Citizens bring heat to summer town halls, when (if) they’re allowed in

Lawmakers who actually allowed citizens to participate in dialogue during this summer’s Congressional recess got an earful. Many—mostly Republicans—were assailed for their hard-line positions on the debt-ceiling and budget cuts.

The Progress Report has assembled video clips from a variety of Congressional town-hall meetings, and the results should be instructive to representatives who complacently believe that their right-wing ideology is popular.

Several themes emerged during 2011 town-hall meetings, says The Progress Report, whose video clips dramatically illustrate each of these points:

  • “Where are the jobs?”
  • “Don’t cut Medicare and Social Security”
  • “Make the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes”
  • “Pledge allegiance to the Constitution, not Grover Norquist”

At least the citizens speaking out at these meetings had the opportunity to voice their opinions. In many districts around the country, Congressional representatives didn’t even bother to hold public meetings.

The Washington Post reports that:

60 percent of House members held no town halls in the month of August. While some lawmakers have disputed that report, according to a Knowlegis database, about 500 town hall meetings were held this summer , 159 fewer than in 2009. Only 153 of the 535 members of Congress held town halls in summer 2011, according to Knowlegis.

Those that had meetings had fewer than in the past, and some employed some sneaky tactics to avoid facing constituents and to limit both input and public-relations “damage.”

  • “Pay-per-view” town halls, in which citizens had to make a contribution in order to get in. The going rate? According to Politico: Paul Ryan [R-WI], $15. Ben Quayle [R-AZ], $35. Chip Gravanek [R-MN], $10. Reps. Lou Barletta [R-PA] and Renee Ellmers [R-NC] also held pay-to-play events. The fee is paid to a third-party organization that sponsors the event.

In Missouri’s 2nd Congressional district, Republican Todd Akin not only refused to meet with citizens, he called the police to clear them from his parking lot.

Looking at these undemocratic tactics, one can only hope that citizens, increasingly aware that some of their elected representatives are not that interested in representing them, more interested in lock-step ideology, and beholden only to their corporate sponsors—will demand accountability and take action.