Jim McGovern on U.S. Social Welfare Policy

Jim McGovern on U.S. Social Welfare Policy


I appreciate being here and and I want
to begin by thanking all of you for your focus on social work, because it’s kind
of similar to the work that I do. It’s about serving the public. It’s about
making things better in our communities. And I can’t think of anything more
satisfying in terms of a career than that. You won’t make a lot of money
probably, but I think you will end up making a difference. And I think that
that’s incredibly important in this day and age, especially what were faced with.
So what I thought I would do is maybe open up with a few brief remarks and
then I think it’s probably better to open it up to you so you can grill me on
whatever you want and ask whatever questions or offer any comments you want.
So, you know, as was mentioned I’ve been in Congress now for over 20 years. I
haven’t represented this area over 20 years. With redistricting I’ve
represented I think almost most of the state. I originally had a district that
went from Worcester, where I’m from, down to Fall River down to Dartmouth. And now
I’m from Worcester to Northampton up to Greenfield and back. So I have, I’ve come
to appreciate the diversity in this state and the challenges in the state
and in both in urban areas and suburban areas as well as in rural areas. So I’ve
had a little taste of a little bit of everything. But I come to you today as
somebody who, I’m sure you feel the same way, who is deeply concerned about this
country and trying to figure out how do we respond to what we see unfolding in
Washington. It’s maddening to turn on the TV, to pick up the newspaper, to
listen to the radio, and to see the stuff coming out of the White House that
has become commonplace. These crazy tweets, this very incendiary language,
this polarization, this ignorant — and policies that I think reflect the worst
in our country rather and the best. And, you know, the United
States is a country born of revolution. And when I think of revolutions I
think they’re ongoing. You know, we just, we are constantly trying to improve
ourselves. And I feel now that we’re in danger of moving backwards. Of actually
making things worse rather than, you know, pushing progress forward. And it is
a scary time. I worry about not only the effects of the president’s language in
the aftermath of events like Charlottesville, I worry about his
reaction to the terrorist attacks in Barcelona, where he’s referring to a
historical event that never happened. I mean, it’s unnerving
and I worry every day about his saber-rattling and whether we’ll end
up in a war in North Korea or someplace else where, you know, lots of innocent
people will lose their lives. And so I have been trying to figure out, like, what
do you do? How do we respond? What are the, you know, I mean, is it hopeless?
Do we just say, the hell with it? I mean, what’s meaningful resistance? How do you,
you know, how do you build movements? How do you, how do you change things? How do
you influence things?And I would not be still in Congress, and I
don’t think you would be studying what you’re studying, if you didn’t believe
that you could make a difference. If you didn’t believe that people coming
together can could actually change the direction of this country. And I think
that’s what has to happen right now. And the way we deal with
change, especially in light of what’s happening in Washington, I think, is
showing up. I think, is raising your voices. And it’s not just, you know, having
a platform on the national level where you could be heard by millions of people.
It’s right here in your own community. I mean, I’m now at the point where when I
go to my mother’s house for Thanksgiving or my uncle’s there and
he’s spouting his usual, you know, diatribes about immigration and about
Trump. But I no longer am silent. I correct the record. It drives my mother crazy,
but I correct the record. It begins at that level. When I walk into a coffee
shop and I hear people saying things that I know are wrong, I correct the
record. They may not like it, but I’m correcting the record because left
unchallenged then more and more people believe this stuff. You know, we’re in
Massachusetts, you know, we have a pretty progressive delegation in Congress, but
what I’m doing now is I’m calling friends I went to college with and I
went to high school with who live in other states and pleading with them to
write their members of Congress and their senators about some of the issues
that concern me. You know, I’m getting them to donate to candidates that are
progressive minded that are gonna take a different approach than some of the
people that are currently representing places in this country. I’m trying
to help build a movement like one person at a time,
you know. I’m showing up to almost every demonstration I can because I know one
thing, and that is in Donald Trump’s mind crowd size matters. It drives him nuts to
see so many people resisting, so many people showing up to demonstrations. More
people showed up to the women’s march in Washington then to his inauguration. I
mean, I know that bothers him. But I want him to know that. I want him to, I want
him to be bothered. Because I want him to know that people object to what’s going
on. And so, you know, it’s, you know, it’s using the social media
creatively, it’s it’s writing letters to the editor. It’s calling up to radio
shows, even right-wing radio shows and offering a different point of view.
Because one of things I have come to appreciate over the years is that, you
know, when people used to say things about the presidents or about I mean I
do a lot of work on hunger and food insecurity to give an example —
when people used to kind of denigrate the SNAP program, you know,
they would say things that were so outrageous that I said, you know, who
the hell’s gonna believe that, right? It’s just crazy, you know. And now I regret the
fact that I wasn’t more vocal in setting the record straight. And so we have to
challenge those things, and we have to understand that organizing is an
effective tool to move politics in this country. And organizing is hard work. It’s
not just, let me express my opinion, you know. It is going door to door, it is
talking to people, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s not easy and it takes time, but
that’s how you change things. And you look at the great movements in this
country, I mean, from civil rights to the anti-war movement, it didn’t just happen.
You know, it’s good people, like-minded people came together. They organized, you
know. And they, and they fought for something different, you know, and things
changed. They haven’t changed as much as we want,
but things progressed and they wouldn’t have if people didn’t push. Like, one of
my closest friends in Congress is John Lewis, who great civil rights leader,
marched in Selma, you know, has been arrested I think like a hundred times. And, you
know, and he is one of the most hopeful people that I know, you know. As sad as he
is about what’s happening right now, I mean, he won’t give up. You got to keep on
pushing. You got to keep on moving. And I believe, I believe that. You know, there
was a great journalist — if you google him you’ll, you probably don’t, he’s not a
common name that everybody learns about now — but a great journalist during
the ’50s and ’60s, I.F. Stone, and he stood up to the McCarthy era, and he
stood up to, you know, the excesses of the CIA and wrote eloquently against the
war in Vietnam, and I had the chance to meet him shortly after I got out of
college and I think he was in his late 80s at the time, and Ronald Reagan was
president and I was really kind of like depressed, like, you know, there’s no
future here. And he, he pushed back, very, you know, strong on my remark. He says,
you got to know you can change things. And he said, you know, if somebody had
told me in the early 1950s that Joe McCarthy would be exposed for the fool
and the demagogue that he was, you know, I’m not sure I would have believed you.
But he was. If someone would have told me in the early 1960s that in the 1970s we
would expose the excesses of the CIA and we would learn about all that kind of
covert crazy nasty things we were doing all around the world, I’m not sure I
would have believed you, he says. But it happened. And he went on through a whole
litany of examples, and then he said, I leave you with a little bit of advice. He
says, remember this: if you urinate on a stone long enough, you’ll make an
indentation. And I’ve never forgotten that, you know. And there’s
wisdom in those words. So I just want to, kind of conclude my opening here by simply saying that this is the time,
yeah, for us to be concerned and for us to be, you know, frustrated and angry. But
it’s not — this is not a moment for us to pull the shade, because people are
counting on us. People are counting on you to actually to resist, to change things, to make
things better. And I believe really, I tell this to every audience I
speak to whether it’s young people or old people, you know, ten years from now
people are gonna ask you, what did you do? What did you do to stop this madness? And
I want to be able to predict that we could all say that we stood up and we
fought back and we made a difference, not just in ridding this country of the
man who is in the White House, but in changing our politics in this country
and getting money out of our political system, you know, in empowering average
people and tackling issues like hunger and poverty and dealing with issues of
racism and sexism and, you know, all the other discriminatory, bigoted realities
that exist not only here in this country and around the world, you know, that
around the world we were not the war mongers, we were the peacemakers. That we
led an effort to abolish nuclear weapons. That we we took on the challenge of
global hunger and extreme poverty and we made a difference. We try to take those
issues on.Those are the things that I think we need to address in the years ahead,and I hope that we will, and I trust that we will.
So anyway, that’s my opening.We can talk about whatever you want to talk
about.

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