There are deep ruptures in the country, U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal said, that have resulted in too many people being under- or uninsured, a broken immigration system, and people’s outcomes based on their ZIP codes.
Just beating President Donald Trump, the Seattle congresswoman argued, isn’t enough to fix that.
“Donald Trump is both a symptom and a cause,” said Jayapal speaking Saturday at the Nevada People’s Forum. “We have deep structural problems in this country. Institutionalized racism. Institutionalized sexism. Institutional classism. We need a bold solution that matches the scale of the crisis.”
The event, put on by the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada Action Fund and the national progressive organization People’s Action, was about presenting a platform that would address the structural and systemic issues in the country.
It also gave organizers a chance to press presidential candidates on issues associated with that platform. Two presidential candidates, former U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary Julian Castro and entrepreneur Andrew Yang attended while U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke via livestream.
Instead of stump speeches, which were prohibited, each candidate faced questions primarily from people of color who asked about tribal sovereignty, proposals to address environmental racism, how to address LGBTQ discrimination, Puerto Rico statehood and the effect of gun violence specifically on black brown communities.
Yang was the only candidate who got strong push back from the audience for a few of his answers.
When asked about the potential of storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, he said it was a national issue rather than a Nevada issue. The audience, waving red cards as a way to show dissatisfaction, pressed him on details specific to Nevada, which he wasn’t able to provide.
He said he was willing to sit down with locals to learn more about Yucca Mountain.
Yang was also asked about housing subsidies and Section 8 vouchers. Yang focused on the need for Universal Basic Income, a proposal central to his campaign that would give people $1,000 per month he is calling a “freedom dividend.”
When pressed about how the dividends would address rising rental rates, Yang said people could find new landlords or even suggested people form a groups, combined their dividends and purchase a “fixer upper” home together.
Members of tribal communities told Sanders and Castro about the impact of mining near their land, speaking specifically about how the Anaconda Copper Mine in Yerington has left groundwater contaminated. Both candidates talked about the need for federal agencies to consult tribal communities before any project goes forward.
“I would call for not only consultation but also consent to be required for certain types of projects,” Castro added.
Castro was asked about aid to Puerto Rico and if he supported its statehood. “As president, I would work with Congress and the people of Puerto Rico to set a definitive binding referendum that would determine statehood for the island,” he said. “If that does happen, I want to make sure Puerto Rico maintains its beautiful culture and sense of identity.”
When asked about racial disparities in health care, in particular when it comes to maternal mortality rates, Sanders connected it not only to his health care legislation Medicare for All but also to the need to make college free.
“The African American community, the Latino community needs doctors and nurses who come from similar backgrounds of the people they treat,” he said. “Black mothers do better when they have black doctors and nurses. The only way we are going to get a sufficient number of black doctors and nurses is when we make public colleges and university tuition free and cancel student debt.”
The diversity of the questions, as well as the people who asked them, captured the nuanced issues of everyday people.
“We know the vast majority of working people are very, very, very diverse in different ways,” Jayapal said in an interview. “They are women and folks of color. They are immigrants. Some are native born. They are LGBTQ. They are people with disabilities. The idea that a working person is just a white male is disingenuous but also hurts our policy solutions.”
Even though only three candidates attended — and only four at a prior People’s Forum in Iowa — Jayapal hopes similar forums like the one held in Nevada will push candidates outside of their comfort zones, in particular how they talk about issues facing people of color.
“Some candidates are more comfortable talking about race than others,” Jayapal said. “My advice is you better get comfortable.”