BY ANNA SHORTRIDGE '19
On the evening of March 26, Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and DNC Deputy Chair Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., held a forum in Bowker Auditorium at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The event was titled Progressive Politics in the Age of Trump: A Dialogue with Congressman Jim McGovern and DNC deputy chair Congressman Keith Ellison. It was presented by the Progressive Democrats of America, the UMass Democrats and the UMass Progressives. The Progressive Democrats of America is “a national Political Action Committee that works on national issues and campaigns inside and out of the Democratic Party,” according to the Massachusetts state coordinator for the Progressive Democrats of America.
Rep. Jim McGovern is the representative of Massachusetts’ 2nd Congressional District and has been a strong advocate for fundamental human rights and social justice. Rep. Keith Ellison, who represents Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, was recently appointed as the DNC deputy chair. He is the first Muslim congressman and backed Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the Senator’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 2016 election. Ellison prioritizes the promotion of peace, growth for working families, environmental sustainability and civil and human rights. Both congressmen serve together on the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Sam Hockenbury, the communications director of the UMass Democrats, shed light as to why these two specific congressmen were invited to the event.
“Congressman McGovern was asked as he is a tremendous progressive voice in Congress and he represents the area in Congress as well,” Hockenbury explained. “Congressman Ellison was asked because of his new national profile as Deputy DNC Chair and his credentials as a progressive voice in Congress. Both made a good team and Ellison's high profile helped draw interest.”
Hockenbury also said that the UMass Democrats had been approached by the Massachusetts chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America, which asked if the group was interested in holding a panel event. “They wanted to do something at the University and we were the ones who worked with the University on the venue and police presence” Hockenbury explained. “Congressman McGovern was very open to the idea and was instrumental in getting Congressman Ellison to agree to come.”
Aicha Belabbes ’19, explained why she attended the forum. “I went because as an American Muslim, Keith Ellison's legacy means so much to me. I was so happy when he was elected.”
The event began with an introduction of both guests by moderators from the UMass Democrats and the UMass Progressives. Both spoke to their primary issues of focus as progressive Democrats in the current political climate under Trump.
Both congressmen called for grassroots activism, citizen participation in the political system and party unity in order to create a movement to regain seats in the 2018 elections.
“Democrats can agree on Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security; on living-wage jobs, environmental protection, affordable higher education and quality public schools,” Ellison explained. “This isn't checkers, folks. This is chess. And to win this game, we've got to be smart, and we've got to be unified."
McGovern called for Progressives to “not just be against things” but to articulate what they support. The Congressman emphasized that Progressives must stand behind the ending of war and conflict, the reduction of the military budget and the repair and modernization of infrastructure, calling particular attention to the Massachusetts transportation system. Additionally, he called for equal rights and opportunities for all.
“This is only the beginning, your action is important,” he said, calling for action against the Trump administration.
McGovern also called for bipartisan efforts to hold President Trump and his administration accountable for unconstitutional actions.
“It is important that not just Democrats, but sensible Republicans do their oversight and do their job in Congress and investigate. I want to know if our President is a Manchurian candidate. And the only way we’re going to figure that out is through an independent, nonpartisan investigation.”
Ellison spoke of the spirit of optimism that has driven many progressive Democrats toward the hope of change, and referenced specifically the Women’s March and the sit-in by Democrats on the House floor.
“That spirit of activism, of commitment, of patriotism — not the showmanistic kind, but the love of country kind. That spirit is gathering and is saying that we’ve gotta be on the streets and pretty soon we’ve gotta convert it into an electoral gain. You’ve gotta get that street energy and move it into the ballot box,” Ellison said. “There is every reason to be hopeful, even though it must feel, after Trump was elected, that we are all in a collective nightmare.”
Ellison, in regards to President Trump and his administration, also stated: “We are facing an existential threat to the democratic value system.”
The two congressmen also noted that young Progressives who feel disenfranchised from the Democratic Party should get involved with the party in order to create the changes they want to see. Ellison emphasized that those currently involved with the party should make room for the younger Progressives.
“The Democratic Party is made up of people, and if you engage the Democratic Party, you will be the people who make up the Democratic Party. Embrace it, engage it, run for offices in it, lead it — steer it in the direction you want it to go in. And older people: you should continue to welcome younger people."
One audience member claimed that the Democratic Party's leadership, in reference to DNC chair Thomas Perez, is really composed of "Republican Lites." Both congressmen challenged that statement.
McGovern explained that the Democratic Party’s platform is the most progressive it has been in years. Ellison emphasized that the Democratic Party is not “Republican Lite” given the progressiveness of the party’s platform. “Give Tom Perez a chance,” he said.
Hockenbury expressed that the purpose of the event was to provide people with an opportunity to engage with their elected lawmakers. “Politics and democracy are based on that two-way street of communication,” explained Hockenbury. “Events like this are a central aspect of Democratic systems. Hopefully, coming from that kind of engagement, people can leave energized and become more willing to engage or re-engage with the political process.”
The UMass Democrats saw the event as a great success, with over 600 people in attendance. “The evening had good energy and was very civil. There were contentious moments, but they were handled well and therefore a good varity of topics was able to be discussed. After the event, the congressmen entertained audience members with discussions and pictures and people left in high spirits.”
The Mount Holyoke College Democrats were contacted regarding the event, but were unavailable for comment. The UMass College Democrats hope to continue to invite elected officials to their campus.
“It is our fervent hope that people with progressive values do not lose hope,” said Hockenbury. “Now more than ever is the time to come together to stand up and fight for what we believe is right.”
Sam Hockenbury, UMass Democrats Communication Director: “The UMass Democrats were approached by the Massachusetts Chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America if we were interested in doing a panel event. They wanted to do something at the University and we were the ones who worked with the university on the venue and police presence. Congressman McGovern was very open to the idea and was instrumental in getting Congressman Ellison to agree to come.
Sam Hockenbury expressed that the purpose of the event was to provide people with an opportunity to engage with their elected lawmakers. “Politics and Democracy are based on that two-way street of communication,” explained Hockenbury, “and so events like this are a central aspect of Democratic systems. Hopefully, coming from that kind of engagement, people can leave energized and become more willing to engage or re-engage with the political process.”
We all thought the event was a great success. Over 600 people were there, and the evening had good energy and was very civil. There were contentious moments, but they were handled well and therefore a good verity of topics was able to be discussed. After the event, the congressmen entertained audience members with discussions and pictures and people left in high spirits.
Congressman McGovern was asked as he is a tremendous progressive voice in Congress and he represents the area in Congress as well. Congressman Ellison was asked because of his new national profile as Deputy DNC Chair and his credentials as a progressive voice in Congress. Both made a good team and Ellison's high profile helped draw interest (I say that taking nothing away from our Congressman, but he is very locally accessible and Ellison has just been in the media more of late).
The UMass Democrats were very happy with the event and were beyond excited with how well it went. We will likely look to continue to invite elected officials to campus. We have had many local officials come, and last semester had Congressman Kennedy here with Congressman McGovern. It is our fervent hope that people with progressive values do not lose hope and that now more than ever is the time to come together to stand up and fight for what we believe is right. If anyone wants to learn more about our organization our Facebook, Twitter and Instagrams are worth the like and follows.”