Sunday, February 12, 2017

Hodgepodge 106/365 - Town Hall

Today I went to my first town hall, this one focusing on immigration. I suppose they've been happening all along, but I never felt much concern about how my representative or my government was behaving: I just trusted everything would be fine. And mostly it was.

That is no longer true, at least so far as the U.S. government goes. My representative, though—Jimmy Panetta—he's a peach. He gave a lovely speech today, encouraging us to push back. Quoting Obama, he said: "Although our rights are self-evident, they are not self-executed." We've all got to noisly demand our rights—the rights of all of us. He mentioned the airport rallies, the Women's March, the town halls, the constantly ringing phones that he heard in the House Office Building when the Republicans tried to do away with the Ethics Committee, and said, it is making a difference. He also noted that it's very tough right now: the Republicans have the upper hand. All the more reason to keep making noise.

Leon and Carmelo: "When I was 12,
my dad asked me to set up a
fruit stand by the road.
I used a plain table so people could
see the fruit from their cars, and
that’s where my political career began.
I enjoyed meeting people who stopped,
and I’d always make sure they bought a
basket of peaches before they left."
Jimmy spoke of going to Ellis Island last year with his family and finding his grandfather's entry record there: Carmelo Panetta arrived in 1921 from Calabria, Italy, having endured a ship's steerage with a thousand or more others; he had five dollars in his pocket; his occupation was marked as "peasant." Carmelo and his eventual wife, Carmelina (he returned to Calabria in 1932 to find her), opened a restaurant in Monterey in the early 1940s, and later that decade they became ranchers and orchardists in Carmel Valley. Their son, Leon (b. 1938), went on to become a lawyer, a U.S. Representative (1977–1993), Bill Clinton's chief of staff, director of the CIA, and secretary of defense. And now their grandson is starting his own impressive, uniquely American career. I love these immigrant stories. (Here is Leon's more thorough account in the WSJ.)

At the start of the proceedings today, we all stood and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Now, I must admit that normally I do not participate in this rite: its original use as (you might say) pedagogical propaganda and its subsequent tweakings ("under God" was inserted only in 1954) smack of a sort of authoritarian nationalism that I don't much countenance. But today, the fellow next to me commented that what the Pledge asserts has vanished, and we need it back—so I thought I'd recall just what it does assert by saying the words, hand over heart. When I got to "one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all," tears rolled down my cheeks.

(It surprised me that, several times, the words spoken today caused strong emotions to rise up—of sadness, but also of pride. We've got good people fighting for us all. As well as evil scum bastards fighting mainly, it seems, for their own gain.)

Another speaker today was the 19th Congressional district representative, Zoe Lofgren, a whip-smart former immigration attorney. She spoke eloquently about some of the executive orders that have come down these last few weeks, and the bills that she has authored and introduced to fight them. She's apparently quite the bill launcher. And good for her. She is currently fighting the border wall, detention and deportation efforts, and the Muslim travel ban. She spoke of the United States' leading role in supporting refugee programs worldwide ever since the shame of the MS St. Louis, with its Jewish passengers fleeing Nazi Germany, being refused entry, and also noted that the two biggest suppliers of refugees to this country now are Congo and Myanmar (which probably means those two nations will be on the next executive order).

We also heard from Salinas police chief Adele Fresé, Hartnell College president Willard Lewallen (the Salinas community college, which alone has almost 800 Dreamer students enrolled, up from only 200 five years ago), and immigration attorney Michael Mehr. They spoke about the rights of immigrants, both documented and un-. Everyone spoke of the uncertainty of the present moment, but also stressed that there are checks and balances, and again, the more noise we make, the less able they will be to steamroller us.

The hall was packed: I'd guess there were 400–500 people there. It was very much standing room only. Lots of students, lots of Latinos. I saw a few people from my own little Indivisible group. It was heartening to feel all that energy, and to hear the encouragement of our representatives and community leaders. I continue to believe there is hope. But it'll be an uphill battle for at least a couple of years, that's for sure.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed learning more of the Panetta family story. Yes, this is America. The image of tears sliding down your cheeks was powerful too. I'd like to hear more about the tweaking of the Pledge.