Town Halls Allow Citizen Voices To Be Heard

Town Hall meetings are part of our American democracy. Whether it is an annual event, such as the New England town hall meetings, which originated in the 1620s to work through local issues, or a congressional recess event where Members of Congress and Senators meet with large groups of their constituents to share ideas and answer questions about their work in Washington, they are a valuable and important opportunity for citizen voices to be heard in American democracy.

Town halls give our lawmakers and their constituents the opportunity to talk about the issues of the day in person. And while they can be contentious — as every member of congress who has done one has a tale or two to tell about a confrontation or an angry shouting match — they are necessary to the health of our democracy.

And the in person discussion, even when it gets heated is part our democratic process. While we would like to believe we can all act civilly at such an event — and the vast majority of people who attend them do — there will always be someone who gets carried away. The majority of the people shouldn’t lose their right to speak to their Congressman or Senator in person because of the bad behavior of a few people. So I was saddened to learn that Rep Louis Gohmert (R-TX) has announced it is too dangerous to hold in person town halls and stunned to learn he is basing his decision on the 2011 tragedy that took place in Tucson.

I am honored to be the Executive Director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse, a nonpartisan center that works to reduce incivility and political dysfunction. NICD exists because of a Congress on Your Corner event held in downtown Tucson where Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and 13 others were wounded and 6 people were killed. In response to that tragedy the people of Tucson and the University of Arizona created NICD because they wanted/needed to take action, to make something positive come from that awful tragedy. Perhaps the Congressman is not familiar with the fact that Gabby went back to Tucson a year after the tragedy and finished her Congress on the Corner. She noted that day that “I will never forget the trust you placed in me to be your voice.”

So NICD is extending an offer to Rep Gohmert to come to the 1st District of Texas and facilitate a public town hall meeting for him. Holding up the tragedy that occurred in Tucson as the reason to avoid public meetings is an insult to Congresswoman Giffords, the families of those killed there and the people of Tucson who found a way to fight back against the violence so that their voices would not be silenced. The American people, whether they live in Tucson, Nome, Charleston, or Racine, have a right to expect their voices to be heard by those they elect to represent them.

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