On February 21st, 2017, I participated in a town hall over the phone with my local House Representative, Barbara Comstock. I did not vote for her – we don’t have a lot in common, morally or politically. Many Northern Virginians have been asking her repeatedly, and en masse, to hold an in-person town hall, but she has refused over and over. And this is not an isolated incident: many Congresspeople have avoided their constituents all over the country. Perhaps that has to do with people’s aggressive response towards their elected officials – many Congressionals, like Jason Chaffetz, have faced a lot of criticism and anger in their town halls, which is making many Republicans nervous to take part.
This is unacceptable.
We pay their salaries. Their bad policies directly affect us, and we deserve to have our voices heard IN PERSON. Rachel Maddow ran a segment on her show that gives a detailed look at the organic protests rising up in many small town halls. We should join.
That said, before the town hall, I called Ms. Comstock’s Winchester office, and spoke with a staff member for ten minutes about my concerns. He was incredibly helpful and supportive, and told me that there had been many groups that have come to their office and been rude, and the activists even used the phrase that they would “be vicious.” Now, I understand that sentiment. Believe me, I feel it in every fiber of my body. But we can’t do that. We have to be logical, we have to sit down with these people and be rational. I expressed this sentiment about being calm and open to discussion – though I did tell him up front that I was a hardcore liberal – and he asked if I would be interested in participating in a small group discussion with my Representative. And I said: Oh yes. Yes yes yes. I will update this post as I learn more about the potential to meet her in person.
During the town hall, I was impressed with her answers to questions about the ACA and the President’s ties to Russia. She seems to really understand the problems with taking away health care and swore that there would be no repealing without a replacement, and she seemed to have a working understanding of how the ACA affects individuals and their families. I will hold her to this, and will keep watching [see update below]. In terms of Russia, she was adamant about making sure that Russia’s sanctions are not revoked. She also talked a lot about STEM education for children and girls. Her stances on immigration and the immigrant community were vague and unsatisfying to the point of being unanswered, and I’m not keen on the fact that our questions were screened beforehand (there wasn’t time for me to ask mine). She is a smart, flawed lady. It was really gratifying hearing what other people found to be important, and I liked how civil and real the questions and thoughts were. It was very relatable and heartening and I felt myself nodding along to the comments of other people. I highly recommend doing this in your area.
Also, there’s a great new app that you can get on your phone that makes it crazy super easy to call your Congresspeople – it helps you learn the issues of the day, and gives you the numbers in the speediest way possible. It’s awesome and you should definitely download it.
I sent two letters to Representative Comstock – one to her Sterling office and one to her D.C. office:
Representative Barbara Comstock (R-Virginia’s 10th District)
229 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-5136
21430 Cedar Drive
Sterling, VA 20164
Phone: (703) 404-6903
117 E. Piccadilly Street
Suite 100 D
Winchester, VA 22601
Phone: (540) 773-3600
I saw some protestors that were advocating against the GOP’s proposed “health care” legislation waving signs outside of one of Barbara Comstock’s offices. They asked us to “Honk for health care for all,” and I won’t lie, there were actually quite a few honks in the minute or so that I was there. I love seeing this local activism:
The Trump-Ryan AHCA was pulled from a vote in the House of Representatives, and I am proud to say that Representative Comstock is AGAINST the bill. I am writing her a postcard of thanks for standing up to the President, the hardcore Republicans, and the extreme, disorganized bill that would strip so many of their health care. She really listened to so many of us that protested the AHCA, and her influence helped stop the bill from passing. I actually feel like I’m helping the cause and that I’m not screaming into a void. The liberal demonstrators, phone callers, letter writers, and postcard senders are actually making a difference. It is tangible now. We can’t stop.
The new AHCA bill passed the House and is on its way to the Senate. So much for my post of triumph above. This is a travesty. Only 20 Republican Representatives had the courage to vote against their party – and my representative was one of them. I’m proud. I’ve left voicemails at all of her offices to let her know that I support her in this (and that I hope she continues to resist autocracy). I also have seen protestors in my area actively organizing outside of Republican offices and it just galvanizes me even more to keep hounding my local government officials – sometimes it works. Right now it’s important to let all representatives know that history will look down on them, but we now have to focus on the Senators who now stand between us and a health care meltdown. Write. Call. Email. Fax. Show up. Follow the examples of your fellow activists and don’t be scared to make your voice heard loudly at town halls – if your rep will even have one.
A lot has changed since I last updated about local activism. Health care seems to be (relatively) safe as of now thanks to the hardcore activism (national and regional) of citizens around the nation and a handful of Republicans that stood up to immense pressure and backlash from ranking GOP members. Things on the international scene are terrifying, and our President is just as unhinged and irrational as ever (and the Congress isn’t much better). This continues to be the right time to engage in your local politics, because working on national politics sometimes feels futile – but that doesn’t mean you should become complacent. Keep your eyes open, always.
Right now, the big story in my area of Virginia/Northern Virginia is the upcoming gubernatorial election (along with many regional ones). It’s an exciting moment because so many of us are galvanized – left and right. My delegate, John Bell, is running for re-election, and I met him when he came walking door-to-door to promote his candidacy. I have to say, I was awfully impressed. He says he tries to do 300 doors a week – which says a lot, considering Virginia’s typical muggy heat is brutal – and it was BEYOND exciting to have my own legislator come to my house to talk to me. And then…I got this postcard. Handwritten. From the John Bell campaign. The personalization, the sincerity, the EFFORT…is pretty stunning. I’ve never seen this from anyone else.
Whichever side you’re on…you’ve got to admit that’s pretty cool. It wasn’t a simple “ELECT JOHN BELL” note, but it was also a discussion of his policies. In an age where the handwritten note is becoming increasingly rare, the time it takes to do these en masse (and I know – I’ve been doing it all year) is admirable. He already had my vote (I support his policies), but this really clinched it. I’m going to try to canvass for him before the November 7th vote because he told me that he really, really needs Sterling, where I live. Let’s rock that vote, people. Anywhere you are, get out to vote and volunteer not just for the big ones, but the small ones, too. It all matters. And it helps if the people asking for your vote actually put the leg (and hand) work into it. I love seeing the rise of the written note in this time of resistance: sometimes, it’s all that’s left.
Photo: Rickety stairs at the beach in Stratford, Virginia
Is it wrong that I got a sense of dark pleasure watching people tear into Mitch McConnell? His mocking, laughing face when a woman at the end of the town hall video mentions Elizabeth Warren is grotesque – this is not the time for laughter, sir. He disgusts me.