For the past few years, progressive activist groups have sprung up in Bay Ridge to counter an increasing trend towards intolerance and hate. While most share a similar overall goal, each has grown to fill a different progressive niche in the neighborhood. Some focus on social justice, others on peace, others on civic education. In the case of Fight Back Bay Ridge, the focus is on action.
In today’s show, we talk with three of the women who were present at the very beginning of Fight Back, as it is affectionately called by members. Sally McMahon, Cathryn Giuffre, and Fawn Greenberg (along with Mallory McMahon, Allan Holt, and Larry Mingione) started the group as a small progressive club in their apartment building, reacting to the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Instead of moping, they decided to act and organize. However, a spur-of-the-moment decision to name the groups Facebook page ended up dramatically expanding the group’s audience from a single apartment complex to the entirety of Bay Ridge.
We’ll talk about how the group found its voice, how it accomplished its early actions, and what it’s future might hold.
Expand to view Audio Bookmarks…
- What is Fight Back Bay Ridge known for?
- Origin Story
- Member equality and support
- How a Fight Back meeting works
- Organizing the 2017 Dan Donovan town hall
- Working group structure
- The future of Fight Back Bay Ridge
- How to join
Getting Involved in Fight Back Bay Ridge
Fight Back Bay Ridge currently organizes through it’s private Facebook Group. It is open to all progressive Bay Ridge residents who, as Cathy said, “Are willing to move forward.” While it requires a brief application process to get in, it is currently the largest progressive forum and chat area in the neighborhood, containing over seven hundred members.
However, the actions and events that Fight Back Bay Ridge is known for are usually brainstormed at monthly general meetings. As Sally mentioned in the episode, anyone is open to suggest and propose new actions. It is this open format that has led to a wide range of different actions undertaken by the group, ranging from civic volunteer outings, to nonpartisan voter registration, to political protests and organizing.
Is it for me?
Fight Back Bay Ridge is all about action. Starting from its origins in Sally McMahon’s apartment, it has focused on realizing the ideas proposed by its members. Since its members can have a wide variety of political beliefs, it’s actions can be moderate at one moment, and radical the next. The group as a whole generally embraces this contradiction, and nobody is ever required to participate in or lend support to an action they don’t agree with.
Fight Back Bay Ridge is a good fit for people who…
- Want to get things done.
- Are happy collaborating with others.
- Don’t mind a non-hierarchical group structure.
- Are comfortable with actions they may not personally don’t agree with being facilitated by the group.
- Are comfortable with both political and non-political actions
We’re all equal… and we all think that everybody has an equal chance to change things. If you have a sound idea, and we can help you further that idea into something real, we’re there for you.Cathryn Giuffre on Fight Back Bay Ridge’s method of facilitation
Remember, Fight Back Bay Ridge is only one of many progressive activist groups in the neighborhood. Check out our local progressives page to see more!
How often do they meet?
The group meets monthly on Tuesdays from 7pm-9pm to brainstorm new ideas and report on action progress. You can get exact dates by applying to their closed Facebook group.
Here are a few descriptions of the actions that Sally, Cathy, and Fawn mentioned throughout the show. Some are early actions Fight Back Bay Ridge was involved in, while others were mentioned as favorites by the founders…
Dan Donovan Affordable Care Act Rally
Sally, Cathy, and Fawn all mention that Dan Donovan was one of the first focal points for the group after it’s formation. At the time, defending the Affordable Care Act was a major rallying cry across the country. The group allied with Staten Island Women Who March and South Brooklyn Progressive Resistance to attract over two hundred protesters to Donovan’s Dyker Heights office.
This larger joint protest, which was held on February 21st, actually followed a smaller rally and sit-in protesting Donovan’s “tele-town-hall” on February 16th. Donovan was at the time under pressure from an earlier Bay Ridge for Social Justice action demanding a Town Hall and protesting the Muslim Ban. The congressman held what he styled as a “town hall”, but which was actually a carefully scripted conference call for residents to dial into. Constituents needed to apply to get the proper conference codes, and many weren’t able to connect. Even fewer managed to get their screened questions answered or noted.
At the time of the “tele-town-hall”, Fight Back Bay Ridge rallied a handful of their earliest supporters to stand outside in the cold at Donovan’s office and listen to his “town hall” in person over speakerphones. The temperature was 17 degrees factoring in wind-chill. While small and nearly unseen, the action used their physical presence to highlight that Donovan continually refused to face his constituents in person. This tactic of showing up in person to emphasize Donovan’s absence, in effect portraying him as a coward, became a theme that saw much greater success during their Town Hall action only two months later.
In the news:
- Brooklyn Eagle, “Protesters Keep Putting Pressure on Donovan”
- Bklyner, “Constituents Sit In, Donovan Dials In”
The NY11 Town Hall
The largest of Fight Back Bay Ridge’s actions was the NY11 Dan Donovan Town Hall. We end the “origin story” part of our episode at this moment, and Sally considered it a turning point for the group.
Congressman Donovan had a seat in the center of the room, which was left empty, though he was invited to attend. The forum was held on familiar ground for him, fellow Republican and State Senator Marty Golden’s family catering hall, which had often been used for Donovan’s campaign events.
After opening remarks by a panelist of experts on issues ranging from housing to education, an open mic was set up allowing constituents to ask questions about congressional issues. Instead of Donovan answering, a group of fact-checkers was on one side of the room to attempt to inform the public of Donovan’s public stances. The content experts would then fill the crowd in on the details of the issue, turning the event into perhaps the largest civic education forum in Bay Ridge history.
The main panel consisted of representatives from The Alliance for Quality Education, The Association of Muslim-American Lawyers, The Jericho Project, Lambda Legal, Metro Health New York, The Metropolitan Council on Housing, The Natural Resources Defense Council, The National Institute for Reproductive Health, The NYC Action Group on Immigration, and the The NY Housing Conference. You might also spot a familiar name on the panel: The Metropolitan Council on Housing’s representative, Andrea Shapiro, was recently on the podcast for our Universal Rent Control episode!
In the news:
- “Bay Ridgites Host Town Hall for Donovan – Who Didn’t Show”, Brooklyn Paper
- “With Donovan Absent, Brooklyn Constituents Plan Town Hall”, Brooklyn Eagle
- “Fight Back Bay Ridge Leaders Hope Town Hall is Springboard”, Brooklyn Eagle
- “Donovan Refuses Invitation to Upcoming Constituent-Organized Town Hall in Bay Ridge”, Brooklyn Reporter
Gerrymander Art Show
We gave the Gerrymander Art Show it’s own podcast episode last year, highlighting the heavily gerrymandered nature of our district. It also was an opportunity for local progressives and artists to come together and network.
As our Fight Back Bay Ridge founders mention, this event was in limbo for almost a year before a first-time member picked up the idea and ran with it. It’s a great example of how anyone with unique skills can be vital to local activist groups.
In the news:
Perhaps one of the most publicly visible actions that Fight Back Bay Ridge has gotten involved in, “Martybags” (as it is called in the group) is the one many detractors use as proof of the group’s radical nature. This was just one of many the group helped facilitate at the time. Simultaneously to “Martybags”, other members in a separate working group were conducting nonpartisan voter registration.
“Martybags” was an attempt to provide a counter-narrative to the political campaigning that often occurred at the local street fairs in Bay Ridge, especially during campaign season. Marty Golden often used yellow balloons to campaign (handing them out to children) and the yellow bags were a direct reference to them. Instead of promoting Golden, the bags emphasized Golden’s opposition to a plastic bag ban and held literature outlining Golden’s anti-environmental stances throughout the years. Indeed, one of the very balloons Fight Back Bay Ridge was parodying had floated over the Narrows from 3rd Avenue and popped, wound up polluting a beach in New Jersey.
The bags brightly declared “Replace the Waste”, encouraging people to use reusable bags rather than disposable plastic bags. It also included the hashtag #NotSoGolden, which the group was using to bring attention to Golden’s stances on various local issues.
In addition to being distributed at street festivals, the bags were handed out by volunteers at multiple grocery stores across the district for the entire summer of 2018.
In the news:
- Bklyner, “Local Group Challenges State Senator Golden at Bay Ridge Summer Stroll”
- Brooklyn Reporter, “Ridge Political Divide Takes Shape Beyond Summer Stroll”
- Brooklyn Paper, “Ridgites Tangle with Golden Staffers After Calling Out Pol’s Record at Summer Stroll”
- Newsday, “Talking Point: Clever Protests”
Dyker Heights Lights Cleanup
It isn’t just protesting and issue advocacy. Fight Back Bay Ridge members always focus on civic improvement as well, though such actions often get less press coverage. As Sally, Cathy, and Fawn mention in the episode, one of their favorite civic actions was the Dyker Heights Lights cleanup.
Every holiday season, Dyker Heights puts on a big display of lights and decorations which attracts tons of visitors. The trash from tourists piles up on street corners and in front of people’s homes who aren’t even participating in the lights.
For two weekends in 2018 (the busy days for tourists coming to see the lights), Fight Back Bay Ridge partnered with the NYC Department of Sanitation to pick up trash along the sidewalks. Volunteers arrived for two-hour shifts, covering 5pm to 9pm for both weekends. Wearing reflective vests, they managed to make multiple rounds up and down the blocks between 86th and 77th street from 10th to 13th ave.
In addition to picking up trash on the sidewalks, the Sanitation Department added multiple trash cans to the corners nearest the Dyker Heights Lights for the group to maintain. Volunteers emptied the trash cans when they filled up throughout the night, replacing them with fresh bags.
In the news:
- Brooklyn Eagle, “Fight Back Bay Ridge Pitches in to Clean Up Dyker Heights ‘Tourist Trash'”
- News12 Brooklyn, “Homeowners in Dyker Heights complain of trash from tourists”
Frequently Asked Questions about Fight Back Bay Ridge
It’s a progressive action group made up of local residents in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
Yes and no. Fight Back Bay Ridge registered as an Independent Expenditure Committee on August 17th 2018, so it could raise and spend money to directly oppose the election of State Senator Marty Golden and Congressman Dan Donovan. Otherwise, it acts as a collaborative action group.
No. Fight Back Bay Ridge is an independent group of activists. Its actions are planned in an open forum made up of its membership. It is not associated with any other parent organization or group.
To fight for, or against, any issues it’s members think are important. Because it facilitates actions through ad-hoc working groups, it’s goals and identity can shift from moment to moment.
They are mostly residents of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Some members live in neighboring Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Gravesend, and Marine Park.
November 10th, 2016, responding to the 2016 Presidential Election.
Yes and no. Because the actions are brainstormed and workshopped in a monthly open forum, it’s actions can be radical at one moment, and moderate the next. The group embraces the diversity of its actions.
No. It’s smaller or non-electoral actions are made possible by its all-volunteer membership. When working on electoral issues, the group must follow all regulations applicable to an Independent Expenditure Committee.
No. The group is entirely run through the volunteerism of its members.
No. The group engages with politicians as constituents and has held rallies criticizing both Democrat and Republican officeholders. Fight Back Bay Ridge has a policy of holding every elected officials’ “foot to the fire” on progressive issues.