One week ago, Stephen Colbert, the quite famous Comedy Central host, stepped outside of Comedy Central’s studios (but not outside of his role as a faux-right-wing pundit) to testify at a real hearing of the House’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship and Border Security [video below].
While Colbert brought humor into this the whole way through, he was also clearly serious and nearly broke into tears in the middle when talking about his experiences spending a day as a farm laborer (in my opinion, it looked like he was genuinely about to start crying).
Starting his testimony, Colbert said, “America’s farms are presently far too dependent on immigrant labor to pick our fruits and vegetables. Now, the obvious answer is for all of us to stop eating fruits and vegetables…. And, if you look at the recent obesity statistics, you’ll see that many Americans have already started.”
Apparently, even though Colbert was invited by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) to testify, before he even got started, Colbert almost got sent away from the courtroom by a less friendly Democratic Congressman from Michigan. Timothy Hurst of ecopolitology writes:
Before Colbert even had a chance to read his statement, however, there was some question of whether or not he would even get a chance to do so. Democrat John Conyers of Michigan thanked Colbert for his presence and for bringing attention to the subcommittee hearing and then politely asked him to pack his things and leave. Colbert was clearly taken aback by the request but did not exit the chamber after Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), the committee chair and the person who invited Colbert to testify, stepped in on his behalf.
The “controversy” over Colbert testifying didn’t end there, though. Some loved this testimony, others not so much, and some have complained that Congress should be spending its time on more important issues, (like tax cuts for the rich, for example). But the bottom line is that Colbert brought more attention to this important issue than has perhaps ever been brought to it before. Great to see celebrities like Colbert using their social influence to connect people to important topics.
After his testimony, Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-Calif.) asked Colbert directly, “you could work on so many issues… why are you interested in this issue?” Colbert’s response, in dead seriousness, seemed to make it pretty clear why he cared about this topic:
I like talking about people who don’t have any power, and they seem to be one of the least powerful people in the United States… the migrant workers who come and do our work but don’t have any rights as a result. And yet we still invite them to come here and at the same time, ask them to leave. It’s an interesting contradiction to me.
And Colbert’s involvement in the United Farm Workers’ (UFW) “Take Our Jobs” campaign, geared at getting unemployed Americans to take jobs in the agriculture sector, gave him enough experience to do so. Apparently, the UFW campaign generated a lot of interest at the start, but not a lot of participation.
UFW President Arturo Rodriguez told Congress that his website received about 3 million hits after the campaign was announced. Approximately, 86oo people of that 3 million were serious about applying for a job but only seven applicants were documented as working in the fields. Seven Americans out of 8600 people wanted to work as farm laborers.
Colbert stepped in to make it clear that there are important reasons why that is the case.
To read an excellent, detailed piece on Colbert’s testimony and reactions to it, make sure to check out Eric Alterman’s article on Center for American Progress — excellent!
You can also watch the entire hearing on C-SPAN.