East Bay congressman stresses nonviolent activism for young people
By Lou Fancher
Social media is a fine tool for broadcasting information like seeds, but it takes the human touch to seal the deal.
The cultural shift was evident at an Aug. 24 town hall, at which Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, and Contra Costa County students engaged in a 60-minute Q&A at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill..
“We wanted people to get the message of getting involved. A lot of students want to, but it’s intimidating when you’re young,” said Rebecca Barrett, vice president of the Contra Costa Young Democrats, which hosted the forum. “They feel their voice doesn’t matter, because there are older, more experienced people. We brought the mountain to Mohammed: brought Congressman DeSaulnier to the students. It makes it easier for them. It’s their space.”
Peer-to-peer interaction contributed to a record audience of 150 at the town hall. According to Barrett, “If you don’t have the real person (to follow up), social media isn’t as effective.”
remarksStudent questions submitted by assistants or via Twitter covered a range of topics.
“What will you do to see the exit of the current president who clearly doesn’t represent what our country stands for?” asked a student.
DeSaulnier revealed that his first thoughts in November 2016 had been about his own exit, not that of President Donald Trump.
He said, “When the election came, I, like all of us for a brief period, thought not only of leaving Congress, but of leaving the country.”
Instead, he chose to remain — and fight for diversity. “White men shouldn’t run everything: it’s not good,” he said.
DeSaulnier included himself in the group of white males he said must deliberately seek out alternative world views and better support a presidential candidate with high qualifications who is either a woman, a person of color, or both.
At the forum, he was asked about protecting transgender individuals in the military, tax reform, defending DACA students and establishing universal health care through incremental steps to “Medicare for all.”
A number of federal bills he has authored and introduced on the matters, he said were largely aimed at eliminating obstacles, protecting Constitutional institutions and civil rights, and championing practical initiatives with proven efficacy.
“I’m a cancer survivor,” he said, offering an example underscoring his philosophies. “I don’t care what they (physicians treating him) look like as long as they help me.”
Student-specific concerns — the housing crisis and tuition at Bay Area colleges and universities — DeSaulnier said boiled down to solutions that balance the playing field. A tax code made more progressive, with less corporate tax dodges and more earned income credits, could provide money to subsidize higher education.
“You can’t have it both ways: get the benefits from a better educated workforce but put up the big obstacle,” he said. “Make colleges affordable. Change the tax system so it’s (not) weighted toward capital investment, it depends on wages. If you earn more, you pay more.”
More flexible use of Pell Grants and other support, if allowed by new laws, could reduce the impact of housing costs.
The conversation turned to civil political discourse. “How do we protect free speech?” asked Isaac via Twitter.
“Elements in our society, including the President of the United States, are trying to take hate speech and equate it with free speech,” said DeSaulnier. “We should be using our First Amendment rights to say we don’t agree with that. Raise your voices and express yourself in a nonviolent way.”
In a separate interview, DeSaulnier said it is critical for young people to re-engage with civility and really look at or seek reliable, objective and verifiable sources for information.
DeSaulnier has started a program in Congress that has him visiting with a colleague who disagrees with his ideas and participating in a town hall in that legislator’s district.
“We shouldn’t be limiting conversations with people who have different world views. We need to engage with them and work together.”
The question that brought together DeSaulnier’s primary message and CCYP’s mission to get people involved on a local level was, “What can (we) do to change the national political climate in 2017?”
“I want this district to be the most civically engaged Congressional district in the United States,” said DeSaulnier.
He urged students to vote, get people registered to vote, join nonprofit organizations, run for office and more.
“This is it: your family, your community and your citizenship. How you live your lives is based on how engaged you are in those three levels,” DeSaulnier said. “That’s what this country should be about: you struggle, but then you overcome.”