One of the chief goals of Indivisible Berks is to make sure our elected officials are hearing the voices of their constituents. If you follow Indivisible Berks on Facebook or Twitter, you’re no doubt aware that we’ve been conducting what we call a “Listening Canvass” to compile data on what matters most to people in our part of the state. You may have even volunteered yourself or have been approached by one of our canvassers. Listening to fellow Berks County residents, one thing has been impressed on me – what happens in Harrisburg and Washington directly affects the lives of our neighbors and health of our communities. It also affects our wallets.
The legislative process both at the state and federal levels can often feel far-removed from our everyday lives. We read reports in newspapers and watch coverage on TV of what our lawmakers are doing, but it’s sometimes difficult to make direct connections unless it’s particularly egregious. In other words, though we can sympathize, it often feels like it’s happening to someone else. Yes, I realize that statement may sound arrogant, even ignorant of the daily reality many citizens face, but it is also the realm in which many people exist.
The current occupant of the White House likes to tout his business acumen. He likes to take full credit for the stable economy, flourishing stock market, and low unemployment statistics. (The fact that this boasting ignores the eight years of work that lead to the current stability is beyond the scope of this blog.) The media has given much attention to the rhetoric from the White House on trade and tariffs. I’m not an economic policy wonk. I’d venture to say few of us are. It is understandable then that we may think that the tariffs will only impact big businesses like the paper industry or large-scale farmers in the Midwest. But two things have come to my attention recently that show this isn’t the case.
While out knocking doors last weekend, my canvassing buddy and I encountered a lady who owned a small business right here in Berks County. When asked what her current concerns are about the issues facing us, she detailed how the Trump administration’s tariffs are hurting the day to day functioning of her business, a business which relies on steel and aluminum products. She told us how she had received four different letters that week alone from vendors telling her that supply would be interrupted. Not only was she worried about running her business and satisfying the needs of her customers, but she was understandably concerned about what it would mean for her and her family. Small business owners have to provide for their own retirement and healthcare. One health-related crisis or weak earnings quarter can spell disaster for families like hers.
On a different but related subject, you may have noticed in our local news reports about poor attendance at the Third International Executive & Entrepreneurs Conference, Emporium and Expo held in Reading last week. One of the conference’s goals was to connect American businesses with trading partners in Africa. In 2013 at a similar event, over 100 African businesses were in attendance, but this year there were only about 10. What happened? According to Sylvia L. Robertson of the Wyomissing-based African Global Super Center, which organized the conference, over 40 African representatives were denied entry visas and therefore could not attend. People from countries such as Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Malawi, the Republic of the Congo, and Zambia were not granted visas. Robertson said she reached out to Senator Toomey’s office for help in expediting the visas, but time ran out. Robertson also noted that organizers didn’t have the visa problem back in 2013.
Not that I want to bring it up, but it’s impossible to read this story and not think about Trump’s comments regarding African countries. It’s sad that the White House is incapable of thinking two steps down the road beyond their racist agenda. If they were capable, they’d see that they’re harming some of the very sectors of society they like to claim as their base, namely business owners and working people.
Someone once said one of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say. If people in the White House would take that advice, maybe they’d hear that their policies have real-world consequences-a message the people in Berks are sending loud and clear.
You can read more about the African trade conference here.
posted by Amy Levengood