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Panelists Talk about Race, Welfare, GOP

Helen Lin--The Tech
Institute Professor Noam Chomsky speaks in 26-100 last Thursday about California's Proposition 187, which would restrict the rights of illegal immigrants.

By David D. Hsu
Associate News Editor

Five panelists discussed California's Proposition 187, which limits government services to illegal immigrants, the new Republican congressional majority, welfare reform, and other current issues at a forum in Room 10-250 on Thursday.

The forum, entitled "Here and Now: Change Affects Everyone," was sponsored by the MIT Black Students' Union.

The panelists fielded questions asked by both the moderator, Novice M. Johnson '98, and the audience.

Questions were intended to be directed toward the whole panel, but the majority were directed at Ricardo A. Egozcue '96, a Mechanical Engineering student and the sole Republican on the panel. On several occasions, Johnson had to remind the audience to direct questions to all five panelists.

The other panelists were Institute Professor of Linguistics Noam A. Chomsky, Community Fellows Program Director Melvin H. King, Assistant Professor of History Robin W. Kilson, and Department of Political Science Administrative Assistant Tobie F. Weiner.

Discussion begins with Prop 187

The first issue on the program was Proposition 187, California's controversial ballot initiative, passed in November, that limits illegal immigrants' access to government services.

Chomsky started the discussion by saying that 187 "gets poor people to hate each other and be frightened." The measure will "cut down on anything that might help children and families."

Kilson was "reasonably confident" that the courts would throw out 187. If it was not overturned, "I think a great many of us would be ashamed to be Americans," she said.

"187 is a tiny, minor symptom of something more important," Chomsky said.

"We should be concerned for why there is a problem that needs a solution like Proposition 187," Egozcue said. The best way to combat illegal immigration is to help Mexico's failing economy, he said. He added that he had only qualified approval of 187, citing big loopholes in the proposition.

Weiner said that 187 was shortsighted "in creating a whole new generation of uneducated people."

Chomsky and King both criticized the wording of the proposition. Meanings are lost because words have an ideological context, Chomsky said. The government talks of economic growth, but that growth is only applicable to the wealthy few, he said.

King said using the term "illegal" to describe immigrants is to join people who support 187.

Broad welfare discussion

The discussion of welfare began with a suggestion from Chomsky that the definition of welfare should be any government money given to people. Using this definition, Chomsky explained, the primary abuse of the welfare system is the transfer of more public money to the rich and less to the poor.

Chomsky also observed that the decrease in welfare to the poor is related to the breakdown of the family.

Rather than cut welfare, the government needs to have policies to create jobs and train workers, Weiner said.

Kilson and King both noted the racial issues involved in any discussion about welfare. Welfare abuse is "very effective propaganda," Kilson said. Welfare has become a code word for the "great black threat," she said.

Welfare has changed from the 1930s, when the recipients of welfare were predominantly white rather than black, King said.

Several audience members attacked the Republican Party for its stand on welfare. "Not all Republicans have mean-spirited ideas," Egozcue said. They are "talking about getting a solution to a problem," he said.

The last audience member to address the panelists accused Egozcue of being a racist and promoting racist policies. The audience member was eventually quieted by Johnson and the audience.

"I don't believe I'm here because I want people to die on welfare," Egozcue said to his accuser. "I happen to think [the policies I support] are right."

Many pleased with forum

Many attendees were pleased with the results of the forum. "I think this is a useful development. I think the BSU should be congratulated," Kilson said.

"I didn't expect to change any views," although the forum may have helped people focus on issues, Egozcue said.

"Basically, we just want to raise the level of awareness of the student population," said Alim M. Needham '97, one of the event's organizers.

"Although the discussion didn't offer any practical solutions, it was valuable as far as getting people to think about assumptions," said Lisa-Maria Brittan '95, an audience member.

The forum was one of many events scheduled for Black History Month. The BSU will try to follow up this forum with one next year, Johnson said.