In the aftermath of the 2016 election — there were many discussions surrounding the idea that many Americans live in “bubbles” of like-minded people and have little awareness or understanding of those living in different areas, conditions and circumstances. This isn’t much of a stretch in a world of personalization, targeted content and endless algorithms that drive what we see online and offline. Yet, we aren’t the only Americans living in bubbles. Many of our elected officials have found themselves insulated and isolated from the hardships of everyday, hardworking Americans. They’re more in tune with what is happening in the D.C. beltway and elite donor circles than with their constituents back at home.
In a day and age of endless forms of electronic communication, many of our elected officials have hidden behind Twitter handles, Facebook posts, emails, television ads, and their official websites. They pump out non-stop content, but it’s always one-way and rarely, if ever, a discussion. They will claim they’re communicating more to their constituents than ever, but shouting their ideology and positions through every social media network isn’t communicating. Not that social media, websites, and videos can’t be useful tools, but publishing endless streams of content without real engagement isn’t the same thing as truly communicating with your constituents.
America’s democracy was founded on the principle that our government would be a true representation of the American people. Our elected officials in Congress would represent us in their districts and work to help make our lives better. They would understand what it meant to be a resident of the district, know what mattered most to constituents and then bring that perspective to Washington D.C. on our behalf. This is how it’s supposed to be. Regardless of our political party affiliation, economic status, or any other factor — our elected officials would represent the people of their district first and foremost.
The town hall meeting has been a staple of representative government in America since the first known town hall meeting was held in Dorcester, Massachusetts on October 8, 1633*. Town hall meetings are a chance for the community to come together and discuss important issues with their local representatives and each other. It gives everyone a chance to express their perspective and provide a forum for elected officials to gain insight, understanding and appreciation for their constituents’ concerns. Town halls represent a two-way dialogue and are a great tool for representatives to keep in-touch with their districts and the people living there.
Today, many elected officials have abandoned the town hall due to a combination of not wanting to face unhappy constituents, relying on media to share information and a desire to stay in their D.C. bubbles. In the digital age — meeting face-to-face is more important than ever, because it’s easy to have a false sense of the community’s pulse and what truly matters to people. Another key factor is that it’s hard to gain empathy for someone or a community if you’re not actually meeting in-person with the people that live there. Empathy for others is a emotional intelligence competency that is dramatically lacking in our government these days.
Paul Ryan hasn’t held a town hall or any forum to listen to us for some time. His actions show he’s living in his own bubble and clearly disconnected from much of our district. He instead chooses to surround himself with hard-core supporters, donors and the D.C. elite that reinforce his ideas, beliefs and positions.
Paul Ryan has continued to stay in his bubble, but not all in Congress are that way. Congressman Mark Pocan, a Kenosha native and representative from neighboring Wisconsin’s 2nd Congressional District has accepted an invitation to participate in Forward Kenosha’s town hall on Friday, May 12 at 1 pm at the UAW Local 72 Hall at 3615 Washington Rd, Kenosha, WI 53144–1640. It’s a shame that we have to be adopted by another district’s representative, but it’s good to see that an elected official in Wisconsin understands why town halls are so important.
*Time, “This Is How the Town Hall Meeting Became a Campaign-Season Staple,” January 22, 2016