Ami Bera’s Townhall: All Talk, No Solutions
Deborah Porter, Foreign Policy Contributor
Today I attended my very first town hall meeting in Northern California. Coming from one of the most conservative districts in Southern California, I assumed that the assembly would be similar to what I had left in Orange County, but with a representative on the left speaking to a majority liberal crowd. However, what I saw was quite different than my expectation. Here’s a walk though my Saturday.
Having received an email to show up 30 minutes early to guarantee a spot in the actual church, I arrived over an hour early to meet a small group of people setting up. They were part of a group named “Indivisible” and passed out “Fire Trump” pink slips for people to send to their Congressman, as well as the following sheet of paper.
ndivisible is one of the many organizations fighting to impeach Trump. While in disagreement with their ultimate goal and many of their minor objectives, I was thankful that they chose to advocate for their position peacefully. They were prepared, respectful, and had a clear purpose of attendance.
While observing the Indivisible crowd mingle and plan, I also ran into some Trump supporters. They seemed to be the only Republicans there, and because we had arrived so early, before the masses of people arrived at 10:30, we ended up at the front of the line, thus achieving the front most non-handicap spots.
The first thing we did was say the pledge of allegiance. I was surprised to find the pledge had a new word at the end of the last sentence. I was always taught that the pledge ended “with liberty and justice for all” because that’s what Americans want in their nation. The crowds shouted “liberty and justice for some” at the end of the pledge, which was saddening. Regardless of the opinion on the current state of affairs, the pledge of allegiance represents the ideal of what America stands for, and should be stated as such. To me, seeing people abuse their freedom of speech to degrade America as a nation was one of the saddest things I’ve witnessed.
Then, Rep. Ami Bera came out and spoke to the crowds. From both the liberal and conservative perspectives, Bera fielded questions ranging from gun control to healthcare to hate speech, frequently siding with the majority of the crowd. Only during his portion on sanctuary cities, where he pledged support to notify immigration when undocumented criminals are released from jail, did he diverge from the crowd's opinion. While many of the more liberal attendees were angered by his past voting record, including a vote to weaken Dodd-Frank and another to restrict refugees, Bera promised to vote against a repeal of Dodd-Frank and vote to support refugees.
What I found to be the most disheartening was the general response to hate speech and hate crimes. The individual seated to the right of Bera, Basim Elkarra, was there as a representative of the Islamic community, and also a Twin Rivers school board member. Unfortunately, instead of representing his community with truth, thus respectfully winning over the crowd, he decided to play to the majority opinion and cast false allegations on the president. In his defense against his ideas on Trump’s “Muslim ban,” he told the crowd that Trump “wants to kill Muslims with bullets dipped in pig’s blood.” Unfortunately, the truth was that Trump told “a terrible story” of General Pershing. One of the audience members attempted to call him out, shouting at Elkarra, “Liar! Liar!” Unfortunately, the crowd ate up the lies, and the truth was suppressed, once again
I had the opportunity to talk to Elkarra after the event. He seemed like a reasonable guy, albeit a politician in the truest sense. Like many before him, he recommended that we should hold debates with the College Democrats to encourage free speech and open dialogue. Unfortunately, the free speech problem has progressed far beyond what the students can fix with a joint debate. Dialogue is necessary, but the extreme left continually shuts it down, and in the name of unity the moderate left refuses to condemn such violence and censorship. This is the problem, and the solution is simple; condemn those who are wrong, and fight for what is right, no matter what the side.
In his closing statement, Bera argued that both sides need to start negotiating, and being friendly with each other, in order to solve the problems of today. However, that utopia is an impossibility if one side doesn’t legitimately see themselves as having the freedom to speak. Politicians and college administrators love the talking points of unity and bipartisanship, but when students like me see their fellow classmates suspended or attacked for having an opinion, we respond accordingly. We avoid “open dialogue” on campus. We don’t attend town halls. We don’t talk about politics with our friends. In the end, we don’t bother to publically defend our beliefs, because we don’t think we’ll be heard. However, we still vote our beliefs, and thus the Democrats are left with elected conservatives who don’t bother to talk with them. Until the left starts condemning the wrong on their side, and supporting those who respectfully discuss ideas, the Congress will be at an impasse to mutually solve problems.
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