I started the Crossing Party Lines – Long Island chapter in Feb 2023. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience.
I am a filmmaker by profession and someone who craves human connection and community for sustenance. The isolation of Covid was hard for me. I had trained as a moderator with Crossing Party Lines (CPL) in 2022 and had got the experience of facilitating several on-line conversations. Lisa and I had discussed the potential of restarting CPL – New York City chapter and although I definitely desired that, the logistics of organizing & hosting a conversation in New York City while living on Long Island felt prohibitive. Lisa connected me with Avrohom Zajac; a CPL member & NYC resident, and we started exploring potential locations that were not too far from the city but also from a bearable driving distance from my own home.
I am an immigrant to America and after moving around for decades, I had finally settled in Long Island. I had gotten quite involved in the congressional politics and had provided campaign housing to congressional candidates over the last few elections. I was increasingly worried about the bitterness & anxiety that my own friends & neighbors – from across the aisle – were sharing; I still had & continue to have friends across the aisle. My heart wanted to do something local, something that could make a difference that I could actually see.
On Dec 16th 2022, I had a meeting with Dylan Skolnick and Rene Bouchard at the Cinema Arts Center, Huntington. It was a long-due meeting with a filmmaker connecting with her local independent cinema. I was going to talk to them about my film projects and yet what came out of my mouth was my work with Crossing Party Lines; my passion about their intention, my concern about the polarization & acrimony in our own neighborhood and my desire to make a difference in our Long Island community. The next thing I knew, Rene and Dylan were whole-heartedly agreeing with me and before the meeting ended, I had a home for Crossing Party Lines – Long Island at Cinema Arts Center!
I worked with Avrohom to develop out first topic on George Santos; the Long Islander Congressman. I have since worked with Avrohom on every single topic. Avrohom and I represent the spirit of Crossing Party Lines, we often hold opposing views and come together across our differences to build a whole that is greater than the sum. One of my greatest pleasures of doing this work is our vigorous discussions when choosing the topic and developing its writeup. He is my ally and I couldn’t do it without him.
We had our first meetup on Feb 17th and was attended by more people than I had expected. We have had 10 more meetups since then on topics that have ranged from issues such as Affordable Housing, Asylum Seekers, Affirmative Action and Media Bias to more introspective topics such as Patriotism, Tolerance and Privilege where we explore who we are. There are those who came to our first conversation and come back every time – we have become fond of each other and are beginning to form friendships. There are those who occasionally drop by as their time permits. And we always have a few new faces. We start our conversations with music and food – that my friend & ally Rene organizes at the Cinema. I have seen people walk into our conversations feeling stressed & anxious about the state of our community & the country, and walk out lighter, more confident & empowered that there is another way of listening, of seeing, of being in the world. That there is a way to unlock the bind many of us find we are in.
It has not all been easy and we have had our share of challenges. We (I, Avrohom and Rakhee Kulkarni; another ally) have put numerous hours creating lists and writing emails to promote this new chapter. I have tried – unsuccessfully so far – to get us some media coverage so more Long Islanders know of our existence; a few months ago a journalist from Newsday came to one of our meetings, interviewed the participants and told me that we were doing impressive work & that it was a great story and yet the article never made it to press for unknown reasons. It takes many hours of topic development, social media postings, and other work for me to continue running & promoting the chapter. It takes energy & effort. Of course it does! Everything worth doing in life takes time & energy & effort & commitment. The enthusiasm and support I have received from the community & the allies that have shown at every step makes it an investment for me. I wanted to make a difference in my own community and I know I am.
Several members had reached out to me with topic suggestions for upcoming months and some with new ideas of things we can do together as a group that include potential book / podcast clubs, film clubs, game nights, blog posts, social media campaigns, video series etc. So, for our December meetup, instead of a specific topic, we will host a freeform discussion about where our CPL-Long Island members want to take this forum in 2024. Together we are going to celebrate our year-long journey and chart the path ahead.
Swati Srivastava is the Director of Visual Media at Crossing Party Lines and the chapter lead for Crossing Party Lines – Long Island. A filmmaker & storyteller, Swati turns ideas into experience. She is also an environmentalist and a first generation immigrant to the United States. She can be reached via Linkedin and Swati.Srivastava@CrossingPartyLines.com