Former Representative Steve Israel and Sarah Ullman (LA ’10), co-founder of the super PAC One Vote at a Time, discussed issues surrounding gun control and how to inspire change at a Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life-sponsored event at 50 Milk St. a small venue in downtown Boston.
Israel, a former chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, House Democrats’ fundraising arm, is currently a Tisch College visiting fellow. His satirical take on the gun lobby in his new book, “Big Guns: A Novel,” was scheduled to be the focus of the event. However, much of the discussion centered on America’s current political climate.
Lurking over the event were the recent events that took place in Pittsburgh on Saturday. Alan Solomont, dean of Tisch College, explained that it was both “ironic and fitting that we are here for this subject.”
Julie Dobrow, a senior fellow at Tisch College and the moderator for the event, explained that in the past year, in the United States alone, over 2,300 teenagers had been killed or injured by gun violence. Dobrow, who is also a senior lecturer in Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development, explained the need for a new approach to gun violence.
Israel first explained why he entered public office.
“I entered elected life because that’s how I believed I can serve my community,” Israel said. “I entered Congress because that’s how I believed I could help my country.”
Israel then pointed to the “52 mass shootings in my 16 years of Congress,” saying “I realized I couldn’t really fix [gun violence].”
The former congressman touched on a starker reality and said that he turns to satire to make a positive impact.
“I would never be able to write a law that would right this wrong,” he said. “I instead choose to make satire to change the narrative of this debate. Satire brings you into the debate. It makes you think in a subtle and nuanced way. Who really made us examine the ills of slavery? Mark Twain through satire,” Israel said.
Dobrow focused on Ullman’s work. Ullman’s super PAC has a connection with film directors to produce high-quality campaign videos at low costs.
“We saw an absence of quality video for candidates who are on the state or local levels,” Ullman said. “When a candidate has a good quality video, they are taken more seriously.”
Ullman screened an ad her super PAC made for Robyn Vining’s campaign for Wisconsin State Assembly, explaining her work. She explained that it would cost $30,000 to make such a video, a price for a field director, according to Ullman.
“Operating in 10 states, [having] 570 videos made, making sure we are complying with election law is complex,” she said. “We are just trying to get people to feel something.”
She said the purpose of the super PAC is to inspire people.
“[The objective is] not necessarily to educate, but to motivate.”
Israel said that liberal voters often overlook their representatives’ track record on gun control legislation and blindly support their broad progressive platform.
“I’ll tell you, progressives … can have a member of Congress who will vote against you on background checks, on no fly no buy, vote against you on cop-killing bullets, they will vote against you to allow cop killing bullets, they’ll vote against you on every issue of concern to you with respect to guns. But you’re still going to vote for that person because they are [pro-choice],” he said. “Progressives are too forgiving on this issue.”
Israel added that hope remains, citing youth turnout in the protests following the Parkland shooting. He said that young kids, even though they cannot vote, can push their parents to cast a more progressive vote.