Opinion: Why you should attend your Congressman's Town Hall

Joanne Steele, guest opinion

At Congressman LaMalfa’s town hall meeting in Tulelake, he indicated that there will be a town hall in September, closer to our Siskiyou County population centers. I will be there and hopefully many other concerned residents will be there too.

At Tulelake I learned an important lesson about the value of town halls. They can offer us the unexpected opportunity to see others as more than opponents or supporters, and hopefully to also show our Congressman the essential humanity behind our deep concerns.

We have become so polarized as a nation that we have stopped listening to each other. And our representatives have reduced us to a set of tallies on a call sheet: for or against.

The Tulelake town hall was quite small, so the Congressman’s team adopted a much more informal format. No question and comment lines. No time limits. More actual dialog with the congressman.

Congressman LaMalfa didn’t have a crowd pushing against his every word. Instead, he had individuals unwilling to accept prepared sound bytes who pushed back against ramblings and untruths spoken as facts, with civility. There was dialogue. And the result was that LaMalfa was often unable to fall back to a canned answer. He was faced with real constituents with real problems who wanted real answers.

There were no headline grabbing soundbites. Instead, we heard things we could take home and consider. And hopefully he took home the deep concerns, even anguish of constituents with real problems that don’t fit neatly on a “for or against” tally sheet.

There was no safe haven for Congressman LaMalfa in Tulelake. Some of the most challenging questions came from his supporters who wanted definite answers that LaMalfa was unable or unwilling to give. Tulelake water, crumbling Tulelake infrastructure, the Tulelake airport among them.

My feelings about Doug LaMalfa and his unwillingness to support the things that are vitally important to me were not changed by the Tulelake town hall. But I learned a great deal more about what is important to my nearby neighbors in Tulelake. And I have more respect for them. The Trump insanity never came up. This was 2 hours of dialog about local problems raised by local people. Traveling to a town hall 2 hours from my own town gave me this opportunity.

I would urge people to attend town halls to listen and learn and show respect for each other’s concerns.

I would beg Congressman LaMalfa and his staff to allow the freewheeling dialog I saw at Tulelake. I’m sure it’s harder on the Congressman because each answer has to be thoughtfully generated on the spot and the questioner may ask for clarification. Fewer topics can be covered in the allotted time and the format would require restraint from the attendees, many of whom would not have their issues addressed.

For me, hearing Congressman LaMalfa praise the bipartisan work of the Congressional Problem Solvers Causus gave me hope that constituent pressure might encourage him to join this important group.

I will be attending more town halls, not so much with the expectation that I can somehow change Doug LaMalfa’s mind about anything. I’ll be going knowing that showing up demonstrates to him that I’m paying attention – I sign his attendance sheets with my full name and zip code. I’ll also be going to listen. Not to Congressman LaMalfa, I don’t expect anything new from him. I’ll be listening to my District 1 neighbors. Bipartisanship has to start with me. If I want Doug LaMalfa to understand ME and my concerns, I have to be prepared to listen to the issues important to others. Perhaps if we get better at that, together we can work our way out of the mess our government is in right now.

• Joanne Steele is chairman of Indivisible Shasta, a non-partisan group formed to resist the Trump agenda.