Prepared Remarks: Jeff Beals Campaign Launch Event June 16, 2017 – Ulster County Courthouse
Thank you Bennet, thank you Jim Barber, than you Kira Milgrim, thank you Donna Grover, thank you Macguire Benton, thank you Janet Tweed —
Thank you to the activists and leaders here from Columbia County, from Otsego, from Greene, from Delaware, from Schoharie and from all around Ulster County.
Thank you all fellow citizens of New York 19, a number we’re all gonna wear on our shirts like a team number, because we are a team and today we start our season.
We start it on Faso Friday. And thank you Lynne Lamoree and Emilio Gironda from Citizen Action who set those up in Kingston for being here!
I am Jeff Beals. I live in Woodstock where I am a teacher, a former US diplomat and, like many of you, a proud democratic activist.
I want to tell you the story of a family and a boy today, and I’ll leave the moral of the story up to you. It’s a story that starts with my grandparents in Europe, who one day saw their world disappear.
They were tattooed at death camps and, after surviving when all but a few around them died, they made their way across an ocean to the country that had saved them, to a place called America, a place they had heard amazing stories about: stories about opportunity being available to anyone who worked for it.
They started working for their American dream — they worked in the sweatshops and factories of New York City, and with the money they saved up they went looking for a piece of that dream.
They found it here in the this district, in the bungalows in Sullivan County — in Monticello, in Liberty, South Fallsburg, and Kiamesha Lake. They had children, and one of those children, my father, started waiting tables here in Ulster County, in Ellenville, out on Briggs Highway at the old Greenwood Inn, dreaming of finding a piece of that dream himself if he worked for it.
And work he did, and when he and his brother, my uncle, had saved up enough they built our family farm, Willow Ridge Farm, here in the Hudson Valley, and the dream became a reality.
Their American Dream became my reality – it was as real to me as the story of my own life, as real as the pond I swam in here as a boy, as real as the fences I helped put up, the livestock I helped raise, and the Catskills I hiked.
I believed in that dream so deeply that I went abroad to make sure other people could find their own piece of the American dream like my family did. I asked myself where the world needed it most and I felt it was the Middle East, so I learned its languages and its ways and became one of our envoys there, first travelling to meet Ambassadors and advise Congressmen as an intelligence officer of the CIA and later rising to join the State Department as a diplomat pushing for peace in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with my close friend Chris Stevens, the Ambassador we lost in Benghazi.
When our war in Iraq started to go wrong and our soldiers were in danger, an ambassador I knew there called for me to come to Baghdad to help right the ship and set up our first embassy. I answered that call and became one of the longest serving US diplomats of the Iraq war. I helped set up Iraq’s parliament, and, fluent in Arabic, I wound up mediating the drafting of Iraq’s constitution.
I found the people we were fighting and I opened a channel to talk to them. I brought them together with our ambassador and our generals in the first secret diplomatic talks we held with the insurgency. I was decorated by both the U.S. Army and the State Department for those achievements.
But something went wrong in Iraq, something I couldn’t deny. I chose a career in diplomacy to help other people strengthen their nations, but I began to see our own nation growing weaker. I saw corruption and I saw people put ideology and politics over the national interest. I began to understand that the real nation-building we needed to do was back here in our own country. So I made a sacrifice for what I believed was more important, and I left my career as a diplomat, shocking my colleagues and the leaders of Iraq. America withdrew from Iraq in the grandest sense, and I did it in a very personal way.
I came back to my family’s farm in the Hudson Valley to raise my family, to give back to my community, to work with livestock running our thanksgiving turkey business and to answer a call to teach. I married my wife, Suhayr, on the banks of the pond on our farm and we had our two sons Abraham and Joseph. We now live in Woodstock, where I teach high school history at the same school where my wife teaches kindergarten and my sons attend.
You see, I grew up believing in the American Dream and thinking that democracy is something you fight for overseas. But I’ve come to see it as something you have to fight for here at home.
Our democracy is under attack right now — in this country, and in this district — and in each of our communities. We are being divided when we should be united. We are being hurt when we should be helped. And our own congressman is part of the wrecking crew.
Look across New York 19 and you can see it in the crowds camped outside his office demanding a change they won’t get, demanding an audience they can’t receive. Meeting with your constituents isn’t optional. It’s the fundamental job requirement. I was with them this morning here in Kingston. I was there in the front row at the first No Show town hall and the ones that have followed. I’ve been all around the many counties in this district these past months as a grassroots organizer — all 7900 square miles of it.
I’ve met the people that our congressman isn’t coming out to see. Let me tell you who I’ve met.
I’ve met a group of young men I know working the AT&T store on Ulster Avenue. One of them has been selling phones for years, doing great business, bought a house with his wife, only to find that the company is slashing his salary and his benefits even as the CEO makes over one thousand dollars an hour. He went on strike for the first time in his life a few weeks ago. I stood with him. And we’re all going to stand with him when we get to Congress.
I’ve met an amazing young woman I had the privilege to teach this year, who we lost to cancer in March, and whose family, in the middle of their mourning, has found themselves stretched to the limit by medical bills they can’t possibly afford. I pitched in to help. And we’re all going to pitch in and change the industry that is preying on them when we get to Congress.
I’ve met the elderly in our homes and nursing homes. They’re dependent on medicine and being bilked by drug companies who collude with our Congress to make it illegal for us to negotiate a fair and affordable price. I took my students to help them at Ten Broeck Commons, my wife took her students to Mountain Valley Manor to help them. We’re all going to help them when we get to Congress.
I’ve met park rangers and hikers out in the Catskills and the Gunks desperate to preserve the beauty of our natural environment, which is the whole heritage of this district and the engine of our economy and lives. They are bracing themselves as our Congressman votes to allow dumping in our water and assents to the dismantling our Environmental Protection Agency. I’ve been out rallying with them to stop this. And we’re all going to stop it and bring back those protections when we get to Congress.
This is not the American Dream, but this is what I’m seeing. And it’s what a congressman who cares enough to travel – to listen – to meet everyone and care about everyone – would see.
And I have to tell you all something else — I’ve seen this before too.
As a diplomat in the Middle East, I saw societies where these problems continue unchecked.
I saw how tribal divisions among people can blind them to what binds them, and that when they are divided they can be preyed on by the rich and the strong.
I saw how a disregard for the truth and the vast power of propaganda can drown out the voices of reason and of good government and hope.
I saw a democratic awakening in Iraq produce 105 new political parties — just like our own process has produced a hundred new grassroots groups and a dozen congressional candidates — and then watched them all fail at the ballot box, taken apart by their divisions and trampled by moneyed interests and the old guard.
I witnessed those societies become hopelessly divided and I’m not going to let it happen here.
We have to unite.
And you’re all asking — WHO CAN DO IT?
We need someone who has done it before. I have brought people together in the most difficult circumstances imaginable. I’ve brought you all here together today.
We need someone who has a record of public service and government experience at the highest level. I’ve worked with Senators, Representatives, Secretaries of State and Defense and the Director of the CIA. I won’t be lied to or tricked. I know how they can pull the wool over our eyes. I know how to work in in our nation’s Capitol.
We need someone who has shown the character to never take a professional payout or make an unethical decision for financial gain. I turned down Exxon when they wanted to hire me to use my connections and experience to drill their wells in the Middle East. I turned it down to teach school, making less in a year than I would have made with them in a month.
We need someone who lives here and works here and voted against John Faso in the last election. We need someone who knows they’ll have to wake up to deal with the results of the next one.
We need someone who can speak to the many different constituencies in our district, from farmers, to teachers to veterans to union workers to gun owners.
I live and vote and work here with my family. My wife works here along with me, and my children go to school here.
That is who can do this. Someone with all those qualifications. Anyone else will lose, just as we lost the last three times, and we can’t afford to lose again — lives are on the line. So if you don’t meet those standards, save yourself the cost of the moving van for the new place in the district, save yourself the hassle of the change of address forms for your vacation home and the sabbatical request from your job or school and the house hunt — We’ve got this.
And you’re all asking — HOW CAN WE DO IT?
We can do it by opening our minds and our ears and working to win every last vote. There’s a debate these days in the Democratic Party. Some think we may just have to give up on rural areas like ours. They say that this mix of cities and rural areas is too difficult to run in.
Well, I think this district is a microcosm of America itself. And if we can’t win here, we can’t win anywhere. People who think this way believe in what is called the 50 State Strategy. Well we’re announcing our version of that here: we call it the 11 County Strategy. And we’re starting it right now. So pick up your phones and register to join our field army.
And you’re all asking – WHAT ARE WE DEMANDING?
And now you’ve asked the most wonderful question of all. Because that is the other side of the movement we start today. We’ve said what we don’t want. Now we’re going to say what we do want. I’m not here to tell you what you want. We’re going to define it together. Read the signs. Unite New York 19. That’s the name of the forums we are going to hold throughout the district in the coming months. We’re going to bring together the best minds and most committed activists for roundtables on every issue we care about and we’re going to write a policy paper on each one and I’m going to deliver it from this podium. And the first issue is Health Care and we’re holding it in July. Many more will follow on all the issues that concern us, from Labor to the Environment to Small Business and more. Reach out to us with your issue and your concern.
I began by telling you a story, and I said I was going to leave the moral up to you. It’s the story of a boy who believed there was a reason his grandparents survived that war and made their way to America. He believed there was a reason that they found the Hudson Valley and built a new life for themselves to resume the one that had been lost. He believed that when one friend died in the North Tower on September 11th, and another died in Iraq, and another in Benghazi, that the story wasn’t over. He believed that he lived in a country that would never fall apart the way his grandparents’ had. He believed that America was a democracy and that it was meant to lead other nations to democracy, to unite the world. He believed he was going to live to see it grow and pass it on to his own children.
So I ask you for the moral of this story. WAS HE RIGHT?
Is the person in Washington representing us?
Can we come together to make our voice heard in Congress?
I have lived history in my career. We are living history in this district. The eyes of the nation are watching us. We live in a storied place. Where FDR once lived in Hyde Park and led the nation in inclusion and strength. Where Cooperstown stands for a national pastime that brings us all together. Where Woodstock electrified the world. Where here at this very spot a woman named Sojourner Truth, whose child was taken from her into slavery, dared to demand justice in court and GOT it. I teach that history in the classroom, and now we’re all going to make history here.
We’re not just protesting anymore. We don’t want our congressman’s ear. We want his seat.
We don’t want to be divided. We are uniting.
The resistance just took a turn and we’re a movement for social and economic justice now too. To my students here in the crowd and to my friends, school is out, but we’re not on summer vacation. We’re at the beginning of the greatest movement for democracy in our lives. We’re going to do things we’ve never done before. And the first thing we’ve never done before is win our voice in Congress in New York’s 19th District.
My name is Jeff Beals, and I am running for Congress to represent our voice.
Give yourselves a round of applause cause we just got started.
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