American Citizens to Elected Officials: Listen to your Constituents at Town Halls
When Members of Congress went home recently for a two-week recess, citizens throughout the country — eager to discuss the issues they care most about — turned to Change.org once again to demand that their representatives hold in-person town hall meetings. And from California to Florida, we followed their work as they mobilized and took collective action in their home states.
We spoke with citizens like Jaclyn Boyes of Arizona, who started and declared victory on a petition for Sen. Jeff Flake to hold a town hall, and Antonio Arelleno of Texas, who’s been working hard to get Sen. Ted Cruz to host a meeting with his constituents.
Check out the interviews below, and consider starting your own campaign to meet face-to-face with your elected officials if you haven’t done so already.
Jaclyn Boyes of Phoenix, AZ
Q: You attended Sen. Flake’s town hall last night. Can you share what it was like to be there, and what you took away from it?
Jaclyn: I arrived a couple hours early to wait in line, and I was able to meet and connect with other activists, concerned voters, and petition signers. There was a sense of community in the line. However, once everyone was let into the hall, the energy quickly changed from upbeat to angry. Before Sen. Flake came to stage the crowd was already chanting “Healthcare for All.” The energy continued to rise after Sen. Flake showed he wasn’t going to provide any answers outside the normal GOP party line.
My main takeaway from the town hall is Flake is in danger of losing his Senate seat. There were at least four self-identified Republicans who were clearly unhappy with their party’s Senator. In the petition I saw Republican leaning comments, so I may have been one of the few not surprised to see Republicans present. Having members from both parties at the town hall gave me a deep sense of solidarity and hope for the future of our state.
What initially led you to start your petition to have Sen. Flake hold an in-person town hall in Arizona?
Jaclyn: In the days following Sen. Flake’s vote to confirm [U.S. Secretary of Education] Betsy DeVos, despite his office being flooded with calls and emails, I felt a sense of hopelessness and despair. The effect of school choice has already been proven to have terrible consequences for children, especially children of color. I am not a parent, but I do share in the responsibility to protect those whose voices aren’t listened to. I tried to call, email, and post social media to Jeff Flake, but all attempts were unanswered. At 1 a.m., after researching DeVos’ annihilation of the Michigan schools systems, I felt that I had to find an alternative method to voice my concerns to Senator Flake. My search led me to the Indivisible Guide, which suggested a Town Hall. There was an existing Flake Town Hall petition on another site, but the platform did not allow me to include specific details to ensure the town hall met the needs of the people. On Change.org, I was able to search other cities and found a great template from Brevard County in Florida. After setting up the petition I was finally able to fall asleep. The next morning I sent it to a few friends on Messenger, posted to Facebook and Twitter, and within a month we had over 4,000 signatures. I am grateful for all the people who shared the petition and for Change.org for offering a no-cost platform to initiate real change.
Will you say more about the concerns that you and Arizonans have, and what kind of turmoil and strife, as you put it in your petition, people are feeling?
Jaclyn: At the town hall, the crowd was especially rowdy around questions of privacy, women’s healthcare, the appointments of [U.S. Attorney General] Jeff Sessions, [U.S. Supreme Court judge Neil] Gorsuch and, mostly notably, DeVos. I had setup a camera to livestream the event, but found myself on my feet waving the red piece of paper to express dislike of Sen Flake’s refusal to provide a real answer to why he confirmed the unqualified DeVos as Secretary of Education. Arizona is one of the lowest ranking states in terms of quality education. With recent approvals of destructive vouchers by the Arizona state congress, I believe education will continue to be a top social justice concern in the state. The woman who brought me to tears at the town hall was a mother with two children who begged Sen. Flake to stop Arizona’s public schools from being decimated by school choice policies. Sen. Flake’s response was only to repeat his stance on the benefits of competition in the education system.
What issues are you most passionate about, and what’s at stake in you (and others) being vocal about those things?
Jaclyn: Last year I became interested in social justice through the Black Lives Matter movement. I was horrified to watch African-American men and women be killed by the police. Through Black Lives Matter, I saw that the only way change happens is through policy. We, the people, need elected officials who stand up for everyone’s rights — and not just those who donate to their campaigns. After President Trump was elected, I joined the Women’s March in Washington DC, and I turned up the volume on my activism. Every day now I spend time trying to influence my congressional and state representatives. I’ve also donated more to causes and campaigns than ever before. I truly believe this administration can cause irreversible damage to our children and planet, and through our time, money, and action, each of us should and can do something.
What kind of role do you believe your petition played in leading Sen. Flake to decide to hold a town hall?
Jaclyn: There were several factors that pressured Sen. Flake into holding the town hall, especially the local Indivisible groups who faithfully stood outside his office and held town halls in his absence. But the petition created a channel for the voice of people around the state and those unable to take time from work to protest. The petition was a viable mechanism for the armchair activist. I had planned to deliver the petition to Sen. Flake via email, but was contacted by a woman I had never met over Facebook who had a better plan. She coached me on how to print the petition and contact the news channels to cover the delivery. Together, we delivered the petition at 10 a.m., with two news crews present and were told by Sen. Flake’s office there was no plans for a town hall. By the time the news hit that evening at 5pm, it was reported Sen. Flake would hold a town hall. I believe the almost 5,000 signatures on the petition influenced Sen. Flake to change his mind.
Antonio Arelleno of Houston, TX
Q: You — along with many others — have been vocal about the need for Sen. Ted Cruz to hold an in-person town hall with his constituents. Why do you think he’s been hesitant to do so, especially since he recently helped campaign in Kansas for a special election for a House seat?
Senator Cruz has held zero local public town halls since being elected. As a public servant, this is absolutely unacceptable. Thousands of his constituents have been trying effortlessly to convey their concerns, yet they have all been ignored.
Houston has a Democratic mayor and Harris County is home to the second largest Hispanic population in the United States, behind LA. His divisive rhetoric on the campaign trail and now open support of the Trump administration inaccurately represents the Houston constituents he works for.
What’s at stake for you in him holding a town hall?
His constituents want him to know exactly where they stand. Especially on many of the new White House policies and executive orders being implemented. They want him to know how it would change their lives in the Lone Star State.
Over the weekend, I moderated a nonpartisan “Ted Cruz is missing Town Hall” in Houston, organized by local community leaders, to provide a space for the senator’s constituents to express themselves and vocalize their issues. Cruz was invited, but he didn’t attend.
Tell me more about the political climate in the Lone Star State right now. What are everyday citizens thinking about Sen. Cruz, and how are they responding to the new administration’s agenda?
The political climate in Texas is undergoing a significant shift. The once unquestionably Republican state is having to adapt to a cultural and demographic change. Clinton lost Texas by a small margin. A clear indication of this.
You’ll be hosting ‘Resistance: Social Media Workshops’ in the coming months. Tell me more about that, and how do you see technology/social media playing a role in influencing public dialogue and policy?
The #ResistanceSMW is a customized training that focuses on action-oriented social media management. This new innovative workshop delivers a fundamental understanding of what you need to know to stay on the leading edge of social media marketing and how to use Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to spark revolutionary change.
Social media organizing is one of the most efficient ways to mobilize a small community — and the world. However many still don’t really understand how to use the power they have at their fingertips. This program covers all of the core aspects of social media activism, with social media overviews and trends, strategies, emerging social networks, and more. During the dynamic workshop I teach my audience how to use their social media platforms to organize and resist against oppression, discrimination, and injustice.
A.J. Walton is a Sr. Communications Manager at Change.org. Justin Lyons is an Associate Campaigns Director.