How To Hold Your Representative Accountable If They’re Ditching Town Halls Over Obamacare
We are at a crucial moment in our democracy. As Donald Trump pushes forward on plans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act — a move which will likely affect every American, regardless of how they get their healthcare — Congressional representatives are heading back to their districts to meet with their constituents. Well, at least, they were going to. Vice News reported last week that over 200 Republicans in Congress are skipping their town hall meetings with constituents amidst fears that they will be inundated with protesters — as has already happened with some congressmen, like Rep. Jason Chaffetz when he returned to his home state of Utah, and Rep. Diane Black when she returned to Tennessee. So what should you do if your Congressman (Republican or Democrat) refuses to meet with constituents? There are several ways to make your voice heard, even if your representative doesn’t want to hear you.
The easiest and probably most potent way to get their attention is to call them on the phone at the home office. As former Congressional Staffer Emily Ellsworth pointed out on Twitter back in November, while congressional staffers may check their representatives’ social media accounts occasionally, and will attempt to read emails, when you contact your Congressman on the phone at the district office, they have to respond to you.
But, the most effective thing is to actually call them on the phone. At their district (state) office. They have to talk to you there.— Emily Ellsworth (@editoremilye) November 12, 2016
In a more detailed column, Ellsworth advised constituents to be prepared when they call with questions (as opposed to rants) and knowledge of the current bills coming up through Congress. Saying “How can your boss want to repeal Obamacare?!” is much less effective than asking “How will Congressman X ensure that I still have access to basic health services, including contraception?”
Make sure you know your representative's stated positions, too. As Ellsworth points out, you’re unlikely to get a staunch gun rights advocate to change their position, but you might be able to push for moderate positions, like background checks.
Moreover, if you have a posse of friends who all live in the same Congressional district, use those numbers to your advantage. The more calls that come in on a single issue, the quicker that issue gets in front of your Congressman. You can also join in with local advocacy groups to help pool your strength.
Another tactic Ellsworth suggests is attempting to schedule an in-person appointment with a staffer (which she says is fairly easy), especially if you have expertise or can bring in someone with expertise on a topic or issue.
But, ultimately, no matter what you do, if you communicate with your member of congress at all, you are ahead of most people.— Emily Ellsworth (@editoremilye) November 12, 2016
Perhaps the most important thing, however, is not to give up just because the most immediate venue of interaction — the town hall — is closed off. The representatives who are avoiding their constituents are hoping that by plugging their ears and going “LA LA LA,” they can ignore the will of the people. Make sure that they can’t ignore you.