Courtesy of Hayden Waller

Cornell students attend Reed's controversial town hall meeting on Saturday.

February 23, 2017

Cornell Students Travel Across State to Protest Reed at Town Hall Meetings

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A group of Ithaca residents and Cornell students attended Rep. Tom Reed’s (R-N.Y.) town hall meetings Saturday Feb. 21 to voice concerns about poor constituent representation, among other political issues.

Reed represents the 23rd District, which includes the western end of southern New York, borders Pennsylvania and predominantly-liberal Ithaca. While the majority of his district consists of Trump-supporting working-class Americans, the town hall meetings were packed with frustrated protesters who disagree with Reed’s views on health care, immigration reform and finance reform.

“There is a growing frustration with Rep. Reed’s seeming avoidance of Tompkins County,” said Nicholas Aflitto grad. “So concerned constituents are taking their questions to him, even though these meetings are two plus hours away.”

The meetings, held in Allen Town, Humphrey, Cherry Creek, and North Harmony, also garnered national coverage from media sources like The New York Times and NPR, which noted the tension between the representative and his constituents. Students like Hayden Waller grad went for the purpose of expressing their frustrations.

“I can only speak for myself,” he said. “But personally, Tom Reed is kind of the antithesis to everything I believe in. I’m on the other side of him for just about every issue.”

Some of the key issues that were raised during these meetings included Reed’s support of defunding Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act, disapproval of the Russian investigation and extensive use of corporate funding for private benefits.

“In general, Tom Reed tends to believe that diverting public funds to private enterprise is the best model in taking care of his constituents and his district,” said Jacob Elias grad. “On top of that, he’s unequivocally against immigrant rights. He’s unequivocally against Planned Parenthood.”

Elias added that Reed seems to him to be concerned primarily with his own interests.

“He has no interest in trying to look into the administration’s potential conflicts of interest, and he’s more interested in maintaining his seat of power and maintaining corporate power rather than public power,” he said.

Elias helped organize the trip to this town hall meeting in order to have some of the constituents’ concerns heard and addressed as well as to let Reed know that a “bulk of his constituents are very unsatisfied.”

“When an African-American woman asked him whether he thought black lives matter, he grabbed a megaphone and proudly shouted out ‘All lives matter,’” Elias reported.

In general, Elias said Reed mostly deflected protesters’ concerns by “lying and saying he agreed before saying the actual substance” which was in “direct discord with the things being requested by his constituents.”

Though Waller believes that Reed is likely not going to change his mind about any issues, he noted that simply knowing that constituents’ concerns were being heard was “satisfying.”

Both participants believe that it is important for Cornell students to be involved in the political process through events like these town hall meetings.

“Cornell students can change the entire district,” Waller said. “If they were willing to register to vote in this county, they would be able to vote against guys like this. In the end what really matters is the votes, so if I could send a message it would be to get registered and vote against these types of ideas.”

Elias noted that he plans on continuing to organize with other people to be more involved in the political process.

“I was very satisfied by the views of the vocal majority at the meeting,” Elias said. “I was incredibly dissatisfied with the views of the powerful minority, which was Tom Reed and his staffers. I think continuing to show up at town hall is really important, [along with] being vocal and visible and thoughtful.”