Community activists rallied Thursday in response to House Speaker Mike Johnson and Rep. Marc Molinaro’s appearance in Binghamton.

The Water Street protest, organized by Citizen Action of New York’s Southern Tier Chapter, Indivisible Binghamton and Empire State Voices, occurred as New York’s Republican Party held their nominating convention at the Doubletree by Hilton hotel. While GOP delegates met to nominate a candidate for 2024’s U.S. Senate contest, demonstrators gathered outside with signs protesting Johnson, Molinaro and the far-right wing of the Republican Party aligned with former President Donald Trump.

Many voiced support for Ukraine amid Johnson’s continued opposition to a Senate-proposed funding package, which would have included aid for the country’s continued military campaign against Russia.

Ravo Root, a community organizer with Citizen Action, described the major reasons for the protest’s organization.

“It is the Republican Party chaos,” Root said. “They can’t get anything done, and people are pretty upset about it. There’s so many statements and votes that Johnson has made that have basically [said] that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is an existential threat to government. To a young person, that disgusts me […] The other thing [Johnson] says is that abortion is an ‘American Holocaust,’ which is disgusting to me too. We need to make sure that we’re able to make our voices heard in these cases, and Molinaro is a rubber stamp for [Johnson]. He continues to vote for many of his bills.”

In several statements, Citizen Action condemned Johnson’s record, calling the speaker an “advocate for radical abortion bans” and a “2020 election denier.” Similarly, they criticized Molinaro for “[slashing] funding to veterans” and “[cutting] housing vouchers.”

As a rank-and-file congressman in 2022, Johnson introduced the Stop the Sexualization of Children Act, which aimed to “[prohibit] the use of federal funds to develop, implement, facilitate or fund any sexually-oriented program, event or literature for children under the age of 10.” Johnson has also been staunchly opposed to abortion rights over the years, calling the procedure “a holocaust” in an op-ed published by the Shreveport Times in 2005.

“One of the major things that bothered me about this is that, first off Molinaro was against the student loan forgiveness, and [Johnson] is also vehemently opposed to it,” David Brennan, the treasurer of Binghamton University’s College Democrats and a senior majoring in history, said. “I’m already almost $80,000 in debt at this school, and I basically have a career path which [will make it] very tough for me to get out of debt and get into the middle class after school. Also, as a gay student, [Johnson] was basically supporting the idea of banning gay relationships and gay marriages. That is something I couldn’t stand for, and I had to be out here.”

During an appearance at the Broome County Sheriff’s office on Thursday afternoon, Molinaro attempted to ease protestors’ concerns, specifically about reproductive justice and LGBTQ+ rights.

“I know that every person should be given the opportunity to achieve their own success, live their own life and to celebrate their own freedom,” Molinaro said. “What that means for me, as a dad of four kids, is simply to love every individual — irrespective of who they are, who they pray to [or] what they believe. […] We need to ensure that while we want to support parents and families in raising children, that government doesn’t impose itself on young people as they make choices in life. […] I respect the very difficult decision that women have to make. Government should tone it down, elected officials should stop suggesting this is a zero-sum game and love and respect women as they make those choices.”

Some expressed concern surrounding Molinaro’s association with Johnson amid a competitive reelection campaign, given the speaker’s track record on several culture war issues. Throughout the protest, a small truck made rounds in front of the hotel with digital signs criticizing Johnson and Molinaro. At one point, the screen read “Hold Rich Tax Cheats Accountable” above pictures of both men.

“I think [Johnson] called the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill in Florida ‘common sense,’” Root said. “That’s reprehensible, it’s disgusting and it’s wrong. [Johnson] should be ashamed of himself for going after the LGBTQ+ community, and that’s why folks are here as well. There’s so many different issues that we need to cover and make sure that our voices are heard.”