Many members of Congress are unlikely to hear hardship stories of unemployment and foreclosures this August recess. But this is by choice. A shockingly large majority of Representatives are actively choosing not to listen to constituents who are bearing the brunt of the worst U.S. economy since the Great Depression.
A survey done last week by non-partisan watchdog group No Labels found that roughly 60% of U.S. House members have not been holding open town hall meetings that enable any member of the public to engage in direct give and take with their elected officials. Several Republican lawmakers have even refused to appear in public outside of fundraisers and other "pay-to-play" events that charge an admission.
Town hall meetings have been a traditional staple of the long August recess, a four- to five-week stretch in their home districts which Representatives have commonly used to meet with their constituents. With such momentous issues facing our country, our members of Congress should be more willing than ever to hear the concerns and feedback of the constituents who hired them.
Having entered the home stretch of a very LONG recess, we thought now might be the perfect time to reflect on recent town hall meetings and protests that have taken place around the country in states including Illinois, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Minnesota, California, Washington and Texas.
Many of the August recess events below are part of the American Dream movement supported by national and local organizations including Moveon.org, Rebuild the Dream, SEIU and the Center for Community Change.
Laid-off Workers Make Their Voices Heard at Chicago Mayor Emanuel's Town Hall
Mayor Rahm Emanuel held his second (and final) town hall meeting on Wednesday, August 31 at Chicago's Malcolm X Community College. During the meeting, several constituents were given to opportunity to voice their concerns about some of the Mayor's policies and his recent announcement of impending layoffs for several hundred city employees to attempt to help balance the budget. "I wonder where [Mayor Emanuel] got the idea it would be a good idea to privatize health services," said Maria Randazzo, an SEIU Local 73 member and one of 72 recently laid-off city traffic control aide workers.
Several SEIU Local 73 members brought red and pink signs cut into the shape of a set of lips that read "Read our lips. Let's work" to show support for recently unemployed city workers. But the signs never made it into the gymnasium where the town hall took place -- they were confiscated at the door. Read media coverage of the town hall at NBC Chicago and Huffington Post. Video here.
Ahem, Rep. Cravaack: "What Do We Want? TOWN HALLS! When Do Want Them? NOW!"
Although signs were not allowed in the hastily thrown together town hall held by Rep. Chip Cravaack in Duluth, Minnesota on August 24th, this was left at the door by one of hundreds of unhappy constituents who pressed the Representative on jobs, wages, student loans and fair taxes for the richest 1% of Americans.
Check out video footage of Cravaack finally agreeing to hold a town hall meeting amid a chanting crowd of constituents. Read more about the Craavack's town hall from Crooks and Liars and the Duluth News Tribune.
Unemployed Pennsylvanians To Senator Toomey: Let's Talk Jobs
Job creation is one of Toomey's campaign promises. But you wouldn't know it from the way in which the PA Senator and "super committee" member has been refusing to lend his eyes and ears to the unemployed constituents he represents who need him to act on this promise the most.
On a promise by one of Pat Toomey's staff members, several Pittsburghers tried to meet with the senator at an event in Williamsport on Tuesday, August 30th. But when they got there, they found that what they were led to believe was not true, and that they were, in fact, completely shut out of the opportunity to talk with Toomey. Read more at Daily Kos and PoliticsPA.com.
Rep. Lou Barletta Refuses to Have Town Hall on Jobs
When Pennsylvania Congressman Lou Barletta ran for his seat in Congress last year, one of his major attack lines was that his opponent was refusing to have town hall meetings. However, it looks like the Representatives' feelings on such matters have changed quite a bit since then. When a group of jobless constituents asked Barletta to hold a town hall meeting on jobs last week, Barletta flat out refused....and then quickly attempted to divert any accountability on his part for not doing the job voters elected him to do. The moment was caught on video.
On Wednesday, August 31, around 70 constituents and union members rallied outside U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta's district office before presenting his chief of staff with a giant pink slip that read "Lou Barletta, you're fired."
Barletta insists he's tried to hold town hall meetings, but "hecklers"--i.e. anyone who hasn't been attending the "pay per view" fundraisers the Representative has been organizing in lieu of the traditional public town hall format--have "disrupted" his efforts to get his message out. More from the Times Leader and Think Progress.
Protestors, Pink Pig ask Rep. Capito, "Where are the jobs?"
A 35-foot pink pig balloon overlooked a gathering outside Rep. Shelley Moore Capito's (R-WV) Kanawha City office, where dozens of constituents asked the congresswoman to "focus on job creation and funding Medicare, not Washington politics." In Capito's Congressional District, there are currently 221,235 people who depend on Medicare or Medicaid for their healthcare.
"In West Virginia, there are thousands who receive food stamps who work 40 hours a week. We're fed up," said SEIU's Kathy McCormick. "It's time to take our country back." Event photos here.
Community Raises Job Concerns At Rep. Sam Farr's Open Town Hall
On August 29th, SEIU Local 521 members joined more than a hundred Monterey County residents to urge Rep. Sam Farr (D-Carmel) to continue his focus on creating jobs at a town hall meeting in Salinas. "Because some selfish members of Congress wasted everyone's time, we are three months behind in legislation to create jobs for working families," said Dean Carothers, a Monterey County employee and member of SEIU Local 521. "Sam Farr was here to tell us that he has been fighting and is continuing to fight for new jobs in our community." Watch video and KSBW-TV's coverage of the event.
LA Residents Demand Good Jobs At Kitchen Table Summit
More than 1,500 residents from struggling LA communities came together recently at a Kitchen Table Summit to challenge members of Congress to come up with a plan that holds corporations accountable for fixing the economy and creates good jobs. Gathered around 100 kitchen tables in the Inglewood High School gymnasium, families spoke directly to Congresswomen Maxine Waters, Laura Richardson and Karen Bass about what's happening in local neighborhoods as the recession drags on.
"The recession might be over for the rich but we're still feeling the pain of foreclosures, bankruptcies and layoffs in my neighborhood," said Hawthorne resident Lisa Agcaoili, a teacher struggling to pay her rent and support her five grandchildren while her husband is only able to find part-time work with no healthcare. "I wish I could save money by laying off my bills or not paying taxes for a few months, but it doesn't work like that for regular people, just for big corporations." View photos and news coverage from the Sacramento Bee and the LA Times.
Constituents Tell Rep. Jerry McNerney To "Make Job Creation A Priority!"
Local 1000 members organized a job creation town hall meeting with Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-Pleasanton) in Stockton--a city hit hard by the current economic climate. At the meeting, they asked him to support job creation bills upon his return to Congress in September.
"My coworkers and I see firsthand the rising number of unemployment claims in this state," said Nikki Linnerman, a Local 1000 member and disability insurance program representative with the Employment Development Department. "And in our district alone, the unemployment rate is nearing 18 percent."
Moving This Economy Forward: Rep. Karen Bass Meets With California SEIU Leaders
SEIU members from Locals 121RN, 721, 1000, United Service Workers-West and United Long Term Care Workers met with Congresswoman Karen Bass in downtown Los Angeles the morning of August 24. "I am very much committed to fighting for jobs," said Congresswoman Bass, urging SEIU members to keep organizing. "The question is just how ..." she continued. "I happen to believe that change has to be an inside and outside job, with both politicians and the people fighting for it."
Jobs Town Hall with Mike Honda
At last week's town hall on jobs with Congressman Mike Honda, SEIU Local 521 members and community members shared personal stories of how this economy is affecting their lives and their families. The message they needed Rep. Honda to take back to Congress was clear: Californians need jobs.
"Jobs, Jobs, Jobs" Is Focus of Town Hall with Rep. Zoe Lofgren
Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren held a town hall on August 22 in San Jose at the Center for Employment and Training to hear from her constituents, including SEIU 521 members. "Americans need jobs!" was the uniform message the legislator heard. "We need to reach out to our Congressional representatives and demand they focus on job creation and protecting the jobs that Americans already have. America doesn't need a divided House! We need jobs, jobs, jobs," said Greg Gomez, SEIU Local 521's Region 5 Vice President.
Protesters ask Rep. Bill Johnson "Where are the Jobs?"
SEIU District 1199 and community activists gathered outside Rep. Bill Johnson's Salem office on Monday, August 22st, demanding the Republican congressman hold a town hall meeting to have a discussion on how the congressman can jump start job creation jobs for middle class Ohioians.
The protesters were subsequently refused entrance to the congressman's open house.
On Monday, August 22nd, Working Washington and community allies met with Rep. Adam Smith to discuss the devastating effects of joblessness on Washington state's families and communities. They brought their stories to Rep. Adam Smith so that he can go back to Congress and tell them that Washingtonians - and all Americans - need good jobs now. Photos here with video below:
Houstonians Hold Mock Funeral for Good Jobs Killed by Rep. Culberson
Over 100 community activists and union members held a mock funeral for good jobs outside Representative John Culberson's Houston office to protest how politicians (like Culberson) have been deliberately pursuing job-killing policies.
In front of a mock casket for 'Good Jobs' and while Taps played in the background, Rev. Louis Dorsey eulogized, "Good Jobs were much loved and appreciated by all here today. This loss is tragic because it is the result of reckless greed on Wall Street and in Congress." More details from KIAH-TV Channel 39.
You can make your voice heard by sending a message to your member of Congress to focus on creating jobs for the millions of unemployed Americans who are counting on them.