In Review: August Town Hall
I arrived as O’ Rourke was making his opening statements. He then opened it up to questions and people lined up so fast I felt stupid for not having one prepared. I would come to find out that most people that lined up really only wanted to air their grievances, or yell at the Congressman, as opposed to asking any real questions.
The first one on the mic was an older gentlemen. He cleared his throat, braced himself, and then started yelling about grass."There's no grass in the cemetery!" is how I seem to remember his opening statement. I was not prepared for this so I laughed out loud, making one veteran turn to look suspiciously at me. I suppose I am out of touch with El Paso issues because I had no idea what he was talking about, but was only later to realize (after two other men expressed powerful discontent) that this was a big deal and that the man holding a sign at the bottom of the auditorium was actually holding a sign with pictures of a grass-less mound of dirt. I noticed he and a few others were wearing T-shirts that read "Legalize Grass" in big letters and then "in the Fort Bliss cemetery" in smaller letters with a picture of a similar dirt mound and a tombstone.
What I learned was this: There is a lack of grass in the Fort Bliss cemetery. I understand that veterans grow to have a deep rooted solidarity with their fallen comrades, one that is so powerful and that I, having not served, will never understand. Now, before you go and accuse me of being anti troops or anti veteran, let me state that I have nothing against veterans, particularly dead ones, but I don't' know how seriously I could take an issue about grass in the cemetery when the living have their fair share of problems.
The second person that went up to the mic was a regular because O'Rourke addressed him by first name and he started his speech by saying how he had always supported him, had donated money, and had even had him over to his house for dinner. I would come to find out his name is Phil Rothstein, given a column in the El Paso Times after the town hall meeting, where he repeated exactly what he had already said: Beto had disappointed him. How could you do this to us Beto? He pleaded. You owe us an apology, he said. And this guy's voice was trembling with rage and disappointment. He passionately disowned (at least temporarily) Beto O'Rourke as his Congressman, while one hand quivered with disdain and the other holding a piece of paper that held a quote from the Congressman himself that he would soon proceed to read back to him. Towards the end of his man’s speech a man yelled out "That's not fair." And I caught up in some strange energy and disbelief at what I was witnessing made it all the more of a circus show by saying out loud "Yeah that's enough.”
Rothstein wrote in his editorial (8/8/2014) in the El Paso Times posted today , “Beto let his concern about the loss of innocent life blur his reasoning.” I would have imagined that concern for the loss of innocent life would be a good thing. One that should, in fact, affect ones reasoning on an issue. Yes, Mr. Rothstein argues that every penny of these billions of dollars would go only to “defend” Israel. I’m sure he’ll be the one keeping us informed that not one penny of the money go into a single bullet.
It wasn't' until the third or fourth speaker that I realized there was something about the strange energy in the room that had completely swept me away. A woman came up to the mic and said with reverend-like inflection, "Scripture says, if you bless Israel, Israel will bless YOU."
She said "YOU" with terrible emphasis reminding Beto that he would now, in fact, not be blessed. It got worse when this woman told the Congressman that he would be responsible for another Katrina because he didn't support Israel and it was at this point that I yelled, not said, yelled, at least loud enough to startle myself, "Get off the mic!" I was starting to enjoy myself. At this point I made eye contact with what I assumed to be a woman of O'Rourke's staff who'd been sitting nearby taking notes. She gave nothing away with her face (a trained political aid), but only wrote something down. Something was happening to me, for I am not one to yell. Perhaps it was built up frustration with the country and the city and my complete sense of powerlessness, perhaps it was knowing that this was an accurate representation of the entire country (earlier in the day I had been called an antisemitic for saying that Israel too had some fault in this). After that, I wanted to keep yelling things out, but I restrained myself.
One could not tell what kind of effect all this was having on the Congressman. He would simply thank everyone for their comments and move on. To his credit he did not address this woman's concern about him possibly initiating the next Katrina, which was wise on his part, to refrain from acknowledging that as a legitimate concern. The way he explained over and over again was that he does, in fact, support Israel, which is a vague statement on its own, but a safe one to make in this country.
So while the bill ended up passing anyway, to the sure satisfaction of people like the above mentioned, my concern was, that it was these people doing all the voting and all the emailing to the Congressman. I mean Mr. Rothstein has had the Congressman over for dinner, meaning that he has given him money, meaning that he has money to give. Perhaps Beto O’Rourke thinks this is an accurate representation of his constituents.
In the end there was only a few people that actually asked a question or made a comment that wasn't translatable to: "Why do you hate Israel and its people?" or "Why don't you care about the cemetery?"
The 2010 census showed that El Paso County's population of 25-44 year olds, which is the age group that holds the majority of the labor market is only 20.8 percent compared with a statewide percentage of 42.5 percent. This means that a good majority of our labor market leaves the city when they reach the age of 25, usually the age after a college degree and significant job skills are attained. It is this demographic that should be lining up to talk and ask questions to Mr. O’Rourke, since the majority of us here can’t afford to invite him over to dinner.
In 2011 El Paso County residents per capita and median income levels were significantly lower than Texas. That is, 9,700 below the state average. 25% percent of El Paso residents live under the poverty line compared to 17% in Texas and 14% in the U.S. This is not news to most people, the fact that educated and prepared young people leave El Paso (usually to Austin-because they need help keeping it weird or whatever) And yet, only a few days ago the El Paso Times posted a story on their website about El Paso being the most "vigilant city" in the U.S and cited MyLife.com, a company sued repeatedly for consumer fraud. Not that this means anything other than the El Paso Times isn't bothered about citing a disreputable and somewhat shady website as a source, but that somehow I seem to think it's a way to make El Paso residents continue this illusion that we are doing alright, because if anything else we can at least say, "Hey, well at least we’re safe."