A new Democratic club wanting racial and economic justice, transparency, and inclusiveness, had its first meeting on Thursday, January 14. This QJL reporter was dropped from the Zoom meeting right before it began. Nonetheless, the QJL reporter has a recording of the complete meeting.

The reporter tried logging back into the meeting for more than a half hour, but the computer screen said, “You are unable to rejoin this meeting because you were previously removed by the host.” An e-mail during the meeting was unreturned.

In response to an e-mail the next day, the Interim President of the new club, Maria Kaufer, apologized “for the technical difficulties. We didn’t mean to exclude anyone.”

“The meeting was recorded and, barring further technical issues, we hope to post it to our Facebook page so that those who missed it can view what happened (I don’t think we will be posting our other meetings publicly, but because of the nature of the first meeting and the technical snafu, we are sharing the recording this time). Also, minutes of the meeting will be published and available for review as soon as our Secretary has finalized them.”

More than 60 people attended the inaugural meeting of the Central Queens Independent Democrats or CQuID (pronounced Squid).

Interim President Maria Kaufer wants to build a home “for people that were committed to establishing racial and economic justice, and also an open, bottom up, grassroots, participatory political process that truly practices, the democratic values of transparency, accountability, accessibility, and inclusivity.”

Interim VP Natalie Dauphin said how “our fellow founders, and myself, have had the pleasure of spending some quality time in jail protesting police brutality and I am also working with other members of the community to form a caucus focus on Black issues here in this community.”

“I found about our Queens Democratic clubs, they don’t reflect what Queens looks like. I’d be in a room with a bunch of white people and not anyone that looked like me, or look like anyone from where I grew up, or looks like a lot of our founders, frankly, so when we all got together and started talking.”

The Communications Director for the club, Miriam Bensman, worked hard for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “a candidate of my heart,” and on Tiffany Cabán’s campaigns. Bensman discussed how Ferguson (Missouri) and Eric Garner (killed by NYPD) “really woken [sic] me up to our criminal justice system and how deeply racist that was.”

Bensman has “been involved in the Democratic Socialists of America “for more than 40 years.” After being involved in political campaigns, “we wanted to have to go organized-globally, organized-nationally, you have to organize at the county level, and we have to dig deeper locally so CQuID is my, our way of building deeper roots in this area, Central Queens.”

Ozzie Araujo, born and raised in Forest Hills, “had a lot of experiences with the police and the NYPD here and a lot of harassment and profiling and, you know, getting cursed and even some violence as a kid. As a teenager just trying to walk home from the movies sometimes, and so I came of age during ‘Stop and Frisk,’” of the Giuliani and Bloomberg eras.

“Democracy or government is not working for them (the youth). Young people recognize that they’re not you know, they’re humans, and they pay attention,” said Araujo, chair of the Youth Action Committee, later in the meeting.

Peter Beadle of the By-Laws Committee said that other Democratic clubs in Queens “focus more on retaining power of those who go with the flow, who don’t rock the boat, and do what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it, with less and less regard for attending to the immediate needs of a changing society.”

“The goal here is to create some of that infrastructure to fill that gap to be the ones who educate people so that they can take control of their own party and of their own society. And so that’s what I’m hoping to achieve.”

One of the founders, Allison Avalatia, remembers “learning about the machine on NPR and I’m like, what do you mean people just can’t run for office? Who is this Queens machine and they determine who can run and who can’t run? And from that, I was very energized from AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez).”

Mel and Aleda Gagarin are also founding members of the club. Mel lost an election to Grace Meng for Congress in 2020. Aleda has the endorsement of the Working Families Party for City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz’s seat. Aleda said, “I knocked infinite doors for Tiffany Cabán in Central Queens and couldn’t have been more proud to volunteer and help move our area Left when it comes to justice and liberation.” Mel and Aleda Gagarin are pro-BDS (Boycott, Sanction, and Divest) regarding Israel’s polices with the Palestinians.

Lynn Schulman, candidate for City Council in District 29, said at the meeting, she is looking forward to “great things” and “working with” the new club. Schulman is against BDS, she said in an e-mail statement. “While I am an advocate for the constitutional right to free speech and believe everyone has the right to be critical of a policy or government they disagree with, the BDS movement as a whole refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist and has become a safe haven for anti-Semitism.”

Edwin Wong, also a candidate for City Council in District 29, is against BDS. Wong refused to fill out the Democratic Socialists of America’s questionnaire asking candidates not to travel to Israel and support BDS if elected.

David Aronov, a candidate, fought against BDS being accepted while in Student Government at Hunter College. Protests against tuition hikes had turned into chants of “Zionists out of CUNY.”

Ethan Felder, who ran on The New Reformers Line along with many of the founders of this club, said, “As a proud Jew and supporter of Israel, I refused to be a member of a group founded in large measure by a congressional candidate (Mel Gagarin) vocally and unabashedly supportive of the anti-Semitic BDS movement. There is nothing defensible about such venom and hostility toward the Jewish people’s rightful place in the community of nations. This kind of hateful radicalism has no place in our society.”

The primary for City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz’s seat in District 29 will be on June 22.

By David Schneier