U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D–Mich.), alongside grassroots organization Ann Arbor Indivisible, held a town hall-style forum at Ypsilanti High School Tuesday night, with over 100 people in attendance, ranging from high school students to retired seniors. The event, intended mainly to address healthcare and job growth, consisted of a panel including Dingell, Carrie Rheingans, the Senior Project Manager for the Washtenaw Health Initiative, and Shamar Herron, the Workforce Development Manager for Washtenaw County. The event was moderated by Bryan Johnson, a member of Ann Arbor Indivisible.
According to the group’s Facebook page, Ann Arbor Indivisible is dedicated specifically to “resisting the Trump administration’s agenda by empowering grassroots activism through informed local action in the 7th and 12th Michigan Congressional Districts.” Members of the group passed out a flyer to the audience ahead of the forum that included instructions for asking questions at town halls, saying to “keep your eye on the prize” and not “settle for talking points.”
Dingell started by saying while President Donald J. Trump’s victory in the presidential election was a shock to many, she understood the forces behind it.
“During the election, I knew that a lot of people were afraid,” she said. “They were afraid of what was going to happen to their job. Donald Trump understood that anxiety. I don’t think that he’s going to do anything real to help it, but he understood, and he talked about trade.”
Herron, whose position includes matching unemployed people with suitable jobs, talked about the harmful cultural expectations people have when it comes to searching for jobs.
“The Workforce Intelligence Network works with all of the workforce agencies in a 15 to 17 county area, and they produced a document to us that showed us what young people considered as the top five career choices –– and these are high school students –– and they ranged from a reality TV star to an athlete,” he said. “And so I smirked at it at first, and then I started to think, ‘We’re not doing a good enough job helping young people understand what a workforce director does, what a congresswoman does.”
Additionally, he said the expectation that every high school student should go to college is unrealistic and untrue –– and would eventually leave the country with a shortage of skilled technical workers such as plumbers and welders.
The theme that kept coming up throughout the forum, though, was participation. When, during the Q&A portion of the event, constituents would ask what was being done, what Dingell was going to do or what could be done about an issue, Dingell reiterated that nothing could be done without the audience’s help.
“I believe if you live in America, you’ve got a right to affordable quality healthcare, and you should not have to worry about if you go to the doctor when you’re sick,” she said. “I’m never going to stop fighting for it. But you all need to help if you ever want to see it pass in this country.”
Acknowledging the flaws in the Affordable Care Act, Rheingans, a health policy expert, noted the unpopular parts are necessary for the system to function properly.
“As Representative Dingell pointed out, the Affordable Care Act is not perfect and there are some things we need to fix,” she said. “And the way the law was originally written, there were some more popular things and some unpopular things, but for the more popular things to work, you have to get money from the unpopular things. You need enough healthy people to enroll for the coverage to work.”
Building on the importance of community involvement, Dingell also stressed the importance of engaging Republicans on issues like public education.
“I’m gonna fight my heart and soul out, but I need all of you,” she said. “You’ve got three Republicans right here, or four if you go over to Macomb County, and we gotta tell the story. You gotta put the human face on it, you gotta engage them. I’ll go with you, I’ll go anywhere to help build that, but we gotta be strong in saying ‘This isn’t okay, our young people need to have equal opportunity.’ “
Dingell also touted her own record, pointing out that she introduced a bill with a Republican colleague to conduct an assessment of Enbridge’s controversial Line 5 pipeline and set the groundwork for shutting it down.