Tales of Persistence and Transparency in the Illinois 6th: Episode 3

Two days ago, I spent an hour and a half with my Congressman. I’ve been trying since January to talk to him and I was glad to finally have the chance. I’m working on writing about it but I keep getting stalled. I realized something was still bothering me, this piece of the puzzle that had been sitting in my draft file.

I’ll publish the piece about the meeting but for those following along, there is this other theme of something that’s happened along the way that lays the groundwork for how I approached Saturday’s meeting. This is the story of forces colliding... I’ve been trying to figure out if and why our Congressman is actually hiding. It matters a lot because I’ve been trying to figure out a constructive way to get this district better represented. If he is hiding how can he hear anything that is happening in district ? He knows the district is changing. It voted for Clinton and while he still won by 19 points, that’s a lot less than he won by in 2014. And if he can’t hear us, how can he represent? He doesn’t have to listen, but that seems short-sighted since he’s up again in 19 months.

Spoiler alert: the first moral of this story is multi-dimensional — if you choose to engage, you cannot hide; if you run for office you should not hide; and if you decide to choose social media as a strategy you have to be all-in because you really cannot hide. The second moral is that my bestie Edna is right: she always says that the best way to take on meeting, conflict or problem is to know — and remember — your purpose.

What is your purpose?

Congressman? Are you really trying to hide? Do you really think that people in your district agree with you? What is that “strike zone” you keep talking about? We’re clear that you are anti-choice for women and pro-NRA but beyond that it isn’t clear and when I say the district is changing I think that’s the crux of it — people care more deeply about a broader agenda as they are starting to see the carnage Trump is catalyzing and allowing.

People of the 6th? What is your purpose? Health insurance coverage for all? Choice for all? Civil rights for all? To get a new Congressman elected? To humiliate the one you have?

Me? Well, you have to start somewhere. Read on. I’m getting close to working it out.

Saturday in the meeting with our Congressman, there were a lot of people with a lot to talk about (they’d combined two meetings that had different agendas without telling us and we had little in common other than we were all voters from the 6th). At one point we were talking about communications in the district and I said something like, “transparency is forcing us to change.” The Congressman literally stopped and looked at me and said, “say more about this.” I did, but then we had to move on. We never came back to it. But it’s clearly on his mind. Mine too.

When he hears “communications in the district” he immediately starts talking about why he won’t do Town Halls. Our Congressman doesn’t like Town Hall meetings. He and his staff are very clear about his point of view on them. He won’t accept invitations to meetings open to the public where a large crowd can attend. He finds it “more effective” to meet with smaller groups. I actually think he’s right about that, given his temperament, communication style and the anger that has boiled up in the district and has found oxygen through social media.

That said, I also think there is a part of the job that requires an office holder to show up — not to an undisciplined circus, but to the League of Women Voters candidate debates and other events that should be part of a civil, respectful, civic engagement process.

I can see both sides, but he’s made his decision and he’s the only Congressman I’ve got, so I decided I’m willing to do it his way for now — but it’s not that time efficient and it takes a long time to get a meeting so in the meantime, I had to choose another way to communicate and he can’t blame me if while I’m waiting for my meeting I try a lot of other methods in the hope one will work.

See, I’m not sure he is actually trying to hide. But after he left through the back door from a closed meeting in January and his press guy told the local television station that protestors were “trying to stop him from meeting with constituents” (when they were actually protesting being kept out of the very meeting) and word starts to spread and people start making empty suits and cardboard cut-outs of your Congressman… it makes you wonder… but what I do know for sure is this. I admire the passion and I love that people are involved and protests have their place. I do worry, though, about diverting resources from getting the work of legistlating done but more than that, deepening the schisms that already have begun to so painfully divide us. We have to at least be able to talk. Then we can start to collaborate.

But we’re all making it so much harder.

My ongoing one-sided dialogue with my Congressman began in earnest the night before the election last November when a man named Alfred called my house and started reading me a script about my Congressman. I stopped him when he got to the part about how I should vote for my (very conservative Republican) Congressman because he “stopped the IRS from stealing my money.” I interrupted Alfred at that point and asked him to give me an example of that. He didn’t have one and said he was just reading what they told him to read but he very kindly tried to find a supervisor who could answer my question.

After about three minutes, he came back to tell me the supervisor was in a meeting, but he would leave my number and ask the supervisor to call me back. Alfred was great. He was very professional and helpful and he thought that “ that’s an excellent question and I think you should have an answer to that.”

No one ever called me back.

I asked for meetings. I called. In January I finally went on twitter, hoping I could get him to answer about why he was supporting the Administrations short-sighted and unconstitutional Muslim ban. I know the names of the staffers who usually answer the phone — Justin and Tom. Amanda does his scheduling…

I’ve written to my representative many times. He didn’t ever reply until about January. He’s started to now. Many times, in fact. I’ve gotten form letters from him on the Muslim ban, on his vote to try to secretly abolish Congressional ethics oversight and on why he voted to allow guns in the hands of the mentally ill. If you write to him about access to care through Planed Parenthood, you will get a form letter back about abortion rights. I think common sense gun legislation and Planned Parenthood are important. He hates both of those things. But that’s policy (and he says it’s clearly in his “strike zone” which he has clearly communicated and has been re-elected as a result 6 times) and we disagree. Vehemently.

I thought, though, that we could agree on something far more concerning: you see, my gravest concern is that the current White House is trampling on our precious democracy and the price we pay will last far beyond the next election. Congress is an equal branch of government, and as with Watergate, my hope in the uncovering of the truth lies with Congress. Ties to Russia, collusion, conflicts of interest….. well, if abortion divides us, these things will sink us.

So along the way the more he didn’t listen, didn’t respond, and appeared to do things in secret, the more direct and forceful my communication became.

My Congressman is one of the band of twenty-three who seem to be blocking any kind of investigation into the ethical transgressions of our president.

And then Mike Flynn happened.

And so instead of 140 characters on twitter (which he doesn’t respond to), or waiting weeks for a response to an email, or calling poor Justin one more time to share my 9-digit zip code (which I know now since my zip code is split between two Congressional districts) just to hear him say “I’ll be sure to pass it along,” I’d had enough. A conflict of interest is one thing. But possible collusion with the Russians? What in the world would it take for him to speak out against the unfit man in the White House? I decided I needed to say more.

On the 15th of February I posted a comment on my Congressman’s facebook page. After refusing to support an investigation and constantly voting with Congressional Republicans who inexplicably keep stalling efforts to investigate the president on any of the various potential conflicts of interest, he posted this, making it sound like he was fighting the forces of evil but really his actions spoke louder — he repeatedly failed to pursue efforts to get critical information that might shed light (including voting against required the President release his tax returns). And so I posted a comment since I thought this statement was pretty hypocritical. You can see what happened below.

I didn’t get notified about any comments on this post. A few days later I went to see what he was up to and couldn’t find his page. Here is what happened when I typed in his name.

I really want to believe that he wasn’t hiding — or worse yet — blocking me from his official facebook page. But this is what I found.

So I posted my story on a page that is about holding our Representative accountable and I asked other people if they could see him on their page.

29 people commented on my post.

8 said they had been blocked after commenting on something he said.

Several people had advice on what I should do to get unblocked

And then. after several days of not being able to find his page, 29 comments about it and lots of advice, I searched again. It took 11 hours and now this.

An amazing coincidence?

The thing about social media is that you can’t hide.

I’m glad this option is back. Because — big surprise — it isn’t just Mike Flynn. It turns out Jared Kushner was in a meeting too — which they conveniently forget to mention. And then the FBI said there is an investigation. And then Devin Nunes happened. While I’m in a lot of Facebook groups whose perspective is to stop the Congressman, I actually would like to activate people who support him. Perhaps they too have a problems with the President’s Russia ties and conflicts of interest and he might be more inclined to listen to them. In our divided world, how can I engage with them? His page might just be the best place.

I’ve spent the last 8 months knitting and marching and speaking up about things I believe in. I’m exhausted trying to understand points of view that are different than mine. I’ve tried to understand how anyone who voted for Trump could possibly get past his pride in sexual assault behavior, his ignorance, his arrogance and his blatant conflicts of interest. I’ve tried to understand how people to the right of me are yelling at Congressmen and ex-presidents and insulting their families. I’ve tried to understand why people to my left are yelling at Congressmen and insulting their families. I’ve been sending copies of the Constitution to the president since last July. I’ve got my representatives and key leaders on speed dial. I’ve requested meetings and I’ve counseled people who want to become more active. I’ve written letters. I even went on Twitter.

My Congressman is in a special situation because he is the only one in Washington specifically charged with representing our little corner of the country. I’ve written him and emailed him and asked him for a meeting. I went by the campaign office one Saturday before the election but no one was there. For the longest time I heard deafening silence. I tweeted him more than a dozen times to state his position on important legislation. He never responded with anything but a form letter. But I never thought that in a democracy the man who is supposed to represent me in the Congress of the United States would block me from seeing his point of view on the world because I disagreed and said something about it. Maybe they didn’t block me. Maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe it was a glitch in facebook. In the end it came back.

My deepest concern is the very future of that precious democracy and the ability of the American people to see into what is actually happening, talk to each other — respectfully — and hold our elected representatives accountable. Sorry, technology or well-meaning staffer or something else altogether. I’ve been blocked and postponed and ignored and diverted but I’m continuing to work to understand. But social media is part of it now. Social media changed this election. Social media gave us this president. Social media is helping our evolving district process and communicate and figure out what each of us wants to do.

And I am reminded of Edna’s advice to be very clear on your purpose. Mine, as it turns out, is to get this country talking again. I cannot stand the close-minded anti-choice position of the man who said he still believes the fetal tissue trafficking charge against Planned Parenthood and has an A+ rating from the NRA, but who is elected to represent a district that voted for Hillary Clinton. But worse than that to me are the fact that we all seem to be fighting all the time and collaborating to solve problems none of the time. It is exhausting.

This morning Morning Joe said that President should go to Senator Schumer and Senator McConnell and sit down with them and ask them to come up with a healthcare bill that could pass.

Wrong, Joe. That’s not the first step.

I say, why don’t we sit down and figure out the collective problems we all face and how to improve healthcare in this country? Listen to the people who say “it’s easy to make Obamacare better.” Then figure out what we have to do to get the right bill. Not any bill. One step at a time. For a purported business leader to proclaim that getting things done fast is a success strategy is pretty naive. Change takes time. The bigger the organization, the more diverse the objectives, the longer it takes. Don’t walk away. Start creating positive step-by-step change.

Democracy doesn’t work if we forget there are others in it. Others with equal ownership. Equal votes. The voters will choose what to do in the Illinois 6th in November of 2018.

Meanwhile we have a Republican Congressman who may be uniquely positioned to save us from the White House madness. The more the days go by the less optimistic I am that he will. But he can…. if we speak up constructively… if he listens openly. And we all agree that the facts need to be gathered. And then we need to act swiftly if the transgressions that are alleged prove to be true. His job is to cast the vote. My — our — job is to help him understand why he needs to do it. And it is to save this democracy, the very one that employs him.

I recently learned that there is a name for this. “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

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