Authenticity at the Town Hall Meetings?

Republican members of Congress who supported Paul Ryan’s budget plan (almost all of them) are having to defend their votes against hostile crowds at town meetings.  (Note that there is a lot to get angry about in this budget plan.  See James Fallows’ succinct take at The Atlantic.)

There have been protests all over, with particular efforts made in the districts of freshmen Republicans (there are plenty of them) in swing districts, but Paul Ryan himself has received a lot of attention as well.

The meeting unrest thus far is a smaller version of the confrontations with Democratic representatives considering support for health care reform.

But who are these people?  We tend to think of the people who agree with us as authentic grassroots activists, citizens pulled into sporadic political engagement by the urgency of the issue.  And the people who yell on the other side are provoked, mobilized, and scripted by nefarious interests.  In real life in the United States, movements are comprised of both focused organizations and the people they are able to reach: No mass mobilization without organization, coordination, and resources; no mass mobilization without real concerned people.

Marin Cogan and Jonathan Allen have a nice piece at Politico, examining the new town hall campaigns.  Quoting organizers and analysts on the left and right, they see continued struggle on budget issues–and more–over the next few years:

“This is the start of it,” said Lauren Weiner, deputy communications director for labor-backed Americans United for Change. “We know that the more people know about this budget, the angrier they’re going to get. We’re seeing two weeks in what the anger looks like … We hope and think it will grow.”

Adam Brandon, vice president of communications at FreedomWorks, put it this way: “The Ryan budget debate will last for the next several years—so we will also be very active in engaging our members. Town halls will become more of a staple on the American political scene… [our members] plant to stay engaged in this process.”

Expect it to continue at least through the next presidential campaign.

It’s completely appropriate for citizens to hold their representatives accountable.  I’ll be happier, however, if these demonstrators allow their reps. to answer questions, rather than shouting them down, and if no placards depict political leaders with Hitler’s moustache.

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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2 Responses to Authenticity at the Town Hall Meetings?

  1. AFV says:

    Really? You want a world where a $15,000 voucher only pays for 1/8 of your yearly cancer treatment? Where the CEO of your insurance company makes $50mil a year but is only taxed for $350K of it? Looking forward to losing your social security that Paul ryan wants to hand over to wall street so they can gamble with and lose it just a year shy of your retirement? That kool-aide the Koch brothers are dealing must taste better than crack.

    • Like me, you are opposed to Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to reduce the deficit.  The actual number of supporters continues to decline, by the way; even John Boehner has backed off support, calling it a conversation-starter.  (If so, that’s a nasty conversation.)  So, I’m not sure what bothers you about the post? And I do want to avoid replicating the shout-downs about health care.  I was quoted in media about those events, and received more attention (>90 percent hostile) than on anything else I’d ever done.  I replied to everyone who gave me a name and address.  I said that I thought Americans should be able to argue about policy matters without shouting each other down.  I’ll stand by that.  I’ll add: I don’t think putting Hitler’s moustache on a picture of anyone’s face does anything to promote better policies or better politics.  I’ll stand by that as well.

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