Frustration and Hope at Senator Merkley Town Hall

Senator Merkley speaks to large crowd at Saturday’s town hall meeting

Over 2,000 people attended Senator Jeff Merkley’s town hall meeting at Franklin high school on Saturday, January 28, 2017. It was standing room only in the cafeteria with even more people in the courtyard, listening through the windows.

Senator Merkley, a native Oregonian first elected to Congress in 2009, began the afternoon by praising the Affordable Care Act which has allowed over 400,000 Oregonians to gain healthcare coverage who might otherwise have continued uninsured. He promised to continue the fight to protect the ACA despite the new administration’s attempts to repeal.

Senator Merkley also spoke briefly about the 45th President’s cabinet nominees, expressing special concern for Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator, and Jeff Sessions as US Attorney General. The energetic crowd echoed the Senator’s concerns with booing and shouts that these nominees were “unfit” and “crooks.” The Senator called for extensive vetting of all nominees and advised that he would attempt to use the full 30 hours of debate time that Senate members are allowed during this process. However, because the Republicans hold the majority in the Senate, at least 3 Republican Senators need to vote “no” or these nominees are likely to be confirmed.

He then took questions from several attendees about a range of topics from immigration and sanctuary cities to voter rights and voter suppression. Many of his answers were familiar talking points including standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity against the new administration’s attacks on civil rights and freedoms, as well as not allowing local public officials to be turned into ICE agents, and using debate and filibuster power on the Senate floor to fight bad policies. The crowd quickly became frustrated, however, wanting something more substantial than the usual political rhetoric.

When one attendee asked what we as individuals could specifically do to help support Senator Merkley and protect our nation’s civil rights, he suggested:

  • amplifying our concerns and messages on our social media networks;
  • targeting a specific bill that you think makes the world a better place, the National Popular Vote Bill for example, and calling your state legislators to show your support;
  • and running for local office (he specifically cited Emerge, a group working to train and inspire women to run for political office).

Senator Merkley briefly discussed his commitment to the environment, mentioning his continued work with Keep It In the Ground, a bill to stop the expansion of fossil fuel production on public lands and waterways while transitioning toward a cleaner energy future. He also advised the crowd that he is working to introduce a new bill called 100/50, which would require the United States to use 100 percent clean energy by 2050. He did not sound optimistic about this bill passing under the current administration but encouraged us to work on similar plans at the local level.

In closing, Senator Merkley called for continued citizen engagement, encouraging everyone in the room to think nationally and globally but fight locally through coordinated grassroots efforts.

Written by: Guest Author