A third of Congress hasn’t held a town hall — it’s time to take action
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Citizen action has been among the most powerful political stories of 2017, and no venue has seen more powerful moments than the congressional town hall.

From the first hints of constituent outrage at Rep. Mike Coffman’s (R-Colo.) town hall in January, to the shockwave of packed events during the first recess in February, to the critical role citizens played in July as we approached the dramatic Senate vote on healthcare, there’s been no more dynamic way for Americans to impact what is happening in Washington than speaking out at a town hall.

And yet more than one-third of members of Congress have not held a single public forum with their constituents all year. We’re nearing the end of a month-long August recess — well over halfway through the year — but 167 members of Congress have entirely ignored this patriotic responsibility, according to our count. That’s 25 Democrats and 142 Republicans who have completely neglected to hear from their constituents in this core format.

As you might expect, congressional party leaders are less likely to hold an event for their constituents. House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has. While Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanCalif. congresswoman-elect bumps into Pelosi at airport How this year’s freshmen can save the Congress — and themselves Democrat Katie Porter unseats GOP's Mimi Walters MORE (R-Wis.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerFacebook reeling after damning NYT report Schumer warns Trump to stay out of government funding negotiations Schumer predicts Nelson will 'continue being senator' if 'every vote counted' MORE (D-N.Y.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellJim Carrey on potentially losing fans over his anti-Trump Twitter art: 'Lose them' Senate barrels toward showdown over Trump's court picks Graham urges GOP leadership to bring vote on criminal justice reform MORE (R-Ky.) have not.

Some with relatively safe seats like Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Dina Titus (D-Nev.) or Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenMinnesota New Members 2019 Meet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time Gillibrand sidesteps question on possible Clinton 2020 run MORE (D-Minn.) and Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeTrump and Congress on collision course with military spending Overnight Energy: Trump to nominate Wheeler as EPA chief | House votes to remove protections for gray wolves | Lawmakers aim to pass disaster funds for California fires Trump to nominate former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler as next EPA administrator MORE (R-Okla.) are unsurprisingly AWOL.

Another are also 19 “missing members” in seats that we’d consider potentially competitive in 2018, including Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), Mimi Walters (R-Calif.), Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine), and Rep. Daniel Donovan (R-N.Y.).

For months, our message to Americans has been: Call your member of Congress and demand that they hold a town hall. But now it’s time to do more.

Any member who hasn’t held a single event by the end of this recess is out of excuses. As Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonUS firm goes on lobbying blitz in fight with Angola Trump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally House conservatives want ethics probe into Dems' handling of Kavanaugh allegations MORE (R-Ga.) said just days ago: “I hope all 99 of my colleagues will jump in, the water's fine."

But we’re done waiting — it’s time for citizens to take the lead.

Town Hall Project is calling on Americans represented by the 168 lawmakers who won’t face their constituents to hold “empty chair town halls,” organized by citizens where members of Congress are invited but — typically — choose not to attend. Instead, an empty chair, podium, or cardboard cutout will stands in their place.

To increase their effectiveness, we are calling on the members of Congress who already hold these events for their constituents to go above and beyond by attending an empty chair event near them and making it an “adopt-a-district” event.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) held the first adopt-a-district event this year to great success and has been followed by fourteen of his colleagues in the House — all Democrats, creating a powerful narrative about one party being serious about citizen accessibility and one hiding from their own voters. But it isn’t only Republicans who are missing in action, and we will celebrate any member of either party who chooses to make a powerful example for lawmaker accessibility.

We believe this moment isn’t just about winning next year’s midterms, but re-instilling much needed confidence in our democracy. It is about ending the disconnect between every citizen who care deeply about the issues that affect their lives and elected officials who spend more time speaking with donors than their own voters.

As President Obama put it, "It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy. Embrace the joyous task we have been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours because, for all our outward differences, we in fact all share the same proud type, the most important office in a democracy, citizen."

This is the year when ordinary Americans decided to take back their democracy. And we’re just getting started.

Jimmy Dahman is the founder of Town Hall Project, a grassroots organization created to help Americans have face-to-face conversations with their elected representatives. Dahman has campaigned with a number of progressive efforts, including Hillary for America 2016 and Enroll America. Follow Town Hall Project on Twitter at @townhallproject.


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