A crowd of nearly 100 New Yorkers gathered outside the Crown Heights office of State Senator Jesse Hamilton Friday to demand that he withdraw from the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of eight rogue Democrats who caucus with Senate Republicans.
Huddled close in the frigid weather, the protesters chanted "Shut down the IDC/Democrat majority" while educating confused passers-by about the complex inner-workings of Albany politics.
"This is just the beginning of a sustained calling out and shining a harsh light on what the bland-sounding IDC really stands for," said Tim Murphy, a journalist and activist. "It stands for blocking progressive change for their own selfish, power-brokering interests."
Though Hamilton typically meets with constituents on Friday afternoon, the senator's office announced on Wednesday night that he'd be spending Friday delivering Valentine's Day cards—a move many interpreted as intentional evasion. "The target of the protest is too scared to be here and actually listen to constituents who voted for him," said Murphy, to loud cheers. Hamilton's office did not immediately respond to Gothamist's request for comment.
Friday's demonstration was the latest event in what's become a burgeoning grassroots movement to push the IDC members back into caucusing with mainline Democrats. During a raucous town hall meeting in Jackson Heights last week, hundreds of protesters confronted Senator Jose Peralta about his surprise defection to the IDC, accusing him of quietly betraying the progressive platform on which he ran. At the town hall, Peralta spoke at length about the ineffectiveness of the Senate Democrats, and accused them of provoking the protests.
In recent weeks, the IDC, which now counts eight members and has served as a bulwark for the Republican majority in Albany, has come under intense scrutiny from activists seeking progressive policy changes on the state level.
"I take for granted that New York City is this safe, progressive place, but progressivism is fragile," said Patrick Horrigan, an East Village resident who said he only became aware of the IDC last month. "Now, I just feel like it's so important that we in this country try to create strongholds that can resist the Trump administration."
Lizzie Scott, a Crown Heights resident who voted for Hamilton in the most recent election, said she has been following the IDC for some time, but was only recently driven to take action. "I've been working with a lot of other public school parents organizing against Betsy DeVos, and so now that whole fight is going to have to shift to the state level," Scott said. "With Hamilton in the IDC—vouchers and privatization, they'll be supporting all of that. And we really need to be protecting public schools at the state level." (Hamilton has been vocal in his support for public schools, though state Republicans have long pushed for forms of privatization.)
According to Harris Doran, a Washington Heights-based organizer with Rise & Resist, one of the groups that organized the protest, another demonstration will take place in two weeks at the Bayside office of state Senator Tony Avella, who began caucusing with the Republicans in 2014. Doran expects that all eight IDC members will face similar opposition in the coming months, and that the protests will only grow as more people learn about the IDC’s power-sharing arrangement with the GOP. Already, he said, Rise & Resist is in talks with potential primary challengers for Democrats who refuse to leave the IDC.
"We need a majority and we're no longer waiting around for someone else to do it," Doran said. "Just like all across the country, New Yorkers are taking back our state."