Prominent Irish American politician and LGBT rights champion Daniel Dromm has told a New York audience that "demagogues" are trying to pit Irish Americans against newer immigrants to the US.
Addressing a full house at the opening night of the New York-New Belfast conference in the American Irish Historical Society on Fifth Avenue, the Chair of New York City Council's Finance Committee said the "shared history of the United States and Northern Ireland can show us the way forward, toward progress".
Remarking on the conference celebration of the 200th birthday of escaped slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass — who addressed large audiences in Belfast in 1845 — Council Member Dromm said his story resonated today.
"Frederick Douglass’s wise words remind us that 'without struggle, there can be no progress'," he said. "We are still grappling with the issues that Douglass so eloquently addressed throughout his life. In Douglass’ day, slave owners and their supporters helped stoke tension and violence between Irish immigrants and African Americans. Sadly, demagogues in our own day are employing the same cynical strategy, often times pitting those of Irish ancestry and other so-called white ethnic groups against newer immigrants, Muslims, and African Americans. The speeches of Douglass offer not only historical perspective but also still-relevant guidance for overcoming the forces of fear and division."
As Chair of the New York City Council Irish American Caucus, Dromm said he had fond memories of a visit to Belfast in 2015 to address the Belfast International Homecoming. "Belfast has a special place in my heart," he said.
And he had special praise for the city's most famous musical son, Van Morrison who also featured in the New York-New Belfast conference agenda. "It is appropriate that we are also recognizing the 50th anniversary of the release of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks in New York," he said " Van Morrison’s creative vision reached across the Atlantic to the most economically poor yet culturally rich segments of this country. Although he is Northern Irish, his blues-inflected songs tap into the soulful power of traditional American music. Overall, his works show the brilliance of combining Irish and American artistic expressions to form something altogether distinct and transcendent."
Also addressing the ninth annual New York-New Belfast conference were Congressman Joe Crowley, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and former Council member Elizabeth Crowley.
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