Why a Town Hall is More Than Just a Meeting

September 9, 2014
by Myrdin Thompson, U.S. Poverty Organizer

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a town hall meeting for Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-2nd District of KY). I was fortunate to meet with Congressman Guthrie along with our RESULTS Louisville group while in Washington, DC during our annual International Conference this past June. Rep. Guthrie spent a substantial amount of time with all of us during that visit, as we not only shared some personal background stories, but spoke on the importance of EITC and GAVI as ways to help end poverty. Our group felt that it was a very productive meeting and we made plans to follow up with in district meetings while the Congressman was on recess. 

While I certainly believe that face-to-face meetings with your elected official and their staff are crucial in moving forward to end poverty and establish strong collaborative relationships regarding national policies, I also believe that town hall meetings are a great opportunity not just for the Congressman (or woman) and their staff to hear what concerns or questions their constituents have, but for others in the community to respectfully hear about those concerns as well. Often times a town hall meeting may be the only way to engage with your Representative or Senator as their schedules are booked well in advance and even volunteers such as you and I, have a full to-do list on any given day. 

Listening to attendees ask (and speak about) a wide variety of topics ranging from immigration (what will Congress do about illegal aliens, especially children), education (will college costs ever level out so that higher education is affordable without incurring debt), elections (which party will take a stronger lead after November), and even the constitution, I learned that although at times political affiliations may tend to define us to those around us, essentially what I heard was a group of concerned citizens trying to make sense of politics and wanting their leadership to better represent their wants and needs. Essentially I heard parents, grandparents, and community members wanting a better future for the next generation, and trying to best understand and maybe define what that future should be based on certain political, social, and economic situations. 

Since the crowd was small, I did have a chance to speak about poverty in Kentucky (and the US) and ask Rep. Guthrie his thoughts about EITC-which he believes is important for working families, but that our tax code needs reform. Sounds like we have the opening for further dialogue, and because of the open nature of a town-hall, perhaps those in attendance might walk away from the evening, as I did, asking larger questions and being receptive to alternative points of views on the answers. 

My final take-away from the evening was something that Rep. Guthrie repeatedly emphasized during this town hall, that he represents the people in the room and members of the community at large, and would only be better able to serve them if he knew what their concerns are. 

But let's be honest, our leaders in Washington don't know what our concerns are if we only post a status update on social media, talk about it over coffee with a friend. If there is something you are thinking about, or have a passionate desire to change-for me that's ending poverty, polio, and Parkinson's (Guthrie works on funding Alzheimer's research-so we talked about that too)-pick up your phone and call. Find a town hall and attend. Talking about it at a RESULTS meeting might inspire those around you to think more critically about the issue, but talking about it with your elected officials might just help change the world, and get results.

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