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An Emergency Town Hall Meeting Gears Up Southeast Queens for 2018

The notice was quick and precise: Emergency Congressional Town Hall Meeting - Reminder.

With the multitude of issues facing the 115th Congress surrounding the chaotic presidency of Donald J. Trump, Congressional Leader of the 5th Congressional District of the State of New York, the Honorable Gregory Meeks came home this past weekend to update his constituents on the recent occurrences in Washington DC effecting the nation.

Congress has been responding to the changing positions of the 45th President of the United States (POTUS) in exhausting whip-lash reactions. But, that didn't prevent a long-term funding agreement being scuttled and the result being a federal shutdown on January 20th. It was clear that the POTUS was confused and didn't know what he wants (or what to think). Three days later a short-term budget agreement was reached without his help.

A little more than a week earlier while discussing immigration in a closed door meeting, Trump made more insulting and ignorant comments regarding Africa that he specifically referred to as sh**hole countries in addition to negative references about Haitian people in America and his desire to "take them out." His suggestion that "more people from Norway" come to America was a blatantly racist statement highlighting his consistent denigration of people who are not "white." The statement upset progress towards a deal on DACA Trump had agreed to earlier. By the time congressmen who had worked out the details arrived, Trump had accomplished an about-face. This is the undisciplined leadership that exist in Washington, unraveling daily and threatening the safety and security of Americans health and well-being. It goes beyond America, undermining the security of other nations as well.

Some might say the hold-up of the federal budget, and it does feel like a true hold-up literally i.e., the country is being shaken down and robbed, is due to Trump's threats to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) set to expire on March 5th; others may claim it to be the "wall" that is obviously now supposed to be paid for by less-than-wealthy American taxpayers and not "Mexico" as promised by Trump when he was campaigning for the office he is apparently so ill-suited to hold. There are also some that may say its the proposed excessive military budget that would make America more far-reaching with this expense than the costs for defense for almost all of the countries in the world when added up altogether. One might ask, what kind of fear does this expose that is close to rational? Many, many Americans are homeless and hungry, but a stockpile of weapons already sitting somewhere needs more piled upon it before they are sold to some country or used against some country. Not enough are saying that the hold up is about the slashing of domestic spending that will leave 95% of the people of this nation in some financial circumstance that will be immediately worse or worsen over the course of a short period of time. Less revenue for the government derived from taxes means decreasing services for the majority of Americans. This is and has always been the Republican agenda: smaller government while the systems within government fund their projects, obtain their earmarks (that are back) and blame some Americans for the conditions in which they find themselves. In other words, government is not here to help you. While more Americans than not do not subscribe to this ideology that hurts Americans and America, it is what it is presently. By the Grace of God this will change. It has to if America is to sustain its democracy and not burst at its seams that are very stressed right now. South East Queens is and has been, historically, a very strong democratic district. Judging from the looks of the large audience and the energy in the the room, its residents will not be rolled over.

Congressman Meeks' had conveyed the following in his notification about the Town Hall meeting:

"In particular, I would like to share my thinking, brief you on the effects of short term funding bills on our community and what I’m pushing for in upcoming negotiations. What happens in Washington has a direct impact on you: we’ll discuss issues including recovery funding, healthcare, veteran’s services, immigration policy and the Republican tax bill. As always, I am also eager to hear your thoughts on these critical matters."

All of these matters are of critical importance to South East Queens residents. York College was packed with residents and elected officials and many District Leaders that engage community residents helping the political process move along.

Congressman Meeks opened up the meeting by detailing the myriad of issues that he and his colleagues in the House of Representatives have faced since Number 45 arrived in Washington. His thoughts were wide-ranging and concise. He spoke in conversation with the people of his congressional district, easily and with effective explanations of where he was coming from and where he saw things may or may not go. He was clear in sharing that he knew his community and he also knew where he could not go. Still, he asked for and wanted feedback. He got it.

Addressing the DACA issue, the Congressman broke down the difference between "diversity" visas and explained what "chain migration" was. These are two aspects of the proposed immigration law that he stated he is opposed to when contrasted with a trade-off for the proposed "wall" at the cost of $25 billion US dollars. Congressman Meeks stated he will vote no for any budget deal that compromises immigration. There was huge applause in agreement from the audience.

Referring to the health care issue called CHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program that is presently tied to the short-term funding bill that will expire on February 8th, we were informed that it also tied these children to be served by teaching hospitals but the funding for teaching hospitals was not in the bill. Congressman Meeks stated clearly "this makes no sense."

A good example of the problems occurring in Washington used by Congressman Meeks was what he described as Three Card Molly, where initially you are allowed to win only to con you in and then you lose it all. The GOP tax bill is sending all of the benefits to the top 1%. With a tax base that would give money to those that have money and spend money on defense about which afterwards there would be zero money to spend on domestic programs needed by the people-- the country, he said, will be "broke." There was an inference that Speaker Ryan would be coming next for Social Security (if you don't know this is Ryan's dream program to destroy). These are "bait and switch" options. Where would there be money for hurricane disaster still being felt in the Rockaways and what about the other needs in the district, he asked? These include affordable housing; public housing, particularly with New York City having the largest amount of public housing in the US with a projected costs of $6 billion to fix it. What of the cost for infrastructure and education costs? As community people, we need to ask ourselves about the impact of what we kind of don't have already being reduced further? The appointment of unqualified judges with conservative (or right-wing) agendas filling federal and district court benches, Congressman Meeks added, would create problems for years.

When asked about the "fear," one resident who identified himself as a teacher, stated he could see in the eyes of children and parents at school and what he could tell them, Congressman Meeks remarked that "in Queens there are more than 200 languages spoken" and that he "will be fighting for these individuals." He reminded all of the efforts taking place within the City Council to protect those with DACA designations and that New York City is a "Sanctuary City." He stated further that there is an upcoming lawsuit against Homeland Security for some of the raids that are occurring in the city.

Someone asked: "When will the Dems fight back?" Congressman Meeks had answered earlier that unless the Mueller investigation turns up something substantial, impeachment may not be an outcome to remove Trump from office since the GOP has control of both the House and the Senate. He replied that the 2018 elections will be one of the "most critical elections in the history of this country." The inference being that it could return the government back to some of its democratic principles that have be waylaid by a GOP administration that is doing little for the people, but much for itself. He emphasized the importance of local elections being won by democratic candidates.

As a diverse community of "many races, cultures and religions," Congressman Meeks stressed our "working together." He shared a story of how barbershop talk is about politics because people see and are realizing the impact of policies that are impacting them. In all, he stated that he reminds himself that "God is still in charge" and while we have "been through worse we will get through this." He suggested that the Democratic party needs a "bigger tent" that can include people of good will as well as bring back some of the independent voters to vote as Democrats in 2018 and 2020.

He shared with the community that the upcoming "State of the Union" (SOU) address to be delivered by Trump this coming Tuesday is an issue with some of his colleagues-- members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), and with himself regarding whether he would attend or not. The insults and disrespect that has become a part of Trump's repertoire with the African-American/Black community has been troubling. He stated others wanted to know what he would do? Not to blame his Mother who taught him that anyone that does not respect him does not deserve his respect, he had decided that he was not going to attend the SOU. Instead, he was going to watch it in his office because, of course he would need to know what was said by Trump since he represents us in Washington. After the address, he stated he will attending a press conference. We can expect to hear more next Tuesday.

Besides the big issue at hand i.e., the mess that is Washington presently, other issues were raised by community residents: USPS has been erratic with mail delivery; issues within NYCHA that are impacting residents with new management for a complex in Far Rockaway; rising evictions and a necessary response to it that could be helped by his office directly with HUD or locally. Sharing that he was a product of a housing development where he once lived, as do many South East Queens residents, Congressman Meeks stated that "no one should live in public housing with some of the conditions there today." He conveyed he was going to look into these concerns. Congressman Meeks also made a reference to the JFK Airport re-development and expected future MWBE opportunities, concessions, employment and noise pollution. He stated he had people that "were working on that."

Newly elected Councilwoman Adrienne Adams spoke of the need for South East Queens residents to make sure that they applied for affordable housing opportunities early. Council member Daneek Miller and Senator Leroy Comrie also spoke directly to some immediate local concerns. All three encouraged community residents to be active and to stay involved.

SEQMC Board members Bilal Kariem and Khayriyyah Ali attended the Emergency Congressional Town Hall Meeting. In preparation for the 2018 Mid-Term elections, the South East Queens Muslim Collective is in the planning stages of a scheduled Voter Education/Voter Registration workshop to be held on April 7, 2018, God Willing. In 2016, SEQMC was actively registering voters and held a similar forum in September of that year to familiarize residents with the voting process and to stress the importance of the general presidential election underway at the time. The Save The Date flier announcing the April 2018 workshop was shared with some in the audience and some of the elected officials present.

"Timely," stated Ms. Ali when asked about the Emergency Town Hall meeting. "We needed to hear this. We need to get organized taking nothing for granted. We can and will work together, God Willing" she said.

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