The unremitting chaos in Washington has triggered a number of Town Halls in which GOP members of Congress have faced rooms filled with angry constituents. As a result, a number of other Representatives have evidently decided against holding such events.
Not surprisingly, hiding from the people you represent hasn’t made those constituents very happy. Their reactions have varied.
I recently had an interesting conversation with a woman who lives in Indiana’s Fifth District, represented by Congresswoman Susan Brooks. She told me that she and several of her friends and neighbors had been frustrated by Brooks’ unwillingness to hold a Town Hall, so they decided that they would organize a meeting and invite her. If she wasn’t going to take the initiative, they would.
A meeting was organized via Facebook and word of mouth, and at 2:00 in the afternoon of May 13rth, approximately 120 5th District constituents gathered at the Sullivan Muncie Cultural Center in Zionsville.
Brooks declined to appear, nor did she send a representative, so the organizers set up an empty chair with her photo and proceeded to conduct a meeting without her.
According to her report, the voters who gathered at the Cultural Center were there primarily to voice their very serious concerns about the GOP Healthcare Plan, although several other issues were raised as well.
Given the Congresswoman’s reluctance to attend either in person or through a surrogate, the organizers anticipated an effort to dismiss attendees as “agitators” or people from outside the district; in order to rebut any such claims, they prepared a “sign in” book in which those present provided their names, addresses and emails. During the meeting, each voter was offered an opportunity to speak, to fill out a card with questions for Ms. Brooks, and to sign a large paper scroll expressing their views. The organizers plan to deliver these items to Brooks’ office.
The constituents who spoke at the nearly three-hour meeting shared stories of people with pre-existing conditions, children with ongoing medical needs, and people injured on the job who then saw those jobs eliminated. They talked about the extent to which they and their families would be harmed by the repeal of Obamacare and its replacement by the current iteration of the GOP healthcare bill. Some cried.
At the conclusion of the emotional meeting, those in attendance agreed to redouble efforts to meet face to face with Congresswoman Brooks. With or without the Congresswoman, however, they are determined to hold a series of Town Hall Meetings throughout the 5th District.
What is remarkable about this–at least to me–was the event’s genesis and spontaneity. I’ve complained bitterly over the years about Hoosiers’ civic apathy and lack of political engagement, our embarrassingly low voter turnout…Yet here in central Indiana, with no partisan sponsorship, no encouragement from activist organizations, no donations from any lobby or special interest group, ordinary voters got together and demanded to be heard.
It will be fascinating to watch this new democratic (small d) wave play out, not just in Indiana but in Congressional districts across the country. Will elected officials listen? If not, will they be voted out? How safe are those safe, gerrymandered districts?
What’s that old saying? They can run but they can’t hide….