Thousands of protesters are expected to gather on Hofstra University's campus in Hempstead today, ahead of tonight's
bloodbath debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump, the candidate who most people still think is unfit for the presidency but could actually be within striking distance of becoming president anyway. All eyes—an estimated record 100 million pairs of them—will be on Hempstead, where Fight for $15, the Green Party, and the New York Communists are among those planning to take advantage of the spotlight. These groups plan to admonish Trump and, in the case of Green Party Candidate Jill Stein's followers, the event's organizers: the Commission on Presidential Debates.
A spokeswoman for Hofstra said Monday morning that the anticipated 10,000 protesters will be relegated to a parking lot across Hempstead Turnpike from the debate, near Hagerdon Hall and Shuart Stadium. NBC reports that the turnpike and adjacent roads were already lined with police barriers early Monday morning. According to the Long Island Press, more than 1,000 police are expected at the event, from at least six different area agencies. Designated zones within the stadium parking lot will be split between Trump supporters and those who can't stomach him—the same approach local cops took in Bethpage back in April.
"Nassau County Police Department will not tolerate any violations of law," Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter told reporters last week. "But we’ll do everything we can to protect people’s rights for free speech."
Spokesperson for Nassau County police just confirmed to me that 1,000 police officers will be deployed for Monday night's debate at Hofstra
— Emily Atkin (@emorwee) September 22, 2016
All told, he added, tonight will be the most "significant security event" Nassau County has seen in decades. The list of banned items is lengthy and, unlike that of the GOP primary in Cleveland, includes firearms and ammunition (also selfie sticks, drones, bicycles—here's the full list). Road closures went into effect at 5 a.m. Monday, and some roads are expected to remain closed until midnight.
At two previous presidential debates hosted at Hofstra, the Hofstra Chronicle reports, protesters have numbered in the hundreds—between 300 and 500.
"In the last two debates, people who are expressing their opinions … tend to do so by walking up and down Hempstead Turnpike,” Melissa Connolly, vice president of University Relations told the outlet. This year, barriers will block protesters from doing so.
— Natalie Tendall (@WDTNNatalie) September 26, 2016
For the Stein camp, the impetus for tonight's protest is the commission's decision to exclude herself and Libertarian Party Candidate Gary Johnson from the debate. According to the commission, both candidates failed to garner 15% of likely votes—the official threshold for participation—in national polls. Stein has 3.2%, according to their calculations, and Johnson as 8.4%.
Stein has countered that polls show 50% of Americans identify as neither Democrat nor Republican, and that the debate should reflect "the diversity of American political opinion, and not be restricted to two candidates nominated by establishment parties awash in corporate donations and billionaire support."
"Americans want an open debate,” Stein told the Hofstra Chronicle on Sunday, during an early appearance on campus. “Not Hillary, the symbol of business as usual, or Trump, a hate-monger."
Stein has indicated that she plans to attempt to enter the debate flanked by her supporters, as she did back in 2012 (she was arrested that time around). "This situation may lead to arrest—it is possible but not definite," her camp stated. "There will be actions you can take with us at Hofstra that do not risk arrest."
Regardless, Stein is planning to respond to the debate live, on Facebook Live and Twitter. For those who want to participate on the ground, her protest buses are leaving from NYC this afternoon, at 2:15 p.m. (details here).
For the New York District Communist Party, tonight's protest is directed at Trump's messaging. "We are not going to Long Island to listen to the candidates debate, but to speak to the U.S. people," said organizer Cameron Orr. "Our message is simple: we stand up for peace and justice. We stand against hate and intolerance."
Fight for $15 is expecting at least 1,500 workers to walk off the job today to protest at Hofstra, including workers from outside the state—as far away as Boston, Hartford and St. Louis. "We want candidates on both sides of the aisles to know that the 64 million Americans in this country who make less than $15 an hour represent a very important bloc of voters," Kendall Fells, organizing director, told the Daily News. (Trump has indicated support for a minimum wage as high as $10, while Clinton has eased up to $15 from $12—an agreement reached with Bernie Sanders' camp.)
If you're NYC-bound tonight, here's where to watch the drama across the turnpike unfold from afar.
[UPDATE 1:00]: Hofstra University Relations VP Melissa Connolly said Monday afternoon that no protesters had yet arrived in the designated parking lot, called the "public assembly area." She said that groups had signed up to speak for seven minutes each, to "make a pitch," on a stage erected in the lot. The mic will be open from 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., and Connolly said that so far there have been enough slots to accommodate every interested group.