Congressman Jim McGovern Visits Smith College

Michelle S. Lee '16 Design Editor

This past Monday, Feb. 25, Smith Democrats welcomed U.S. Representative of Massachusetts’ 2nd congressional district Jim McGovern, for “Cookies with Your Congressman,” a lecture and Q&A panel at Neilson Browsing Room. McGovern, Democrat, who represents Northampton, amongst sixty-three other districts in Western Massachusetts, became interested in politics during his early junior high years at Worcester Academy. He especially looked up to Democrat, Sen. George McGovern (not related), whose advocacy for equal rights influenced him to pursue a career in the field. Soon after graduating from Worcester Academy, McGovern attended American University and later interned for George McGovern. He worked for George McGovern in his bid for the presidential elections in 1984, campaigning and eventually securing the Massachusetts vote. “It was one of the highest privileges of my life – I loved it,” McGovern said. “He taught me the politics of thinking big, of not being afraid to be an idealist, and of believing that anything is possible.” McGovern later went on to work for US Representative Democrat Joe Moakley of Massachusetts’ 9th district, and gained more hands-on experience in the political realm that would culminate in McGovern’s own election to the House in 1996 against Republican incumbent Peter Blute. Carrying out his influence from a young age, McGovern has been a long-term advocate of human rights. As a key player in the House Rules Committee, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, and co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, as well as the House Hunger caucus, McGovern has been very active in his involvements in both the domestic and international sphere. “I’ve been arrested four times, only three of them while in office,” McGovern joked, referencing his attendance at protests against human rights violations, most recently of the genocide in Sudan in front of the Sudanese embassy, which led to his arrest. McGovern has especially been involved particularly in eliminating hunger around the United States. He recalled one of his most memorable campaign stories as when he and mentor George McGovern presented a food aid program to then President Bill Clinton and his cabinet, which initially gained traction with 300 million dollars of funding. Currently active as the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, McGovern assisted in providing nutritional provisions for over twelve million citizens. He criticized recent legislation that cut food provisions for the underprivileged, including his own program, noting its fundamental significance in America’s current economic standing. “I believe that nobody in this country, the richest country in the world, should go hungry… 17 million of those who go hungry are children,” he lamented; “Hunger is solvable, we just don’t have the political will to do it.” After the lecture, the floor opened up to a Q&A panel with the audience, during which McGovern was asked a range of topics, as national as gun control and poverty to issues as local as homelessness in Northampton. “We need in this country a kind of continual care whether it’s mental health challenges or substance abuses or whether people fall on hard times,” he commented. “It’s become kind of fashionable to diminish the struggles and plight of those who are in poverty, as if somehow it is not our problem because it was their own will.” McGovern was also inquired about structural questions in the political system, from coalition building to the recent Voting Rights Act. Noting the importance of cooperation between politicians on similar interest, McGovern said, “My view is that I’m willing to work with anybody on an issue that agrees with me… You don’t have to agree on everything to agree on something.” However, he reflected on the divide between Republican and Democratic parties, concluding, “It’s different than any other time in my lifetime.” On a question related to environmental change research, McGovern praised the growth of technological advances and cited hope for scientific developments to make their way into policy. “If you vote against science, if you vote against medical research, there are political consequences,” he reasoned. McGovern closed his lecture with a statement on his political standings, concluding, “I was asked how I would describe myself philosophically. I’m a liberal democrat. I don’t call myself a progressive, or a New Democrat. I still believe in the New Deal, I still believe in the Great Society, I still believe in the United Nations. I still believe the government has a role top lay in ensuring civil liberties.”