September 2, 2011

“No one’s polluting our oceans?”: FL YES Students hold Congressman Allen West Accountable

This past Tuesday, a group of Florida International University students and I attended Congressman Allen West’s Town Hall event, where we intended to ask him to be a champion for the Clean Air Act and call him out for his support of the dirty energy industry. The event was held from 4:00pm-6:00pm, on a weekday (boy, they sure know when to hold public events) so the crowd was made up mostly of elderly people, who we found out soon enough, were mostly supporters of his.

This was not a traditional town hall meeting, and the format couldn’t be more undemocratic because you could only ask questions by writing them down and having them read by a moderator, who was omitting important parts of the questions. Even though this was a nontraditional meeting, the crowd could not be held back from expressing themselves, good or bad. A friend of mine, Christina, could not sit there and just take his safe answers; she had to yell out what he had been ignoring, where he truly stood on environmental issues. When he was asked to protect clean air, he said it was the E.P.A.’s regulations that are putting Americans out of work, so Christina told him what happens when the water is polluted by nuclear waste during a disaster and we don’t have any water. He came right back with an answer about nuclear being the cleanest energy in France. The crowd cheered him on and some man was yelling at Christina, saying “that’s a fact”.  Any person who raised their voice during this very controlled meeting, were met with the yelling of other attendees, demanding they shut up and sit down. This was a rude crowd! But I had figured that out after standing outside, with our Clean Air Act signs, before the meeting. One man came swiftly walking towards me, pointing his finger in my face, speaking quite loudly and asking me if I knew who the vice president of the United States was. I was shocked by his actions and stood frozen for a minute but I managed to spit out “Biden” in a satisfactorily amount of time for the man, he grunted “at least you know that much”. Although I encountered this rude man, it wasn’t going to stop me from being a part of this meeting or our democratic system.

            We were a group of young people, in a room full of stubborn, and out of touch elderly folks. They were fighting us the entire time, so they could be spoon fed the information they wanted to hear. Also I felt as though we were swimming with sharks, but we were not little fish about to be eaten, no, we were dolphins fighting off the sharks. The youth of America will stand together and build a clean energy future for ourselves. We will be leaders in protecting clean air, water, and the climate, and we will demand that our elected officials be leaders, too.