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Local residents stage sit-in at Rep. Tom Reed’s office

Window of Tom Reed’s Office (Isabella Grullon)
By Celisa Calacal and Isabella Grullon

Tensions ran high as members of the Ithaca and Tompkins County community engaged in a three-day sit-in at the office of Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) in Ithaca.

The sit-in began on Feb. 14 and lasted until the night of Feb. 16, when Reed surprised sit-in participants at his Ithaca office. Six individuals from the Catholic Workers organization organized the sit-in with the intent to catch the Congressman’s attention and speak to him about a multitude of issues.

The number of participants fluctuated throughout the three-day protest. Sit-in participants put together a number of issues they wanted Reed to address on top of the greater issue of Reed’s personal connection to and support of President Donald Trump both during the campaign and in the transition period. Some of these issues include the potential repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, the protection of undocumented members of the community, the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the President’s proposed border wall.

Sit-in participants express their concerns about Congressman Tom Reed to Joseph Sempolinski on Feb. 16 at Reed’s Ithaca office. (Isabella Grullon)
Sit-in participants express their concerns about Congressman Tom Reed to Joseph Sempolinski on Feb. 16 at Reed’s Ithaca office. (Isabella Grullon)

On Feb. 16, hours before Reed met in-person with attendants, Ithaca residents spoke with Joseph Sempolinski, a staffer of the Congressman.

Tom Saddler, an organizer of the sit-in, said one of the reasons they decided to do the sit-in was to have a real dialogue with Reed.

“Things are happening fast,” Saddler said. “Most of us who are here in the sit-in have tried to contact the Congressman in D.C. about his actions.”

Sit-in planner, Tom Saddler, talks to staffer Joseph Sempolinski on Feb. 16. (Isabella Grullon)
Sit-in planner, Tom Saddler, talks to staffer Joseph Sempolinski on Feb. 16. (Isabella Grullon)

A primary concern brought up by sit-in participants Feb. 16 was Trump’s multiple verbal attacks on women, with many citing a tape recording in which Trump said he can “grab them by the pussy.” Several people voiced concerns over Reed’s lack of denunciation of this comment and others, especially after the Congressman said he would.

Attendant Jonathan Cook said he was scared about the future and well-being of his 12-year-old daughter following Trump’s election.

“I’m really upset about that because my daughter can’t be safe in this society when we have a commander in chief and we have a U.S. representative who are not willing to stand up for people like my daughter,” he said.

Other individuals were worried about Trump and the Republican Party’s plan to gut the Affordable Care Act. Saddler said he depended on the ACA to be able to afford his cancer treatments.

“I would be dead without the expensive treatment, and we would be bankrupt if we didn’t have insurance,” Saddler said. “It’s not OK to repeal that without doing something without doing something like the HR 676 which would make it better rather than worse.”

Sit-in participants talk to Joseph Sempolinski. (Isabella Grullon)
Sit-in participants talk to Joseph Sempolinski. (Isabella Grullon)

Sempolinski spent most of the day talking to the people coming into the office.

“[We] make sure we have a staff person that can listen and we can have a dialogue and explain, find common ground where there is or explain where there’s differences where there’s not,” he said.

Over the course of the three-day sit-in, the Congressman’s staffers spoke to constituents about the specific issues brought by the original planners of the sit-in and relaying the messages to Reed. Sempolinksi said that, despite the criticisms of the Congressman, there are some shared concerns between him and those who visited his office.

Staffer Joseph Sempolinski responds to sit-in participants in front of the protest’s Valentine’s Day decorations (Isabella Grullon)

“Certainly there are some common goals as far as making sure that we have a replacement for the Affordable Care Act that doesn’t leave people in the lurch,” Sempolinski said after being asked about the demands on the list. “These are important issues, we want to hear what people have to say whether they agree with Tom Reed or not. ”

Congressman Reed held a town hall meeting Feb. 18 in North Harmony, N.Y., and was received by a large crowd with questions on abortion rights, the ACA, and Trump’s tax returns according to an article in The New York Times. The article also pointed out that a lot of the crowd took to chanting “Do your job!”

While the sit-in officially ended Feb. 16, many constituents in Tompkins County — the only county Congressman Reed lost last year out of the 10 he represents — still disagree with many of his political views.
“I expect my U.S. representative to represent the interest of all people,” Cook said. “And if he goes out and says that he doesn’t support him, and then joins his transition team, that contradicts itself.”

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