In response to the election of Donald Trump as the 45th U.S. president, the Wesleyan Democrats (WesDems) are hosting a succession of political speakers in a series called “Resistance in the Age of Trump.” This series aims to demonstrate the steps current Democrats in office are taking to oppose the Trump administration, in addition to informing the University and Middletown communities of actions they too can take. On April 1, the series opened with Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro as its first speaker, addressing a full audience in the University’s Public Affairs Center.
After an introduction from state representative and Wesleyan alumnus Matt Lesser ’10 and WesDems president Simon Korn ’17, Rosa DeLauro took to the podium—though over the course of the talk she spent little time behind it, preferring instead to walk around the floor. She opened the talk with a call to action, noting the necessity for persistent efforts on the part of the nation’s public.
“There’s such a need for your drive and your energy right now,” DeLauro said. “The way I characterize it, it’s really dangerous times, perilous times. So your engagement and involvement…is really critically important.”
Moving on to note the importance of paying attention to the multifaceted dimensions of certain issues, DeLauro entreated students to stay informed in order to ensure their voices are heard.
“It’s important to understand the nuances of the various debates that are occurring in the Congress, the fine points of those debates,” DeLauro said. “To the extent that you find an area that you’re particularly interested in, follow that, because it’s not always what you read in the paper or what you hear on the news, et cetera. It’s much more granular than that in terms of what the outcomes are and can be in these events. As I said, these are a difficult few months. We are in uncharted waters.”
DeLauro then moved into a discussion about the Affordable Care Act, explaining the dynamics surrounding the Trump Administration’s attempt, and subsequent failure, to repeal it. She brought up multiple perspectives on the issue, noting first the unity of the Democratic National Party in regard to preserving the Affordable Care Act, and the important role the public paid in keeping the bill afloat.
“I believe that the reason why that bill was pulled, and they had such a failure, was because of the American people,” she said. “The marches, the phone calls, the letters, the communication. The overwhelming communication, to people, not just in their offices in Washington, but in their district offices. It was overwhelming.”
DeLauro transitioned into a criticism of a number of people Trump chose to put into office, namely Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruit.
“Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education,” DeLauro said. “Wow. I don’t know what to say…She does not believe in public education… And talk about separation of church and state, she has a major tie with religious institutions, and I went through 16 years of Catholic education, but this is not public education, which is 90 percent of our kids. She does not believe in making sure that they are provided for. So we will do the same thing; I’m watching the administration as closely as I can.”
Likewise, DeLauro noted the negative consequences of the Trump administration’s decision to place Scott Pruitt as the administrator of the EPA. DeLauro mentioned that Pruitt had sued the EPA over a dozen times, and that not only does he not believe climate change is caused by humans, but he also rescinded executive orders from the Obama administration that protected the environment and curbed emissions.
“They’ve got the wrong priorities,” she said. “We’ve got to protect scientists and researchers.”
After finishing her talk with another call to action, in which she stressed the necessity of political involvement, DeLauro took questions from the audience. Théo Storella ’20 posed a question concerning hope for moving forward efforts on prominent issues under this administration.
“Resistance is really good to keep things from moving backwards, and that’s great, but for these issues like healthcare and the environment and stuff like that, we not only need to keep ourselves from moving back, we’ve got to go forward,” he said. “So if we don’t have the house of representatives, would you say there’s kind of a degree of hopelessness in that?”
DeLauro replied by explaining the necessity of first fighting Republicans on their efforts to dismantle both healthcare and environmental laws, and then from there, Democrats furthering efforts in both. She explained the importance of the 2018 elections in getting things turned around, as well as mentioned the importance of ensuring the Affordable Care Act was not repealed. She noted that no matter what, one should not lose hope.
“I never talk about hopelessness, I got to tell you that, I never go there,” she said. “I can’t go there.”
Korn and board member Alexandra Prendergast ’20 both thought it to be a successful and extremely relevant event.
“This is one of the components of our plan to become a focal point for the resistance against the Trump administration on campus,” Korn explained. “It’s about asking people who have experiences with resisting presidential administrations, the Trump administration specifically, [and] making a difference in the face of long odds, or making a difference in the face of any kind of odds. How we, as Wesleyan students, who live in a liberal district, who by and large come from liberal districts, can make a difference.”
Prendergast shared in Korn’s sentiment as to the importance of bringing speakers to the University.
“This year, we’re seeing a lot more political activism nationwide than we have in many, many years, and so I think it’s extremely important as Wesleyan democrats that we engage with the community here on campus and elsewhere to try and get people active and involved in politics,” she said.
Despite the heavy topic, DeLauro’s speech and Q&A session was ultimately hopeful.
“People cannot get tired of engaging on these issues,” she said. “You’ve got to overwhelm the system.”