Thousands of people in across the US are continuing to participate in the once sleepy affairs of town hall meetings to confront Republican politicians, including in Republican stronghold states.
This new phenomenon has opened an avenue for political participation. Meetings have become collective actions in which people can air their grievances and be empowered to keep fighting.
A number of participants in the events spoke to Red Flag. Most were motivated to attend after calls and emails to politicians went unanswered. As Tricia from Arizona explained of her district representative, “Congressman Schweikert is not voting in a way that represents my district and was unresponsive to my phone calls, so I decided to attend the meeting”.
Megan, 33, from Texas, said, “Trump is undermining the basic tenets of our democracy, and I feel like it’s our moral duty to speak out and urge our representatives to stand up to him”.
Once at a meeting, many people were disappointed to find that their politicians refused to speak to them – or failed even to show up.
In Georgia, two Republican senators and a member of the House of Representatives advertised an “open office” event. More than 400 people showed up, but staffers refused to hold a town hall meeting, then left the building to boos and jeers. A woman took the microphone and proposed that they hold their own meeting, which they did.
In Arizona, Mickey, 66, who had never been involved in politics, organised a packed “citizens’ town hall” when the politicians refused to do so. “I just had to take action with all the terrible things I saw happening to our country. I had to give us a voice”, she said.
She invited Schweikert, who didn’t come. So they set up a chair with his face on it. For hours, people aired their concerns about Trump. One husband spoke about fears for his Muslim wife.
Others spoke about concern for their immigrant neighbours and friends who were afraid of being targeted by the government. One woman said that if the Affordable Care Act were repealed, she would have to choose $5,000 monthly medical bills for medication or death.
Chris, 46, said: “I was proud to be there, and we’re not giving up. If our Congressman won’t agree to meet with us, we will find other ways to apply pressure”.
Across the country, participants reported that health care is one of the most talked about issues. Significantly, this is a common issue even for the retirement-aged Republicans who attend.
For others, the issue is simply the betrayal of the democratic system they had always been taught to be proud of. In Iowa, meeting organisers put up missing posters for their representative David Young.
Sarah initially attended a meeting in Idaho because she was concerned about losing her health care. She now organises “Resist Trump Tuesdays”, in which a group of locals hold actions and meetings at politicians’ offices. “At this point, our goal is to draw attention to the fact that our representatives refuse to meet with us”, she said.
Justin, 34, who attended a town hall meeting to confront Arkansas representative Tom Cotton, said, “You could feel the energy in the crowd like a charge. We were all chanting about democracy. The feeling reminded me of a concert”.
These events have been an important antidote to despair and fear over the last six weeks and are an entry point to activism for many people who oppose Trump.