracy posed by the influence of money on democratic elections. “The great influence of wealth on our political system subverts political democracy,” she observed. “Money influences how we vote through its very substantial influence on the media. It influences who can run for office and who is likely to win because you know that campaigns are extraordinarily expensive and most of the time, those who have the most money win those campaigns. Then after they are in office, they are influenced and may be beholden to those who have contributed most to them…”

Weiss said those who attended the New Canaan rally share the same goal of those gathering in New York’s financial district. “Right now, as we’re meeting there is a similar meeting down in Wall Street,” he said. “People are demonstrating against the same issues we are demonstrating against but the difference is they are doing it where these people work and we are doing it where these people live.”

Will these efforts amount to more than a drop in the bucket? Weiss and fellow activists in Orange County are doing their part to make it so.

Michael can be reached at

From Newburgh to New Canaan

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

By Michael Kaufman

Sometimes the headline tells you all you need to know:  HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR, for example, or FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD. Tuesday there was one in the Times Herald-Record but you may have missed it because it was positioned at the bottom of a page in the business section:  “BofA will ax 30,000 jobs to calm investors.” This is the same Bank of America that benefited from the massive Wall Street bailout funded by the tax-paying citizens of this country in 2008.

According to the article, “the nation’s largest bank…is facing huge liabilities over soured mortgage investments and concerns over whether it has enough capital to withstand more financial shocks.”  Couldn’t they have thought of a better way to allay the anxiety of shareholders before firing 10 percent of the workforce?  Not according to the bank:  “The bank said it hopes the cuts and other measures will result in $5 billion in annual savings by 2014. The bank has already cut 6,000 jobs this year. The bank also said it would look for cost savings at its other businesses in a six-month review that will begin next month.”  In other words, people who work at those “other businesses” are also in danger of losing their jobs soon in order to “calm investors.”  

What’s wrong with this picture?

In an email sent last Friday to members of the Orange County Democratic Alliance (DA), Michael Sussman wrote, “This is our time to start reaching out and discussing the inequities of our economic system and who is being injured.” Sussman will be one of the featured speakers Sunday, September 18, at a Rally for Economic Justice in New Canaan, Connecticut. Major organizer of the rally is Bennett Weiss of Newburgh, who mentioned the idea on a frigid Sunday afternoon in January—the day Nan Hayworth celebrated her election to Congress at an inauguration in Middletown.  As Hayworth spoke inside about “reining in government” and repealing health care reform, Sussman, Weiss, and other DA members protested outside.  

Later, within the warm confines of the Colonial Diner, Weiss explained why he chose New Canaan as the site for a projected rally for economic justice. He noted that New Canaan is home to many of the beneficiaries of the recently extended “Bush tax cuts” on the wealthy….you know, the ones who are supposedly creating new jobs thanks to the cuts. The median price of a home listed for sale in New Canaan is over $2 million.

At the time of the last census the racial makeup of the town was 95 percent white, one percent African American, two percent Asian, and less than two percent Hispanic or Latino of any race. Among the notables who live in New Canaan are Glenn Beck, right-wing broadcaster, Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric, and David Neeleman, founder of Jet Blue Airways. As of November 4, 2008, there were 12,813 active voters in New Canaan:  6,341 Republicans, 2,732 Democrats, 3,716 unaffiliated voters, and 24 voters registered with other parties.  

Weiss. tongue ensconced firmly in cheek, calls on Orange County residents to “make the hajj (schlep) to the lush leafy hills of that enclave for the complacent rich” on Sunday.  New Canaan, he says, “will be transformed into a Mecca for us, the outraged, unwashed and mansion-less horde… the lower 98 percent if you will.”

Speakers at the rally will “connect the dots between extreme disparity of wealth and our most pressing challenges.” In addition to Sussman, speakers include Richard Duffee and Ralph Maurer of  the Connecticut Green Party,  Chuck Bell of No War Westchester, Trudy Goldberg of the National Jobs for All Coalition, Hector Lopez of the Puerto Rico Independence Committee, Juanita Lewis of Community Voices Heard, and Chris Hutchinson of the American Socialist Party. Interspersed throughout the program will be “some brilliant topical poetry and songs,” says Weiss, who adds that the rally will be followed by a march and a picnic “at beautiful Mead Park.”

“It’s a big trip and great hassle to get there,” admits Weiss, but he is hoping a few “Pilgrims” from Orange County will find the effort worthwhile.  I wish him luck. We need headlines about jobs saved and jobs created, not about jobs lost to “calm investors.”  

Michael can be reached at