“Where on earth has your Member of Congress gone? Something strange has been happening in the last month or so: Members of Congress (MoCs) from all over the country are going missing. They’re still turning up for votes on Capitol Hill, and they’re still meeting with lobbyists and friendly audiences back home—but their public event schedules are mysteriously blank. Odd.
This is happening for a very simple reason: MoCs do not want to look weak or unpopular—and they know that Trump’s agenda is very, very unpopular. Remember: Every MoC wakes up every morning thinking, “How can I convince my constituents that they should reelect me?” That means MoCs are enormously sensitive to their local image, and they will work very hard to avoid signs of public disapproval from constituents. Some MoCs have clearly made the calculation that they can lay low, avoid their constituents, and hope the current storm blows over. It’s your job to change that calculus.
This toolkit describes how local groups can make missing MoCs more accessible. MoCs are gambling that out of sight means out of mind. It will take some work, but their constituents have power win at this game. It means getting active, standing together indivisible, and getting local press attention on your MoC’s cowardly behavior. This works–and this brief describes the nuts and bolts of getting it done.
Town halls are a basic part of our democratic heritage and every Member of Congress should have them. Over the year, a MoC’s schedule is split between time “in session,” when they’re expected to be in Washington, DC attending to legislative business, and “recess,” when they go back to their districts or states. These recess periods—also known as “District Work Periods” on the congressional calendar—which stretch from several days to several weeks at a time, are the designated periods for MoCs to be home engaging with constituents. The whole reason that recess exists is to make sure that MoCs don’t lose touch with constituent concerns.
Town halls are a time-honored tradition for listening to constituents. Because MoCs can’t possibly meet individually with all their constituents, they normally host public events like town halls or district office hours so that they can interact with many constituents. In addition to allowing constituents to communicate their views directly to a MoC, rather than through staff, it gives MoCs the chance to take the temperature of their constituents and discuss their positions in greater detail.
Now, some MoCs find the prospect of a town hall, or even a large group meeting, pretty scary. If they handle a controversial policy question or a heartfelt personal story poorly, a whole lot of people are going to hear about it. But, once again, that’s their job. As a constituent, you deserve opportunities to share your views and personal stories about how policy affects your lives with your representative. And you also deserve opportunities to hear directly from your MoC about where they stand on the issues you care about. An MoC who’s carefully tailoring their appearances to avoid hearing from people who disagree with them is an MoC who’s not doing their job.
If your MoC has been “missing,” whether that means refusing to meet with your group or refusing to hold a public event, here’s how to track them down and hold them accountable….”