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Congressional candidate Mondaire Jones discusses youth activism, progressive policies at Thursday town hall

Congressional candidate Mondaire Jones spoke on progressive policies, youth activism and more at a Thursday event. 

Jones, a lawyer likely to become the first openly gay Black members of Congress, was the keynote speaker at a virtual town hall organized by Duke Students for Biden. Jones recently won a crowded Democratic primary in New York’s 17th district and is heavily favored to win that election this November. 

Jones opened his portion of the town hall by advocating for progressive policy goals such as Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and tuition-free public college.

Jones, who is 33 years old, lauded youth activism. He expressed his pride in the young people who are “rallying in the streets and leading [Black Lives Matter] protests,” and said that he wouldn’t have won his primary without “hundreds of college and high school students” organizing with his campaign.

He spoke at length about the need for criminal justice and policing reform, calling to end qualified immunity, abolish private prisons, legalize cannabis, expunge the records of those imprisoned for marijuana use and allow those other than district attorneys to investigate and prosecute police misconduct.

Jones also discussed the need for healthcare reform, decrying the “devastating impact of a system in which healthcare is largely dependent on our employment status,” especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left millions of Americans unemployed or underemployed. 

Jones, who said that “policy is personal,” shared how his grandmother had to work past retirement age to pay for expensive prescription medication, before noting that Medicare for All could have capped the price at $200 per year.

When asked by moderators about his response to the many progressive Duke students who still have reservations about voting for a moderate like Biden, Jones admitted that the former vice president wasn’t one of his top three choices for nominee, but said that he “can’t do anything that I’m fighting for under a [Trump] presidency” and that “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris represent a vast improvement over what we’re currently dealing with”.

About 10 minutes into the event, unidentified people interrupted the event to display lewd and pornograhic videos. They spammed messages in the chat in support of President Donald Trump, and one wrote a racial slur repeatedly in a message. 

The incident lasted about two minutes, before moderators kicked the disruptive people out of the event. It came during introductory remarks by Kichelle Webster, a legislative assistant for Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.).

Webster spoke about Biden’s climate and environmental policy, emphasizing the “systematic and aggressive attack on environmental protections and regulations” by the Trump administration over the last four years. She called the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement a “global embarrassment” that “diminished our ability to lead on climate policy around the world.”

Webster said that in communities like Durham, “climate change poses an existential threat not just to our environment but to our health, our national security and our economic well-being.”

She also addressed the Green New Deal, a proposed congressional package designed to wean the U.S. from fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions, calling it a “crucial framework” that recognizes the urgency of the fight against climate change and the fundamental connection between our environment and our economy.

At the end of the town hall, the event organizers turned the floor over to audience questions.

Duke alumnus Tim Warmath, T’84, asked about Jones’ immediate policy priorities. In response, Jones discussed electoral reforms such as those in H.R. 1, which include automatic voter registration, the creation of independent redistricting commissions and public financing for congressional candidates. He also called for the expansion of the U.S. Supreme Court, cash assistance for those affected by COVID-19 and the enshrinement of LGBTQ+ protections in nondiscrimination laws.

In his closing remarks, Jones urged students to “fight like hell for the future of your country and your planet… This election is pretty damn important. We cannot survive another four years of Donald Trump.”

“This really is a battle for the soul of this country,” he said. 

For more election coverage from across North Carolina, visit One Vote North Carolina, a collaborative between The Chronicle and six other student newspapers that aims to help college students across the state navigate the November election.

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