VIDA Debate Watch Party Has Community Feel

From left to right: Babatunde Akowe, Stefani L. Zinerman, Lisa Lewis, Annette M. Robinson, Henry Butler (far right) and other attendees. Photo by Ariama Long

A few early birds in the hip, dimly lit bar sipped their sweetened sunset pink drinks in their crafted jugs. Their faces were turned up to one of the numerous flat screens on the walls above or behind them.

Someone in their favorite jersey would have erupted in cheers, having witnessed their team execute some amazing feat, right about now. However, this week the TV’s were tuned to the sport of politics.

Thus was the scene at the Vanguard Independent Democratic Association’s (VIDA) gathering at Suite 704 Caribbean Restaurant on Nostrand Avenue for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) debate in South Carolina this week.

Photo of Manager of Suite 704, Aaron Christopher, 29. Photo by Ariama Long

Babatunde Akowe Esq., Vice President of VIDA, made a few announcements just before the debates flicked on to the large overhead screens. Akowe was immensely proud to be supporting a black-owned business in the revitalized districts along Nostrand Avenue. Dabs, hugs and good-natured teasing would ensue as people react to their favorite candidate on the screens throughout the night.  

What would ordinarily be a departure for a bar and restaurant in actuality made for an interesting opportunity to kick back and discuss political views in the same way people would sports statistics. Manager Aaron Christopher said Attiba Stevenson, the owner of Suite 704, wanted to create an environment that engendered a welcoming energy. 

“Confusing,” said Christopher about the Democratic debates. “I have no idea. It’s not that I’m not paying attention either. I guess whoever’s most likely to beat Trump. Biden and then Bernie.” He said that as a black male, who is a native Brooklynite, the issues he cares most about would be less gun violence and better policing in his city.   

Assistant Principal Jelani Miller, of P.S. 375 Jackie Robinson School, was excited by another political event being held in his friend’s space. The public advocate debate was held at the club last year, so he wanted to keep encouraging Stevenson to expand the horizons.

Even though VIDA officially endorsed Biden as of yesterday, Stefani L. Zinerman was just as concerned with engaging people to vote and reminding people of the impending census. “New York sends more money out than we get back. Somebody say make Brooklyn count,” said Zinerman, who is VIDA’s Vice President of Membership and Outreach.

“If you’re a true Democrat, you know your job is to get more people to the polls to vote Democrat,” said Zinerman, who is currently running for the 56th Assembly District seat covering Bedford-Stuyvesant and Northern Crown Heights). She said the most important thing this season is getting people registered that aren’t aware that they’re eligible, like people who have been arrested or voters still registered in other states.

“We believe Joe Biden represented the stability and consistency in government,” said Executive Member Annette M. Robinson. “I was first elected to the community school board in 1977. I’ve been involved in three branches; city, state, federal and New York City council.” 

Robinson, a tenured politician in the stylish club setting, calmy sits in a white, cubed lounge chair. Her face is tinted with a deep shade of blue from the glowing TVs and the orb lamps hanging from the ceiling.

“Everybody has a history and challenges,” continues Robinson, when asked about Biden’s controversial past and less than favorable record in the media since launching his campaign. “I’ve been very radical, been in a fistfight. I’m conservative now. I’m a mother of six, and all my kids are in their 50’s and 60’s. All my kids are grown. I’ve seen it all.” 

No matter the misgivings anyone had toward a particular candidate, people discussed the debates with one clear sentiment: Support the person most likely to beat Trump.