Although the audience response to Rep. Alan Lowenthal at a townhall meeting this week was predominantly positive– with long stints of applause and cheers for his remarks on issues pertaining to immigration and health care– there were a few in attendance that seemed to take a page right out of recent similar events across the country– interrupting the congressmember with yells and waving pro-Trump signs.
The event– entitled “A Conversation About America”– took place in the Long Beach City College Auditorium and addressed: the future of the Affordable Care Act, Social Security and Medicare; immigration and refugee policy under the Trump Administration; the fight to protect the environment;
and the continuing struggle for civil rights and equality for all Americans.
During the gathering, Lowenthal stood at a podium equipped with a microphone but also later walked the stage to move closer to attendees asking questions. Behind him was a panel of three individuals he had invited to be on hand for specific questions related to health care, human rights and immigration.
“This is really about listening to you and trying to provide people with some answers,” Lowenthal said during his opening remarks, gathering applause. “The panelists that are here, I’ve asked to come, because I’m not an expert on everything, and, really, who we are really is defined by the people that we work with and that we ask to participate with us.”
He first introduced Dr. Elisa Nicholas, chief executive officer of the Children’s Clinic, whom he referred to as “the heart and soul” of her organization, which he said “provides all the health care for those that are the most in need and the least able to afford it.”
“She’ll tell you what it means to this community when we have health care and it’s pulled away from us,” Lowenthal said.
The congressman then introduced James Gilliam, deputy executive director at the ACLU of Southern California. “At this time, when democracy is most threatened, we need on our side those people that can defend us in a court of law,” Lowenthal said.
Next, he introduced Alicia Morales, lead organizer for the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition.
“When there are shocking events that happen, and friends and family and others are […] taken from their homes or picked up and arrested by ICE or others and taken into custody,” Lowenthal said, “it’s really important that we know people are out there on the front lines trying to help all the time, and that’s Alicia.”
Lowenthal then provided some background about his life, including working as a professor and community psychologist, and he said many people would ask him what they can do to make a difference.
“While I can’t tell you exactly what group to join or what to do, what I can tell you is the importance of getting involved,” he said.
During Lowenthal’s address, a man brandishing a pro-Trump sign interrupted several times by yelling at the congressman. Nearby attendees screamed back at the man, and Lowenthal encouraged those in attendance to be respectful, reminding them that he would be fielding questions from the audience shortly.
Several minutes later, Lowenthal explained how he disagreed with some of President Donald Trump’s remarks.
“Personally,” Lowenthal said, “I found many of the remarks made by the President to be inappropriate […]not respectful. I really believe we really need a leader to bring us together–”
The man interrupted again, twice shouting, “I don’t like you talking about my president like that!” Others yelled back at him, and the congressman tried to continue amid the ruckus.
“I still oppose the travel ban,” Lowenthal continued, eliciting more enthusiastic applause. “I think it will divide us. It will create more problems than it will solve. It will not make us safer. It will make us less safe. Same thing with building a wall– it’s going to make us less safe, not safer.”
Lowenthal also said the country should take pride in the fact that, in the last four years, the uninsured rate has been cut in half. He called the Affordable Care Act a “godsend,” saying it helped working families afford the health care they could not previously access.
“We’re at great risk of losing that model,” he said. “And the sad thing about it is, I personally think, it’s part of a larger plan to get rid of the federal role in the safety net– to get rid of Social Security, to get rid of Medicare. And I will tell you, that is not acceptable.”
During the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, residents asked about and remarked on concerns ranging from what Republicans will do with the Affordable Care Act to how to protect children who fear their parents’ deportation.
Angela Madsen, who identified herself as a disabled veteran who has been going to the local VA since 1980, said she would like for veterans to be included in conversations about health care. She expressed concern about legislators claiming that the VA system is broken and “decades of obstruction from the for-profit medical industry– both Republican and Democratic.”
She said legislators are writing bills that would block veterans from receiving the care they need.
“It’s been going on for decades, and they’ll go for whoever’s in party to block bills,” Madsen said. “Sen. [Bernie] Sanders put [forth] a bill that would have brought us new veterans hospitals and health care. We would have fixed so many problems, but instead we’re obstructed. We can’t get what we need in our VAs. Our VA health care is not broken […] they want the public to believe that our health care is broken, yet we’re being obstructed […] We don’t want to lose our VA health care. Our VA health care is great.”
Another resident, who said he is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Long Beach, mentioned that his church sponsors a scholarship for “DREAMers” and asked what Lowenthal is doing and what others can do to ensure that youth will be able to benefit from that scholarship and, in turn, give back to their community.
The congressman said many DREAMers have worked as interns in his office and have helped him work on the case of Jose Alvarez, who was deported to Mexico after a police stop in Long Beach for a broken headlight.
“Last week, I spoke on the floor about not having DREAMers deported,” Lowenthal said. “This is the future of our nation. These are folks who have come at a very young age and participated in a society. To deport them is to throw people out who will be going to places without a country. This is their country.”
Lowenthal said he will continue to fight for the protection of DREAMers on the floor.
“But, I will tell you, it’s going to be a battle,” he said. “I am outnumbered on the floor. And I’ll also be honest with everybody– everybody’s going to say, ‘What can I do?’[…] the most important election of your lifetime is going to be in 2018.”
A video of the townhall meeting is available here.