This Is What A Town Hall Looks Like
When Utah’s representatives refused to show up, the community came anyway
All across America, town halls have become rallying cries for the resistance. Armed with colorful signs, printed talking points, and a sense of injustice, grassroots organizations have infiltrated these sleepy gatherings. Congressional representatives returning from recess are finding accountability has come home to roost, and many senators have responded by ducking attendance at town halls with a careless shrug.
This is especially infuriating for the blue dots, lost in a sea of deep red conservatism with no representative to call their own. Utah’s most populous, increasingly liberal county is Salt Lake and has, as Kathie Allen from the Fair Redistricting Caucus of Utah stated, been literally “drawn and quartered.” Salt Lake County makes up nearly a third of Utah’s population, and the city itself boasts more registered Democrats than Republicans. Yet, thanks to severe gerrymandering, Republicans hold the state majority in a stranglehold at every level of government. As a progressive, it’s easy to feel that your voice doesn’t matter here. And representatives who belittle their own constituents as paid protesters and irrelevant agitators rub salt in the wound.
What do you do when you feel unfairly oppressed by a system that doesn’t recognize your worth? How do you make your voice heard when your own representatives refuse to see you?
That was the scene Friday evening as a thousand Utahns flooded Cottonwood High School. They’d known the Senators and members of Congress they’d invited to attend wouldn’t be there. But they came anyway, from all across the state, to the Town Hall for All organized by Utahns Speak Out. They gathered to reach out and rally together a community that often feels fractured and demoralized by the very people intended to represent them. So what does a town hall without a Senator or a Congressperson look like?
It looks like an ocean of friendly faces, a comfort to many who often feel alone and without a home here. Local media minimized the crowd in their coverage as close to a hundred. The lower bowl of this high school auditorium seats 1,500.
There were red hats, like little dots in the crowd, pressing their signs in the air at every cheer. These people were greeted warmly and encouraged. Advertised as a Town Hall for All, the invitation was explicit. All viewpoints are welcome here. You are part of our community. You belong.
And thankfully, there were representatives. Eight state reps who’d heard about the event and agreed to come and greet constituents who felt shunned. These local politicians gained eager ears for their pending legislation, and an army of activists ready to lend a hand for important bi-partisan bills.
A town hall without congressional reps looks like an opportunity to network with over thirty sponsoring grassroots organizations, tackling important causes like clean air and water, public lands, and social justice.
Finally, a town for all looks like an entire movement on its feet, pledging to use their time, money, and every last ounce of energy to protect our democracy. It was a beautiful sight. Senator Orrin Hatch and his colleagues should feel sorry to have missed the chance to see so much public patriotism on display.
I hear my Congressman spent his day in a hibernating bear’s den, handling her cubs and violating the safety of her home without an invitation. It’s funny, really. Congressman Jason Chaffetz would rather walk into a bear’s den then fulfill his responsibility to represent his constituents.
We did manage to find time for photo ops with our reps. This is probably the closest I’ll ever get to mine. Congressman Jason Chaffetz and his cronies in Congress missed the chance to connect with this community. And it’ll be their loss. We’ll make sure of it.