WASHINGTON — There’s a new president, a new Congress and a world of potential changes in store.
With President Donald Trump in office and the Republican Party eyeing plans to undo former President Barack Obama’s agenda, constituents have already tried to make their voices heard at town hall meetings across the country.
One way or another, if you have a thought about what is happening in Washington, remember your members of Congress ostensibly work for you.
There are a lot of ways you can try to let them know what you want, but you can’t really beat face time — unless you control an influential group or have big bucks to spend.
What is a town hall meeting?
Town halls are where members of the public gather to talk politics and speak on the direction of the country. They’re one of the key ways politicians interact with voters, where almost anyone can have a chance to ask questions or speak his or her mind directly to officeholders.
How can I find one?
One? You might be able to do better than that. Every voter in each of the 50 states has two senators and one representative. You can find your members of Congress here for the House and here for the Senate.
However, residents of Washington will have to make due with considerably less influence. The nation’s capital has a sole non-voting representative in Congress, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.
For the rest of the country, head over to the members’ websites for more information. Each one likely has a section labeled “events,” “meet (insert member’s name here)” or something related that indicates when and where the member of Congress has scheduled events. Most every member of Congress has a newsletter as well you can sign up for to get updates on their actions.
If you don’t want to clog your email inbox, you can also call and ask their offices, generally during business hours. Members of Congress have offices on Capitol Hill and in the area they hail from, so you should have plenty to choose from.
Some people online have tried to make the process even easier. Call To Action asks for your home address and gives you all the numbers you need. Other sites like Legistorm keep track of town hall meetings. And Townhall Project, a self-styled “progressive, volunteer-based initiative,” is keeping a public spreadsheet of town hall events.
Can I go and ask a question?
Oh, you can try.
Depending how crowded the event is and how long it runs for, you may have a chance to ask a question there. You probably want to have it prepared in advance and learn a bit about the issue so you can get the most out of the interaction. And if you stick around after the town hall is over, the member of Congress and his or her staff may still be there for you to connect with.
What do these meetings accomplish?
Each senator represents a whole state and each member of the House represents almost three-quarters of a million people. So while your presence might amount to a drop in the bucket, crowded town hall events and especially pointed questions or meaningful interactions have snowballed into much larger stories.
Since Trump took office and called for Obamacare’s repeal and replacement, many Republican members of Congress have faced significant pushback at their town halls, which may be growing into a broader trend.
Likewise, after Obama took office and called on Congress to pass health care reform, many Democrats faced fierce protests at their town hall events.
The many heated moments at the town halls leading up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, may have presaged the Democratic Party’s ensuing electoral challenges and the lasting controversy of Obama’s signature domestic achievement.