Date February 26, 2024
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Speaking at Brown, U.S. Rep. Gabe Amo encourages citizens to embrace the politics of 'hope over despair'

The newly elected Democratic congressman called for action on affordable housing, AI and gun control as he delivered the Noah Krieger ’93 Memorial Lecture at Brown’s Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — As the country faces intense political divisions and grapples with local, national and international challenges — from the failure of the Washington Bridge that has snarled traffic in Providence and beyond since December, to immense international crises like conflict in the Middle East — U.S. Rep. Gabe Amo emphasized the importance of citizen engagement and considering the lives that are affected by public policy.

In short, he said, speaking at Brown University on Monday, Feb. 26, it’s about embracing hope over despair.

“Engaging in our democracy is to see a problem, or to notice someone’s pain…” said Amo, who grew up in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, as the son of a nurse and a liquor store owner. “[It’s] saying: I care enough to work toward a solution. I care enough to try to alleviate their suffering. Choosing to stay engaged is an exercise in staring down daunting realities and staying focused on the pursuit of progress.”

It was a connection to this concept that led him to pursue a career in public service, Amo said, as he delivered the Noah Krieger ’93 Memorial Lecture at the Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy at Brown’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.

“You might say, ‘Why does the son of West African immigrants, a working-class family, want to be in politics?’” he said. “It’s the passion for service. The desire to see someone else’s life be improved in any way.”

Amo was sworn into office on Nov. 13, 2023, becoming the first Black congressman in Rhode Island history. After spending years working in local government and in roles in the federal government, he won a special election to replace longtime Rep. David Cicilline, who stepped down to lead the Rhode Island Foundation. Prior to his election, Amo served as deputy director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and as a special assistant to the president, working as President Joe Biden’s principal liaison to mayors and local elected officials. He previously served as a White House aide to President Barack Obama.

Choosing to stay engaged is an exercise in staring down daunting realities and staying focused on the pursuit of progress.

Gabe Amo U.S. Representative
Gabe Amo speaking

Amo, who represents Rhode Island’s First District in the U.S. House of Representatives, which includes all of Bristol and Newport counties, along with parts of Providence County, began his talk by addressing the need to alleviate the suffering stemming from the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

“My hope is — as not only the most junior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee but someone who is committed to finding peaceful resolutions — that we arrive at some kind of negotiated end to fighting between Israel and Hamas that sees a release of hostages, and a surge in food, medical supplies and personnel to respond to the living hell that so many people are going through,” Amo said.

During his talk, he shared his stance on three key policy issues: affordable housing, artificial intelligence and gun control.

“Housing connects to so many bedrock values… of safety, of economic opportunity, to have a real sense of belonging and place and community,” Amo said. “Right now, I don’t think we [as a country] are equipped to… address our challenges here. I think we need to lock in a core tenet that everyone in this country should have access to safe, stable and affordable place to live.”

He advocated for federal oversight to guarantee production, affordability and access to quality housing for all — not only those living in poverty.

Amo called for policies around artificial intelligence and its effects, including the possible displacement of jobs and the dangers of misinformation. “Deep fakes and other AI-generated content is making it difficult to discern facts, discern truth — that’s going to be more present in our lives,” he said. “And so we need to create a policy that adequately moves in the direction of avoiding problems that lie ahead.”

Amo also noted the urgency of addressing gun violence.

“Our challenge here is that we have political gridlock, we have partisanship,” he said. “We have a threat but no way to respond to it.”

Gabe Amo speaking to the audienceDuring a Q&A session with students and members of the public, he fielded inquiries about a range of topics, including the failure of the Washington Bridge, to which he called for transparency from the state government and encouraged Rhode Island to be proactive about requesting federal assistance.

“The Federal Highway Administration is helping already with some of the technical analysis,” Amo said. “When there is a need for federal resources, I will ask alongside the most effective appropriator in Rhode Island’s history, Sen. Jack Reed, and Sen. [Sheldon] Whitehouse, and we’ll do everything we can to help this most important part that connects both parts of my district.”

In keeping with the theme of considering how government affects everyday lives, Amo added: “You have to talk about issues of disruption ... to the economy, to people’s commutes — it’s a really emotional thing," he said. "The first step is acknowledging the feeling of pain.”