Member of Congress regularly holds local “town halls” or public listening sessions throughout their districts or state. Tea Partiers used these events to great effect — both to directly pressure their Member of Congress and to attract media to their cause.
PREPARE FOR THE TOWN HALL
FIND OUT WHEN YOUR Member of Congress’s NEXT PUBLIC TOWN HALL EVENT IS.
Sometimes these are announced well in advance, and sometimes, although they are technically “public,” only select constituents are notified about them shortly before the event. If you can’t find announcements online, call your Member of Congress directly to find out.
SEND OUT A NOTICE OF THE TOWN HALL TO YOUR GROUP, AND GET COMMITMENTS FROM MEMBERS TO ATTEND.
Distribute to all of them whatever information you have on your Member of Congress’s voting record, as well as the prepared questions.
PREPARE SEVERAL QUESTIONS AHEAD OF TIME FOR YOUR GROUP TO ASK.
Your questions should be sharp and fact-based, ideally including information on the Member of Congress’s record, votes they’ve taken, or statements they’ve made. Thematically, questions should focus on a limited number of issues to maximize impact. Prepare 5-10 of these questions and hand them out to your group ahead of the meeting.
AT THE TOWN HALL
GET THERE EARLY, MEET UP, AND GET ORGANIZED.
Meet outside or in the parking lot for a quick huddle before the event. Distribute the handout of questions, and encourage members to ask the questions on the sheet or something similar.
GET SEATED AND SPREAD OUT.
Head into the venue a bit early to grab seats at the front half of the room, but do not all sit together. Sit by yourself or in groups of two, and spread out throughout the room. This will help reinforce the impression of broad consensus.
MAKE YOUR VOICES HEARD BY ASKING GOOD QUESTIONS.
When the Member of Congress opens the floor for questions, everyone in the group should put their hands up and keep them there. Look friendly or neutral so that staffers will call on you. When you’re asking a question, remember the following guidelines:
- Stick with the prepared list of questions. Don’t be afraid to read it straight from the printout if you need to.
- Be polite but persistent, and demand real answers. Member of Congress are very good at deflecting or dodging questions they don’t want to answer. If the Member of Congress dodges, ask a follow-up question. If they aren’t giving you real answers, then call them out for it. Other group members around the room should amplify by either booing the Member of Congress or applauding you.
- Don’t give up the mic until you’re satisfied with the answer. If you’ve asked an uncomfortable question, a staffer will often try to limit your ability to follow up by taking the microphone back immediately after you finish speaking. They can’t do that if you keep a firm hold on the mic. No staffer in their right mind wants to look like they’re physically intimidating a constituent, so they will back off. If they object, then say politely but loudly: “I’m not finished.
- Keep the pressure on. After one member of the group finishes, everyone should raise their hands again. The next member of the group to be called on should move down the list of questions and ask the next one.
SUPPORT THE GROUP AND REINFORCE THE MESSAGE.
After one member of your group asks a question, everyone should applaud to show that the feeling is shared throughout the audience. Whenever someone from your group gets the mic, they should note that they’re building on the previous questions — amplifying the fact that you’re part of a broad group.
Assign someone in the group to use their smartphone or video camera to record other advocates asking questions and the MoC’s response. These clips can be shared through social media and picked up by local and national media. Please familiarize yourself with your state and local laws that govern recording, along with any applicable Senate or House rules, prior to recording. These laws and rules vary substantially from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
AFTER THE TOWN HALL
REACH OUT TO MEDIA, DURING AND AFTER THE TOWN HALL.
If there’s media at the town hall, the people who asked questions should approach them afterward and offer to speak about their concerns. When the event is over, you should engage local reporters on Twitter or by email and offer to provide an in-person account of what happened, as well as the video footage you collected.
Post pictures, video, your own thoughts about the event, etc., to social media afterward. Tag theMember of Congress’s office and encourage others to share widely.