Despite interruptions and arrests, congressman addresses issues of race, rape culture, wealth gap and climate change at college event
An event featuring Congressman Antonio Delgado on the campus of SUNY New Paltz was cut short Thursday night by numerous interruptions from the climate action group “Extinction Rebellion,” eventually leading to the arrest of three protesters.
Delgado, a freshman congressman for the 19th District, was initially supposed to speak on his experiences in Washington over the last 10 months. But nearly half of the planned hour-long conversation was monopolized by environmental protesters shouting over Delgado and the event’s moderator.
The interruptions started shortly after the first question was posed by the event’s moderator, KT Tobin, the associate director of the Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives, and continued until the arrest, occurring just before 6 p.m.
The program continued following the arrest with limited interruptions by protesters, however, Tobin was only able to ask three of her planned questions, the first concerning race, the second about rape culture, the third concerning the wealth gap in America.
The event began by Delgado addressing a prompt from Tobin, asking him to speak about the role that race has played in his experiences in Washington, both personally and politically.
“We as a nation have failed to confront the original sin of this country,” Delgado began. “We’ve never had a reckoning, never addressed the wounds that permeate across our culture.” Delgado called this “the existential crisis of our time.”
In response to this particular statement, the environmental protesters became more vocal.
One of them stood and shouted, “Global Climate Change is the existential Crisis of our time.”
A number of his fellow protesters followed suit, back to back, shouting statistics on climate emergencies, disappointing climate goals, and missed climate deadlines, all in the hopes of putting pressure on Delgado to pledge support for The Green New Deal.
After several minutes, SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian, took to the podium to ask the members of Extinction Rebellion to let the program continue, and to respect the campus’s policy under the student conduct code to regulate their speech time. “I expect that you respect the rights of all who have gathered here to hear the congressman’s viewpoint,” Christian said.
Following Christian’s plea, Delgado did discuss his views on climate action. Unfazed by the interruptions, the congressman reassured the crowd he has a firm grasp on the issue of climate change, and explained his views on how to address the problem.
“As an African American born out of the civil rights movement, it would be hypocritical of me not to see the value in civil disobedience. For people to stand up and put pressure on government to get things done,” Delgado said. He did however condemn the protesters’ name calling tactics and shouting over others.
“There’s a level of intellectual dishonesty in that,” he said.
Delgado explained his viewpoint on the Green New Deal, saying that he wants to be deliberative about this issue in a broad context. He said that it sounded to him like many of the protesters in the room feel there is only one way to address climate change.
“There has to be a way of going about things that doesn’t silence the other guy,” Delgado finally said before moving on to the planned conversation with Tobin, including questions on rape culture, and America’s growing wealth gap.
Delgado identified rape culture as a culture of widespread misogyny, and pointed to three problems that contribute to it: a current “assault on legal precedent” (like challenges to Roe v. Wade) the large “paycheck disparity” between female workers and their male counterparts, and a “higher evidentiary burden” being placed on victims of rape.
He described the current wealth gap in the United States as “grotesque.”
“The numbers don’t lie. One half of American households are sharing 1.3 percent of the wealth,” he said. “People have stopped believing that this system can work for them.”
Delgado said he feels that the root of the problem is that America’s reference point is the wealthy. Why define our national success not by the standard of living of our citizens, but instead, by how America’s top earners are doing. “When you invest in corporations you get part-time jobs with no benefits. When you invest in students, it repays itself.”
After a brief question and answer session with audience members, Delgado concluded with a short speech on the difficult time the nation is facing, and thanking his constituents for their support and encouragement. Delgado noted that the 19th Congressional District is one of the more highly sought-after political districts in the nation, and millions of dollars were poured into the district by outside sources last year in an attempt to portray him as misogynistic and violent, citing lyrics from songs on his 2007 album, “Painfully Free.”
“Because they thought that would be enough,” Delgado said, referring to the negative and misleading advertising by the Republican National Committee. “To know that I am blessed enough to come from a district that can see past that. To combat it with love. There is nothing ever weak about facing hate with love.”