Published March 30, 2018
So what’s happening in Washington, D.C.?
That’s the question that Brian Higgins, representative for New York’s 26th congressional district, tackled when he talked to UB faculty and students on Thursday in the Natural Science Complex.
Welcomed by the Department of Biological Sciences as a part of its spring seminar series, the Democrat from Buffalo discussed a wide range of topics ranging from the 2016 election to gun control.
Of the many issues that America faces, Higgins stressed what the 2016 election meant to the country’s political landscape.
“Something very different is happening in America today. You had Donald Trump beat 16 traditional Republican candidates in the primary for the presidency,” said Higgins. “You had Bernie Sanders, who received 14 million votes and won 21 primaries and caucuses. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were really saying the same thing in that the system was rigged and that message really resonated.”
Higgins believes that both his party and the Republican Party have failed to reflect on the real meaning of the election and that there’s more to it than winning and losing. He went on to state that there’s real significance to the popularity of non-traditional candidates.
“The election of 2016 was a categorical rejection of the party I’m affiliated with,” Higgins said. “A lot of my Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives were walking around as if they had won something, but it was a rejection for the Republican Party as well. Both parties should be learning a lesson in trying to understand what’s going on out there and neither are doing it.”
After discussing other key issues the country is facing, Higgins opened the room to questions. Topics included gun control, today’s media climate and the anti-science movement.
But the biggest recurring theme was one of political efficacy and how so many people, even some in the audience, didn’t feel like they could influence real change in the federal government.
Higgins said he believes in the impact that people can bring by organizing and showing support for certain causes. He cited the March for Science demonstrations and their impact.
“One of the reasons Congress restored funding to the sciences is because of what they saw happen in the streets of America last year,” said Higgins. “I think [everyone is] having a better impact than you realize.”
“The pace of change is typically slow and I wish it were quicker,” he added. “But, this is the system that we have. The only thing that lets ‘them’ win and you and your cause lose is if you give up. There’s going to be another science march and if you had 4,000 people last year, then you should go for 8,000 this year. (The March for Science) influenced what Congress did last month and that was push back on the administration that was trying to cut funding for scientific research. The protest was the origin of that action.”
Higgins also cited the protests for gay rights as an example of how demonstrations impact legislature.
“We had a president that said that marriage is between a man and a woman,” said Higgins. “By the end of his presidency he’s saying it should be with anyone who loves each other. That is monumental social change, but it wasn’t because those advocating for gay rights were beaten down and defeated. They persevered until they were paid attention.
“You can’t allow the system to beat you down,” he added. “When you think about it, every social change in America has been the result of the demonstrations from the neighborhoods and the streets up. Nothing came from Washington down.”