U.S. Representative David Price (D-District 4) hosted the UNC March for Our Lives Chapter President Simone Afriyie as his guest for the State of the Union address on Tuesday, Feb. 4. Senior writer Brent Van Vilet talked with the two about the address, gun violence and more.
The Daily Tar Heel: Congressman Price, could you start by explaining why you invited Simone to the State of the Union?
David Price: It’s something we often do, members of Congress, particularly when we think the president and other leaders are not paying sufficient attention to important issues. I’ve had special guests in the past that focus on healthcare, focus on immigration. But this issue of gun violence is one that is really overdue for basic congressional attention.
We've had a frustrating time getting things done, but I think we’ve made headway. Part of the reason we're making headway is because activists like Simone and her fellow students at Carolina have organized — particularly after the Florida shooting, and young people have organized and made their voices heard. We need to listen to these voices and heed them.
DTH: Simone, could you share with me a little bit about how you got involved with March for Our Lives at UNC and what kind of activist work you do?
Simone Afriyie: I am from Sandy Hook, Connecticut. I grew up there. I’ve lived there for almost as long as I can remember. When the tragedy happened, I was pretty young. I didn't really understand a lot of the things that, you know, have been behind that, a lot of the legislation that you know is in place or not really in place that allows something like that to happen.
As I got older I realized that I needed to turn that into activism, I needed to help the students who were already part of the movement and do something on my own. So, this past year I got in contact with Josh Romero, who was previously the president of March for Our Lives.
It was not recognized as an official group on campus until this past semester when I became president, but I have a lot to owe to Joshua, who is now our state representative for March for Our Lives. It's been really good to start this activism on campus. Next semester we're hoping to do a little bit more to make sure that the whole community knows that this is something that they can be active with.
DTH: And just as a little follow up there. Have you seen, to the extent that you can speak to it, more activism following the UNCC shooting last spring?
SA: So, that was definitely something that I think really hit home for a lot of people. It’s hard when a lot of times this activism starts when this kind of tragedy happens in your community, but at the same time, it's always good to turn that into getting involved in making sure you're doing something, so we had a pretty strong showing at the beginning of the semester. I wouldn't say that it got stronger with Charlotte, but I would definitely say that it brought a lot of attention to the issue and made people more aware of what's going on.
DTH: Congressman Price, you were recently involved in leading an effort to help secure $25 million in National Institute of Health funding to study gun violence. What is this money going to be used for?
DP: We know this (gun violence) is a scourge. That is very widespread in our country, but we don't exactly understand the circumstances and why it's so much worse in the U.S. than other countries.
We need to study this like we would any other public health hazard. What we've been able to do in the Congress is finally shake this loose. Finally, after years of effort, and to not only shake it loose, but to have some money dedicated to this line of research. Long overdue and likely to pay off richly, I think, in terms of understanding the epidemic, and taking preventative measures.
DTH: Will the atmosphere of the State of the Union be different or take on a different meaning this year than in past years, given the circumstances?
DP: I think inevitably this cloud hangs over this occasion. The president has not just disgraced himself, he’s actually betrayed our country. I don’t think that’s too strong a way to put it. He corrupted our diplomacy, turned our diplomacy to his own political hands, and he put our national security in jeopardy, withholding money from an ally, critically needed military aid to an ally, until his will could be done politically, something that would help him personally, that’s just over the line.
I have a sense of outrage about this and profound disappointment, not just with the president, but with colleagues who refuse to call him to account, or refuse to even to get the evidence that they know is available to fill out the details of this misconduct. So, a lot of us are thinking about those things, I think the country is thinking about these things, there’s no question that there's a pall over this presidency and over this occasion.
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