Just got back from another personal first: a town hall meeting with my Congressional representative, Zoe Lofgren, at the Mt. Pleasant High School. She’s a Democrat and has been this area’s Congresswoman since 1995, if I heard her correctly. She mentioned returning home (this area) each week, and she’s got that smooth way of responding to questions that says she often communicates with her people. I can respect that, especially compared to those (hopefully few) cowardly Republicans who choose to hide from, lie to, and ignore their people. As someone who lives in California — one of the possibly safest states to be in during the Trump administration — my heart goes out to the poor folks who live in those areas whose representatives are claiming ever wilder excuses to not hold any town halls or actually do their jobs and represent the will of their people. But enough of that… for now.
Returning to the town hall: apparently far more folks RSVP’d than actually attended — which didn’t surprise me considering what an utterly gorgeous day it was today. Here are some quick cell phone snaps (apologies for the blurriness!) of the auditorium before Congresswoman Lofgren arrived. Incidentally, that gray-haired gent in the suit seated at the white table right in front of me was Dave Cortese, representing District 3 on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.
There were eight rows ahead of me and four behind my row, for a total of thirteen rows. By the time the talk started just about every seat I could see was filled. More folks filtered in during the talk, and a few left, so that at the fullest point there were folks seated on the stage as well, as you can see here:
It was also a (perhaps unsurprisingly) well-behaved crowd, since I suspect the vast majority of folks there agreed with Lofgren. The high school’s ROTC were on hand (you can see some of them behind the nuns) to hand out index cards to those folks who wished to ask questions, and then collect them up again. A few of the teachers had volunteered as well, and it was apparently their job to sort out the cards by subject so as to ensure Lofgren could answer as many different questions as possible. This worked relatively well, I thought, despite the teachers apparently being a bit overwhelmed by how many index cards they were being handed… since there were also handouts placed on each seat which you could fill out for later replies if you had a private question or wanted to state an opinion.
Before the talk started I sent up one question — “how can we most effectively stop Trump’s agenda?” — and another very early on during the talking: “is it actually legal for ICE (US Immigration & Customs Enforcement) to put up road blocks in sanctuary cities, and how can those best be hindered, stopped, or avoided?” However, neither got directly answered since, as Lofgren noted, political activism issues weren’t appropriate during a town hall that was being paid for by the government! I can respect that too, though I hope she holds a political activism meeting at some point — she mentioned there being plenty of interest in one, so perhaps she will do so sometime soon.
The high school’s ROTC had something that I think was called the presentation of the colors where they came out with the US and the CA flags, and Lofgren led us in the Pledge of Allegiance. It was particularly poignant to me to stand there and say with the crowd: “…indivisible — with liberty and justice for all!” May we all help make it so.
Lofgren ended up talking on a number of subjects: Trump’s supposed Wall and second attempt at a Muslim ban, the ACA/Obamacare and the Republicans’ increasingly secretive and absurd attempts to repeal or replace it, Medicaid and Medicare, the intended defunding of Planned Parenthood, the Republican attempts to close down the Environmental Protection Agency, how bills are brought forward to be voted on (short version: if the party in power is mean-spirited then minority party bills never even get a chance to be voted on), the problem with focusing more on Trump’s whiny narcissistic tweets rather than the dangerous repeals of Obama’s presidential orders which are being sneaked by with little to no public attention (such as not dumping poisonous mining slag into headwaters, as that pollutes the entire river — or what a bad idea paying for religious school tuitions with vouchers funded by taxpayer monies would be, which Trump thinks would be a spiffy idea… does he not remember the US is supposed to separate church & state?)… what else… how impeachment works and how to legally counter the Electoral College, the shameful state of our care for our veterans… that’s all I can recall off the top of my head.
Actually, now I think on it I was impressed by Lofgren’s ethics. For example, one of the questions went something like: “do you think Congress would keep the ACA if they had to be on whatever health care bill they come up with too?” While replying to that query she mentioned that she and several other Congress members voluntarily put themselves on the Washington DC ACA! I thought that was quite admirable of her, especially considering what a shockingly plush insurance package is available to all past and current Congress and Senate members.
As an aside, the comparison between the creation of the Democratic and Republican versions of healthcare are quite stark. For example, it took the Democrats almost a year and a half to come up with the ACA — because they asked a great many people from a wide array of associated industries for an awful lot of input. In comparison, the bill the Republicans are trying to sneak by this week was created only last week! According to a friendly (and unnamed, so s/he doesn’t get into trouble) Republican, the Democrats were informed that the Republicans were working on their version “in the basement”! Further, no Democrats were allowed in to see it, and no Republicans were allowed to take a copy out — to maintain the secrecy! Also, according to Lofgren the (only two!) committees (one of which had nothing at all to do with healthcare) which reviewed it pulled all-nighters to do so… because exhausted and irritable people always make the best decisions, right?!
Yeah, no. This is so… so absurdly un-American I don’t even know where to start… so I won’t. I’ll just feel pity for my Republican acquaintance who constantly struggles with joblessness, inadequate finances, and health problems — but who proudly considers himself a “one note” voter who is supposedly “fighting the good fight” against (of all things to hurt yourself over) gun control. Talk about stupidly cutting off your nose to spite your face!
So anyway… Lofgren talked pretty steadily for almost an hour and a half, pausing only to have questions read to her. On the whole I’d have to say I’m quite pleased to have her as my Congresswoman, and I admire her poise: she remained calm, candid, friendly, honest, and open through the entire talk. As an example, she noted there are parts of the US-Mexico border which are already walled, such as when the border goes through an urban area and people are wandering across highways and getting hit by cars and killed. In those situations it’s a good idea for safety reasons to have a wall there. However, as she also noted, walling the entire border is absurd — not only because Mexico is never going to pay for it no matter how much Trump bloviates — and boy does he! — but also because it would be a ridiculously wasteful expenditure when the money is desperately needed elsewhere.
Lofgren was also quite honest about when she wasn’t able to do anything about a situation, such as the new ICE office in Morgan Hill — which the city didn’t want there at all! She was amused to relate, however, that ICE was at least partially thwarted by Morgan Hill. The office plans initially included “holding cells” — a polite euphemism for jail — but Morgan Hill’s city officials refused it because the area wasn’t zoned for jails! Who knew zoning laws and the National Park Service would be at the forefront of thwarting Trump’s paranoid xenophobia? :-D
Perhaps the most personally inspiring part of Lofgren’s talk, however, was her insistence: our voices do matter! She gave an example of a recent bill that almost all the Republicans had casually signed on with, where the news of how it would screw over the people got out just the day before the day of the vote. She laughed as she mentioned walking down the hallway to vote, and hearing phones ringing madly in every office she passed — and how just before the vote Republicans were jumping up from their seats and running down to the front to have their names removed from the bill!
When asked what was the best way to communicate with our elected officials Lofgren replied that best of all was, of course, actually meeting with your representatives. Second best was phoning and writing letters, since that took some effort and indicated sincerity — petitions, for example, are just a list of names and don’t have anything to either personalize the signers or indicate why they care. Third was writing and calling the leaders of the House and Senate — because even though Lofgren always passes on letters she receives that are intended for representatives of other states, apparently not everyone does… and apparently a lot of representatives will simply toss out-of-state letters they receive which contradict their viewpoints. However, even within those (very small) constraints, Lofgren was quite adamant that we should never underestimate the power of our voices! I intend to take her words to heart.