Community Holds Us, It’s Our Forest of Positivity

Interview with Congressman Jimmy Panetta

Congressman Jimmy Panetta
Tabitha Hardin-Zollo

As the world continues to be in turmoil, there is a hope that our leaders will become less partisan, coming together to benefit the country. However, that should always be the case. Partisan lines should be arbitrary, not concrete. After speaking to both Senator Manchin and Congressman Panetta, I saw a glimmer of hope that the art of bi-partisanship is not dead, as Senator Manchin would say. 

Congressman Panetta, a man I have only seen in ads running on the local channels and heard his voice heard in KAZU profiles during election season, gave me insight into what is happening in my own backyard. I have been in my home for over 40 days, only leaving for short walks, social distancing dinners and a few errands, and though I am grateful that I have a home, filled with food and internet access to continue my education, it has also been isolating. Every time I step outside my home I feel somewhat detached to the surrounding community. Congressman Panetta helped to reattach me. He spoke about the importance of paying attention to our farm workers and to understanding how beautiful and unique this area truly is. 

My district, my area, my community matters and so does being represented in Washington, D.C.; I do not think I ever made the connection before. I know the job description of our House Representatives, but I never really thought about a local official actually representing my home, in DC. He said that right now the United States is being governed by crisis, the opposite of that is being governed by leadership. He said that although the latter would always be ideal, being governed by crisis has further exposed inequalities and we can see what we need to do to be better prepared for the next event. The job of a congressperson, according to Congressman Panetta, is not just yelling the loudest but working the hardest. Simply put, it is about addition not subtraction. Adding voices, adding opinions and adding peoples, not subtracting those who oppose you just so you can get your way. The Central Coast is a community of opinions and voices, that deserve to be added to the conversation, and I am glad to hear that we are. It is reassuring to hear that even in this time of isolation, I am still being represented as a voice in this country.

Group Zoom call with Congressman Panetta
Braeden Will

During our interview with Congressman Panetta, I was struck by how human our elected leaders are. In today’s world, it is all too easy to turn on the TV or look online and see our leaders spouting rhetoric and putting on a show for the cameras. The constant force of these personalities can be overwhelming and paint our representatives as a single archetype. So, it was refreshing to speak with Representative Panetta who seemed to genuinely care about the questions we asked and showed us who our representatives really are. 

The conversation which emerged about the real work being done in Congress was briefly pre-faced this morning in our interview with Senator Manchin who spoke about bipartisanship. Congressman Panetta showed us that while there are the showmen of leadership, there are many, many, more who are there to do the work and serve the communities they represent. 

I think that it is important to remember that our representatives are regular people. That our perceived struggle of good and evil on the partisan battlefield doesn’t show a complete picture. These are people trying to make a difference and solve problems, they just don’t always agree on how to do it.

Paola Jacobs

We had a great interview with Congressman Jimmy Panetta! I was personally excited because I have often seen his campaign ads on television so I knew a little bit about his involvement in the Central Coast. Through my research on Congressman Panetta I was able to understand some of the issues he has focused on.  One that stood out for me was his work with farm workers. Most farm workers in the central coast are immigrants, and they often aren’t protected. As Panetta said, “They aren’t just valuable, they are vulnerable.” This is completely true and I appreciated him bringing this up. For me, it’s important that all people are valued. To me, Congressman Panetta truly focuses on issues that help the greater good in my community.

Paola asks Panetta a question

One way Congressman Panetta is helping our community is through the Farm Modernization Act, a bipartisan bill that protects the rights of farm workers. I was interested in forming my question to him around this bill. I wanted to know if the current times could be helpful to point out the importance of our agricultural workforce and help get the bill passed? He appreciated my question and spent a great deal of time on it. It is a serious issue and hearing directly from Congressman Panetta about it made me see his dedication. Listening to him gave me hope for our system of government. Because this bill was a bipartisan effort it wasn’t easy to craft. As Senator Joe Manchin said, “It’s come down to one side is right and the other is wrong. It takes bipartisanship. If you start off not agreeing, you can’t build off that.”  So, for both sides to work together on the bill was huge, positive step. Congressman Panetta didn’t say it was easy, it took a lot of work and time. Even though he wasn’t sure if the bill will pass, he explained that it was a marker that they set. I think it’s important to see the positives rather than the negatives so there’s room for hope.

Congressman Jimmy Panetta seemed as appreciative of this call as we were. He really took his time to answer and make sure our questions were explained well and were understandable. He was another interviewee who had a lot of energy. When someone’s giving information with such energy it helps me engage with what they’re saying. This was one of those interviews, and I’m thankful to Congressman Panetta for his time and energy.

AnMei Dasbach-Prisk

Today was a long day. We interviewed three people, starting bright and early at 7:15 AM this morning. I would describe it as an exhilarating and exhausting experience, and definitely worth it! We interviewed Senator Joe Manchin, and Alyse Nelson, Co-Founder and President of Vital Voices, this morning. Their interviews were back to back, so it was quite the information overload for me. I appreciated the knowledge, positive perspective, and advice they gave us on this current pandemic situation.

The third person we interviewed was our own 20th district congressional leader, Congressman Jimmy Panetta. During the interview, he talked about the importance of bipartisanship when creating and passing legislation. Speaking with him restored my faith in the common good, knowing that people are putting their differences aside to get work done and help bring relief to this crisis. I feel lucky to be represented by someone who listens to others while also doing what is best for his constituents because those are qualities that I want someone to have, who is representing me.

Speaking to Congressman Panetta over Zoom

I liked Congressman Panetta’s easy-going nature and how relatable he was. Right at the beginning he acknowledged how draining Zoom is, and said that he wished we could be having this interview in person. “Nothing beats face to face interaction.” He explained to us how he is a people person, and his favorite part of his job is interacting with his colleagues and constituents. So, it’s been difficult for him not to get that in-person human interaction. I definitely agree with him, as I too have found Zoom to be a bit draining, and I’m also a people person. I’d choose an in-person conversation with someone any day, rather than a Zoom or FaceTime call. On the bright side, he said that working from home is allowing him to spend more quality time with his family and catch up on many of the family dinners he has missed.

At the end of the interview he emphasized the importance of taking care of ourselves and one another during this time, as we have all been impacted by the virus, whether it be physically or mentally or both. He said that’s the way we will return to some sort of normalcy. In-person human interaction will happen again one day, but for now we must rely on our communities to get us through this. From what I heard today, I think Congressman Panetta is a dedicated and outstanding congressman who takes pride in his work, and works hard for the betterment of his community. 

A theme throughout the day was the importance of community. Senator Manchin and Congressman Panetta both talked about taking care of their constituents and making sure that they are provided for. Alyse Nelson talked about the strength and inspiration she gets from the community of women leaders at Vital Voices. Her advice to us during this time is to,  “Surround yourself with a forest of positivity, don’t let the doom and gloom get to you.” I kind of like to think that the community at Mount Madonna School is my forest of positivity. Physically and metaphorically, now that I think about it.

Lastly the most inspirational piece of advice I heard today was, “This is a pivotal moment in all our lives but especially for your generation. It’s a reset, it’s a base for a world of endless opportunities.” This is paraphrased off of statements that both Alyse Nelson and Congressman Panetta shared with us today. This stuck out to me because with this pandemic going on, the first semester of my college experience will most likely be online, and I felt like I would be missing out on a lot of opportunities. But after talking with Alyse Nelson and Congressman Panetta, and hearing their optimistic outlooks and hopes for my generation, I’ve adopted a new perspective. I’ve got to “trust the process” like our teacher Ward always says!

I’m thankful that Congressman Panetta, as well as Alyse Nelson and Senator Manchin took time out of their busy day to talk with us!