It’s loud, even raucous at times and almost none of the participants seem to be enjoying it, but democracy is working across America this week.
In out-of-the-way places like Blackstone, VA, Lawrenceburg, KY, Fairview, TN, and Iowa Falls, IA, people are filling school auditoriums, city hall chambers, and church fellowship halls to hear and to confront their representatives in Washington.
Their ire is directed mostly at Republicans, who now control both the White House and Congress and after decades spent rhetorically tearing down government must now assume responsibility for it.
In Iowa Falls, Zalmay Niazy, an Afghan who came to the U.S. after being shot twice while serving as a translator for American troops in his native country, pressed Sen. Charles Grassley for protection from Iowans who see Muslims their enemies.
“I am a person from a Muslim country and I am a Muslim," said Niazy. "Who is going to save me here? Who is going to stand behind me?”
In Blackstone, Rep. Dave Brat, who was elected in 2014 by Virginians who felt Eric Cantor, then the House Republican Leader, had lost touch with them, found a roomful of people who insisted that now he’s out of touch. Weeks ago, Brat complained that “women are in my grill no matter where I go; on Tuesday, women and men alike threw him on the grill and turned up the heat.
The crowd began lining up outside the meeting hall hours ahead of schedule. Some were troubled by Brat’s opposition to Obamacare, not because they love it but because they’re worried he and the new Republican majority in Congress will join President Trump in repealing it before they have a viable replacement.
“The problem is Obamacare has just collapsed,” Brat told them. “No, it has not!” people shouted back.
Brat also was hit with questions about his reported skepticism concerning climate change. His crack that “the climate changes all the time” was jeered and one man in the crowd yelled at him to “answer the question. Others challenged him to square his support for Trump’s proposed border wall – cost, $20 billion - with his professed fiscal conservatism.
The town hall gatherings, convened as lawmakers return to their home states and districts during the President’s Day recess, are a mirror image of meetings in the summer of 2009 that laid bare conservative discontent and fueled the Tea Party movement. They’re also powerful evidence that despite widespread cynicism about government and politics, Americans haven’t given up on the system.
But whether the progressive passions stirred by Trump’s election and the rocky first weeks of his administration can be sustained and directed into a viable political movement is far from clear. How activists answer that question will shape our politics through the 2018 midterm election and beyond.
Issues: Voting and Elections