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Op-ed: Matter of Fact – It’s the thought that counts

BY JAY BROWN

As this is the last edition of 2019, I am thinking about the year that was. This year, 2019, was my first penning this column, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t congratulate Jerry Kassar, my neighbor on this page, on marking his 31st year of writing his weekly piece.

This year began with newly elected legislators taking office, with the U.S. House of Representatives and New York State Senate flipped blue. On its second full day in session, the New York State legislature passed a comprehensive package of voting reforms, which led to the early voting many of us recently enjoyed during a nine-day period preceding Election Day.

In June, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act was passed and Gov. Cuomo signed the country’s most ambitious climate targets into law the following month. The Global Climate Strike in September saw students around the world calling attention to the worsening climate crisis, including here in New York City where recently-named Time Magazine Person of the Year Greta Thunberg joined protesters.

The number of people across the country sickened by measles was higher than it has been in 27 years, with two New York outbreaks accounting for more than three-quarters of all cases. Amid the growing public health concern, the state enacted legislation restricting exemptions for vaccinations to only those with a medical necessity.

While local social media was often overrun by a few people griping about how inconvenient they find street safety measures like school zone speed cameras and protected bike lanes, traffic deaths surged this year. From the steps of City Hall to street corner memorials, I attended too many vigils and remembrances for children and cyclists killed on city streets this year.

2019 recorded more mass shootings than there were days in the year, killing more than 400 Americans. The state legislature passed multiple bills that Gov. Cuomo signed into law that will help keep guns out of the hands of people who should never possess them.

While the impeachment of President Trump has dominated headlines the past few months, it is important not to lose sight of the consequences of his administration’s policies, which are still hurting people. This is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in the fact that at least seven children have died this year while in immigration custody.

Here in New York City, 2019 saw a surge in hate crimes, with a disproportinate percentage being motivated by anti-Semitism. At this time of year, when you’ll often hear the phrase “good will toward all,” it’s important we dispense with contrived controversies and keep focus on the ills that actually jeopardize people’s well-being. Hate crime statistics are real. The war on Christmas, for instance, is not.

My family doesn’t just celebrate Christmas, we love it. While the way we do it may resemble other people’s in some respects, but differ in others, the thought of ever telling anyone how they should celebrate their own Christmas or that everyone should honor what this season means to us, would never enter our minds.

And regardless of what our particular traditions are, we are very aware that the holiday we celebrate is omnipresent in our society, even to those who do not observe it. The thought that Christmas, the holiday no American can escape between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, is somehow under attack, is ludicrous.

It is odd to say that the linchpins of our economy are free markets that are allowed to operate without interference, then also rail about stores that make a conscious choice to say “Happy Holidays” to their customers.

One quick stroll through Target this time of year will make it clear that the company does not hate Christmas. If its employees are instructed to wish people “Happy Holidays,” it is because the company has determined that it’s the best business decision. It’s the market deciding.

Here’s to keeping our thoughts focused on how we can continue to improve everyone’s lives in 2020. Whatever your plans are for the final week of 2019, whatever your beliefs are, whatever your politics, I wish you and yours the very best and a very happy new year.

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