Facing increasing political blowback, many Republican lawmakers are choosing to skip town halls with constituents during the Congressional recess this week. Now, frustrated voters are organizing their own forums, with or without them.
Madalena McNeil founded the group Utahns Speak Out about two weeks ago, one of several grassroots groups that have sprung up in the early days of the Trump presidency as activists are urging resistance to his policies.
Working with a few other organizations, she sent formal invitations to every member of Utah’s Congressional delegation to hold a town hall during their break, but each declined the offer.
“So we said, ‘Let’s hold our own,’ and let’s get together, talk about the importance of political accountability, encourage people to stay involved, and kind of highlight organizations that are working to help people in Utah,” she says.
About 31 organizations have signed up to co-sponsor the “Town Hall For All” this Friday evening at Cottonwood High School, which more than 500 people have RSVP’d to, even without lawmakers in attendance.
Republicans have shied away from these forums after video clips of representatives getting booed by voters have gone viral — including the now infamous town hall with Rep. Jason Chaffetz earlier this month.
The Utah GOP has also discouraged representatives from attending forums in favor of smaller gatherings or tele-town halls — to avoid what chairman James Evans calls an organized effort to disrupt and intimidate conservative lawmakers.
“This effort to make it look as if Americans — that these individuals that go to these town halls are representing the feelings of Americans, is just wrong. It’s orchestrated outrage and it’s simply manufactured,” he says.
But Madalena McNeil says the grassroots resistance to Trump is no different than the Tea Party movement of 2010, which galvanized conservative activists opposed to Obama’s policies.
“I would encourage our representatives to have more of these conversations and to be more accessible because that will help people to feel heard," she says. "And it would mean that the one time they get to talk to you, they’re not just having all this bottled up emotion."