Still Not Showing Up in the Illinois 6th:
How Grassroots Action is Making a Difference.
I’ve been to Palatine, Illinois, a town in my Congressional district, twice in my life. The first time was in January, when my Congressman (Peter Roskam, a right wing Republican) snuck out the back door of a meeting that had been originally scheduled to be open but then was suddenly closed to anyone who wasn’t a member of the Palatine Republicans. That cold Saturday morning, 300+ protestors (all they wanted was to be invited to into the closed meeting with the Congressman) were out the front door. He left through the back. (You can read about that here: https://medium.com/everyvote/sneaking-out-the-back-door-in-the-illinois-6th-93c60f87ec88)
The second time I went to Palatine was this weekend. I’m sure there is a lot to do in Palatine, but once again I went with a specific purpose: to try to hear my Congressman. Same for the other 600+ people who were there.
The first time, our Congressman snuck out the back door.
This time he didn’t even show up.
But here’s the thing. If I were Peter Roskam, I would be more worried about not showing up to what I saw this Saturday than what I snuck away from in January.
You see, January was kind of spontaneous. We were dealing with the arrogance and ignorance of the President’s Executive Orders. Our Congressman had tried to sneak through legislation abolishing oversight of Congressional ethics. Hundreds of thousands had marched in Chicago as part of the Women’s March (many in the crowd that morning in Palatine were still wearing pink hats) and any of us had been at O’Hare airport the weekend before to fight the #muslimban.
People were angry. They were hurt. They were channeling their frustration at everything #trumpnation into something they could actually do in our own community: show up with a sign on a Saturday morning and ask to be heard.
But this past weekend was different.
The reason our incumbent Congressman should worry is because this was not the least bit spontaneous.
It was planned. It was organized.
There was an efficient check-in process. They had a good system for taking questions. There were flags on the stage. There was a sound guy. There were photographers. There were guidelines. There were guest speakers.
It was crowded and it was uplifting.
It was not organized by the Democrats. People were not paid to be there. It was a gathering of an organization that six months ago did not exist, a grassroots coalition bringing together concerned citizens who have one thing in common: they want to fix a few things around here.
When our Congressman didn’t show up, there was a back up plan, and it was a shining tribute to democracy.
Inspired by Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney in New York, who encouraged his neighboring Congressman to actually answer his phone and talk to his own constituents, the organizers of this event invited a Congressperson from the neighboring district. And she showed up, to a packed house of 600+ people who probably had a lot going on this sunny June Saturday at 5 in the evening. She cheerfully, patiently and enthusiastically invited our questions and absolutely reveled in the debate of a vibrant, engaged democracy. She inspired people with her own story and she encouraged everyone to continue speaking up, showing up and embracing our collective future. She challenged us. She listened to us. But she also went way beyond the call of duty. See, she has already held 12 Town Hall meetings in her own district this year. And now she added one in ours.
And next to me was a lovely lady who told me she’d never been to something like this. She’d never called her Congressman before this year. She was “new to this.” I suspect there were many like her in the crowd.
And so, Congressman Roskam, since you — according to the organizers of this event — did not even provide the courtesy of an RSVP, I thought I’d take a moment to tell you what you missed, in addition to the meeting the lovely lady next to me. (Oh, and note to self, it’s possible your opponent in the next election might have been in the room. Shame you missed the opportunity to gain some insight.)
You missed the chance to connect with more than 600 voters.
You missed the chance to hear their concerns.
You missed the chance to share your views.
You missed the chance to be inspired by the care and interest that voters who pay your salary expressed.
This meeting was an inspiring hour and a half exercise in democracy.
Let me tell you what we talked about. Do you care about any of these things? Do you care what we think about any of these things?
We had questions on these subjects:
- How can the people best help to get a better healthcare plan through the Senate?
- The impact of Devos recommendations on Title 1 funding and protection of support for public schools.
- What should be do when crimes and prejudice against people of different faiths are on the rise and our Congressman has dismissed the president’s words as “those of a provocateur?”
- Privatization of Medicare
- How to get involved locally to try to help support science and facts.
- Impact of proposed cuts on special education.
- The potential presidential pardon of Kushner, Flynn and Manafort
- What the Democrats learned form the past election.
- How can the 6th district find a way to show you you are out of touch with the people of your district?
- What will happen to the ACA if Congress continues to do nothing. Will programs like CHIP slowly die?
- Are you concerned about the impact of budget cuts on libraries and museums?
Is there anything on there that you care enough about to show up?
What in the world are you afraid of?
We gathered in a high school auditorium. The organizers got registration information from every person there. If we wanted to ask a question, we provided our name and town of residence and they drew names. I didn’t get to ask my question. But that was OK. Maybe I will next time.
You have been very clear that you “don’t do Town Hall meetings,” but after this weekend I strongly encourage you to reconsider your point of view on this. We already know you have a massive perception problem: people believe you only meet with formal groups who donate to your campaign or whose political views you agree with. But you refuse to show up at events where people with differing views can have a chance to engage with the man elected to represent them.
So instead, I say thank you to someone else: Congresswoman Schakowsky from the Illinois 9th. She was so gracious to come to see us and share her expertise. But most of all, she demonstrated how these kinds of events can not just be an outlet for rage and frustration, but how they can be handled with grace and kindness and civil discourse. Illinois is lucky to have her. Perhaps we’ll find you a colleague with that same outlook in 2018.
And one last thought for you, Congressman Roskam. I’m really just disappointed.
Sad to say, but it may be that in many ways, our Congressman is just like President Trump (who lost the popular vote).
Our Congressman acts as if he is there to represent his base, not all the people of the district.
But there’s one massive difference. The electoral college bailed out the president. The Illinois 6th Congressional District actually went for Clinton. Yes, our 6-time incumbent won. So did the President. And for both of them that seems to be the only argument. But there’s no electoral college that can save a Congressman from the popular vote.
Things like this…. they are what will work, these signs of the American spirit, signs of hope and collaboration, signs of action by people who care enough to invent, to create, to organization, to innovate and to reach out to others. With each new idea and each breath of a concerned community, the organization gets stronger and the reason for incumbents to worry gets bigger (not to mention getting a lot of assists from the Tweeter-in-Chief).
As we look toward 2018, voters in this district and in others across this country will remind their representatives that when they act like the President, when they are complicit with his behavior and when they stand idly by, they are as bad as he is. As it turns out, Congressman Roskam seems to be fine with being a lot like him.
I, for one, am glad for the Coalition for a Better Illinois 6th.
Thanks to them, thanks to leaders like Congresswoman Schakowsky and to all the people who are stepping up, we may just have a chance to get a better Illinois 6th.
Come to think of it, it’s better already.