In New York State, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik and Congressman John Faso would normally be holding town hall meetings over recess, but the hundreds of constituents that want their concerns to be heard are not going to get them. Stefanik, referring to town halls as “political theater,” is insisting they’re scheduling face-to-face meetings instead. Faso is more abrupt in his reasons for avoiding them. When asked whether he would commit to having town halls, Faso responded by saying they’re “an organized political effort” where people are told where to sit and what questions to ask. He commented further, stating that “they’re not productive, and no one believes they’re productive.” Faso, like Stefanik, also insists that he’s doing small meetings, saying that town halls are “shouting-and-screaming sessions.” Sorry, constituents of New York’s 19th and 21st congressional districts. You aren’t going to have a chance to bring political theater to your representatives.
The lack of involvement in town halls from Stefanik and Faso goes beyond the thinking that they aren’t productive. Stefanik and Faso, two Republicans in New York State, are afraid. They don’t want to stand for an hour and be asked tough questions by prepared attendees, questions that affect the health and economic well-being of their constituents. Does Faso have a good answer on the “Repeal and Replace” strategy being talked about by Republicans? Can Stefanik take the pressure of people demanding she protect funding for Planned Parenthood? Both of them are Republican during a time that any association with the party means you’re expected to vote against the interests of your own districts: Stefanik’s district has seen uninsured rates decline by 38% since the implemented of the Affordable Care Act. It’s pure cowardice that neither will show up to town hall meetings, because they know they won’t give politically-active people the answers they want.
Even if Faso is right, and he was to hold a town hall and get screamed at the entire time, isn’t that something we should be afforded the right to do? If someone who is supposed to represent you is thinking of voting for bills that would limit your access to health care, wouldn’t you be shouting at them? Dissent is American, and town halls are venues for dissent. Protests can be ignored, meetings can be cancelled, but the town hall is where they have no choice but to listen. A room full of hundreds of community members that you were elected to serve voicing their disagreement with your policies that negatively affect them is not “unproductive” unless you choose not to listen. They’re unproductive when you know you’re going to ignore their will and vote against their interests either way.
The surge in talks about town halls is not without reason. We’ve elected a nightmare, and we want to make sure that there’s a political buffer between him and our officials. When a representative is a member of the party currently making life a living hell for immigrants, environmentalists, and transgender folk, we want to make sure they aren’t on board with extremism. We have a right to be listened to, a right to shout at them, and the right to see them face-to-face.
When they say they think town halls are unproductive, what they mean to say is that they’re afraid of those they’re supposed to serve. They’re afraid because they don’t have the answers that socially-conscious, politically-motivated people want. They can’t tell us they’ll pledge to not gut healthcare, or that they’ll never sign a bill to fund a wall. Without town halls, we may lack the opportunity to tell them to their face, but what we can do is keep them afraid and let them show their true colors. All we have to do is remember their actions, and make sure we kick them out of office next election.
For lists of town halls near you, visit Resistance Recess.