Friday, February 24, 2017
Town Hall or Town Brawl?
Town Hall or Town Brawl?
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
February 24, 2017
Has the Earth begun spinning in the opposite direction? It must, as I agree with something Senator Bernie Sanders (S-VT) said. “If you don’t have the guts to face your constituents, you shouldn’t be in the United States Congress.”
As a strong First Amendment advocate, more speech, not less speech is advantageous – it is transparent – it sheds light on what people and groups are about. I have been fervent in my support of more speech on college campuses, and I affirm as much where Congressional town hall meetings are concerned – provided there is no inciting to violence, or shouting down others to the point where holding such a gathering becomes counterproductive. (http://sanfordspeaksout.blogspot.com/2017/02/first-amendment-denied-at-berkeley.html)
From coast to coast (Arizona, California, Colorado, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Utah) members of Congress have scheduled town hall meetings where hundreds of protesters, either esoterically manufactured or legitimately concerned about the new administration, have attempted to disrupt or prevent such meetings from occurring, are responsible for displaced criticism some members have received.
Protesters attend Republican members’ meetings, en masse, shouting “do your job,” and “you work for us.” While the second part of their mantra is absolutely true, GOP members are largely unable to do their jobs due to Democrats’ obstructionism in both houses of Congress. The protesters should express their rage at jobs not being done toward the Democrats.
All the bluster aside, it is wrong for members of Congress, and this has been heard from some GOP members, that in order to avoid the chaos, they will simply not hold town hall meetings for their constituents. That is just patently wrong. It only feeds into the media’s increased criticism of the congressional members and support of the protesters, the complete antithesis of what happened during the Obama administration upon the advent of the TEA Party.
The TEA Party crusade was branded as racist, sexist, homophobic, and any other -ist and –ic the media could heap upon them in an effort to excoriate them as a fringe effort. But the TEA Party movement disavowed those labels with their actions and behavior. Quite the opposite is true of the current protest movement in its attempt to vilify the Trump administration as its behavior and actions are malevolent. If they want to be taken seriously, and there are plenty of protesters who should be heard, here are a few suggestions on how the protesters and members of Congress can coexist during the town hall meetings.
First, members of both major parties should host town hall meetings in their home districts – preferably in a centrally located school big enough to hold a crowd attending a basketball game at a good school.
For all the pickets, signs, bullhorns, and agitation, there is a way to control the crowd on the inside of the building. Do not allow any of those items into the building. Security should maintain one entrance to the building to control who enters. Priority seating should be given to residents of that specific congressional district. They will be required to provide photo identification and sign in. Once inside, attendees should behave respectfully, in a calm manner, and avoid ad homonym attacks against the congressman holding the meeting. While the members do, in fact, work for us, they also deserve a modicum of respect.
And that respect should swing both ways. Members of congress should LISTEN to what their constituents say and ask before responding. The elected officials should give answers that match the question asked. If a member does not have a legitimate answer, have an aide take the resident’s contact information and respond with an actual answer within one week. Remain at the meeting until all questions have been answered. You sought out the office, hold it responsibility, and with respect for both the office and those you represent – even those who did not cast a ballot for you.
Every member of Congress should hold a town hall meeting under the above conditions. In spite of the rowdy environment, Congressman Leonard Lance (R-7th), representing my long time home district in New Jersey, said he will hold another town hall meeting. Bravo to Rep. Lance. Sadly, my member of Congress has not held a town hall meeting. Regardless of the tenor of the atmosphere, I would be there, were I a member of Congress. Hmm – maybe I should…
This should not be a partisan issue. All members of Congress should do the job they asked for. If that becomes too cumbersome for them, step aside for those who will. Lead, follow, or get out of the way.
Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN – in the state’s 5th Congressional District.