Hundreds turned away at first town hall with U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna

Hundreds were turned away at Ohlone Community College during U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna’s town hall forum on Feb. 22 and those who made it in the building weren’t guaranteed an audience. Car horns and the yelling of traffic directors encompassed Mission Street along the roadside of the school as Ohlone had underestimated the amount of people that would show up.

While many packed the Administration section of Building 7, Khanna, D-San Jose, spoke upstairs to the 125 people who had reserved a spot for the town hall gathering. Marna Schwartz, a Los Altos resident, along with a note taker, encouraged the audience downstairs to participate in a group dialogue she called “structure conversation” as they waited for Khanna to come.

Barbara Fukumoti, a Sunnyvale resident of 23 years, said she wanted “to try and get my voice heard.” She also wanted to emphasize her concern for climate change and other issues.

Topics ranged from Affordable Healthcare to Immigration and the appointment of Betsy DeVos as United States Secretary of Education. Those who spoke used their own personal experiences to guide the discussion: a mother speaking for her daughter, an army veteran in need of leg surgery and a high schooler worried about fundings for science programs.

Some debate arose between Doug Hal, a Veteran and Fremont resident of 45 years, and a woman from across the room when the topic of immigration was brought up. When asked by Schwartz whether he would “like Mexican’s to be charged $25 to cross the border,” Doug Hal had said he would. However, multiple voices in the crowd said, “everyone is free to their opinions, we have to respect each other” and tensions dropped.

Mason Fong, a 25 year old Senior Congressional Aide to Khanna, made his way downstairs during the discussion. He informed everyone that the building was too packed and the police department had deemed it a fire hazard. Fong also let the crowd know that Khanna wouldn’t be able to speak them that night but he will hold town meetings monthly, with the next one scheduled in Cupertino.

Martin Pyne, a software engineer and 20 year resident of Sunnyvale, said “I’m somewhat irritated, but on the bright side we had a really great conversation. I thought talking about democracy was great. Super kudos to the woman [Schwartz] who helped facilitate our discussion.”

Before going into his next forum, Khanna came downstairs and apologized to the crowd, while also promising to review their concerns written by Marna Schwartz’s notetaker.