9:52 AM Eastern - Wednesday, August 31, 2011

No public town halls? The consequences of being a pay-to-play member of Congress #default

6062936876_4aecfb0a63_b.jpgThe Americans who have fallen on hard times in this economy - the jobless, those facing foreclosure, college students with loans, etc. - are the people who ought to have their elected official's ear during town hall meetings held over this August recess. Yet as a result of Republican members of Congress like Reps. Chip Craavack (R-Minn.) and Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) holding only "pay-to-play" town hall meetings in lieu of public ones, these are the very people who are unable to afford to participate.

This behavior is yet another demonstration of Republicans in Washington refusing to put the needs of the country before corporate special interests and rich corporate donors. And it's appalling. People should not have to pay money to talk to their member of Congress. Period. And if you're a member of Congress who is blatantly not doing the job you were elected to do, then you've got to be prepared to take the consequences if you don't.

Take Rep. Paul Ryan (D-Wis.) for example.

Two weeks ago, what began as a relatively small protest outside of his Kenosha office in Wisconsin's first congressional district quickly escalated into a story that became national in scope.

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The protest was born out of Rep. Ryan's refusal to have a public town hall with his constituents. A small but determined group of unemployed Wisconsinites decided not to let this stop them in their quest to have their voices heard by their elected official around the issue of job creation. But instead of just agreeing to meet with them and listen directly to their concerns, the congressman suggested that if the group could raise enough attention to their "plight," they might (just maybe!) be allowed to participate in a town hall conference call he was planning to hold. And the absurdity didn't end there.

Rep. Ryan also publicized that while he would be holding an upcoming Q&A session, it take place in the form of a private event held at a location outside of his district. Admittance to the event would come at a price of $15 per head. Quite naturally, this displeased a large body of Ryan's constituents, who have been personally suffering as a result of the continuing jobs crisis and the state's growing unemployment.

The sit-in begin on Thursday, August 18th and lasted for the next seven days. At one point during the ongoing protest, the sit-in expanded from just Ryan's Kenosha office to all four of his constituent service offices across the district (including his mobile constituent services RV). Through the entire week of the "Where Is Paul Ryan" sit-in and protests, the one thing demonstrators could count on was Ryan's consistent inability to do the right thing by his constituents. Ryan's staff event went so far as to call the police on protestors on the fifth day of the peaceful sit-in.

On August 25th, the widespread sit-in culminated in several protests held concurrently in Racine, Kenosha, and Janesville. Near the close of business, the Kenosha protesters decided to disobey a ban on entering the office. The ban had been put in place by Paul Ryan's staff and the building owner, who had filed a formal complaint with the police. Police were called upon the constituents' re-entry but the officers refused to arrest the constituents.

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The unemployed members of Ryan's district left peacefully and with dignity -- along with the knowledge that Paul Ryan would rather have the cops called on peaceful demonstrators than do the job he was elected to do and meet with those he represents.

While the sit-in is over for now, Paul Ryan's constituents are not giving up -- they plan to be at his pay-per-view town hall event next Tuesday to see their congressman and give him the business. (Stay tuned!)

For a great photo collection of the week's protests, check out the Flickr set from Wisconsin Jobs Now. Read media coverage from Daily Kos, Huffington Post, Alternet, Think Progress, and an editorial from Madison, WI's Cap Times urging Ryan to consider stepping down if he's unwilling to meet with the very people that got him into office.

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