All In

Deep Dives

Leadership starts with you.

Attend a Town Hall or Resistance Event

Why It Works

Members of Congress are often back in their home states, and traditionally, many hold public forums or town hall meetings to hear from their constituents directly. These public meetings have been the life-blood of the resistance in the Trump era—a great opportunity to raise concerns and push for answers.

In fact, they’ve been so successful that some members of Congress have begun refusing to hold open town hall meetings. Local groups have begun organizing “alternative” town hall-type meetings focused on the issues they feel matter most. Despite the fact that your elected official may not show up to these meetings, reporters often cover them, and they can be big on social media, so they are still a great way to catch the attention of your elected representatives and raise awareness of key issues. Here’s a primer on how to attend either type of event.

How to Do It

Find a meeting. Check your elected official's website or call your local office to find out if any public forums are scheduled. If you’re not already on your lawmaker’s email list, sign up to stay in the loop. Once you find an event, make sure to RSVP right away as seating is almost always limited. You can also use the Town Hall Project tool to find an event near you.

Invite friends to join you. There’s strength in numbers—you’re much more likely to get your question answered if there are 5 (or 10 or 20) people prepared to ask it. Plus it’s just more fun to go to events with a crew of like-minded people, and you can get everyone to do the wave...

Prepare your questions beforehand. First, pick what issue you want to talk about. Here are some of our top congressional priorities right now:

Protecting key safeguards for our air, water, land, health, and more

- Protecting our national monuments

- Preventing offshore drilling

- Tackling climate change

It’s a good idea to come up with at least two or three questions/comments you’d like to share, in case someone else in the crowd beats you to the punch on asking one of them. Take the time to really think through what you want to communicate in the clearest, most concise terms possible and then write it down to make sure the words don’t fly out of your head the moment you’re called on to speak.

Bring a sign. You may want to make a sign to bring with you to make sure that you’re able to raise the visibility of your issue even if you’re not chosen to ask a question. However, if you are holding a sign that shows you disagree with your elected official’s viewpoints, it’s less likely you will be picked to ask a question. If you go with a group, you may want to pass signs out only to those who aren’t trying to ask a question. If you do want to bring a sign, ask some friends to join you at an informal sign-making party to get your creative juices flowing. Or, if you’re not feeling particularly witty or artistic, you can just download and print out one of our signs.

Get there early and spread out. Unless you’re guaranteed a seat, arrive early to increase your chance of getting in and of getting a good seat. If you’re with a group, don’t all clump together in one spot—spread yourselves out around the room to reinforce the impression that you represent a broad swath of constituents.

Be firm and push for a response. Politicians tend to be very good at dodging questions they’d prefer not to answer, so you should politely push for a real answer—or at the very least, make it clear that one has not been forthcoming. One tip is to hold on to the microphone until you are satisfied with your elected official’s response even if a staffperson tries to take it back from you. You can say something like, “Just a minute—I’m not finished. Please don’t try to stop me from sharing my thoughts.”

Reinforce good comments and questions. If someone makes a comment or asks a question you agree with, applaud to show your approval. If you get a chance to speak, make it clear that you are building on a previous comment or question to demonstrate a broad consensus on the issue.

Always be civil and respectful. There is NEVER any call for rudeness or violence, and they do nothing to advance the issues we care about.

Video everything! Use your cell phone to record the meeting. Capturing exchanges between your member of Congress and his/her constituents can give you powerful clips to share strategically after the meeting. You may even want to broadcast some—or all—of the meeting on Facebook Live (here’s a quick primer). Please note that state and local laws vary with regard to recording public events, so you should make sure it’s not illegal in your community before you start filming—check your state’s ACLU page for resources.

Reach out to reporters. Let local media know you’re going to be attending the meeting in case they are interested in getting a quote from you during or after the event. Be sure to tag them in any relevant tweets or posts.

Share/Post/Tweet/Tag. REPEAT. Use social media to raise the visibility of your viewpoint (and potentially your group, if you are part of one) before, during, and after the event. Most social media platforms value photos and images above text updates so try to incorporate those whenever possible. Use hashtags to make your posts viewed more widely—you can find good talking points in the list above.. And spell out that you’d appreciate people sharing widely. If you’re using Facebook, you may want to flip the privacy settings of your post “Public” to facilitate sharing. On Twitter, a simple “Pls RT” can go a long way. Don’t forget to tag any relevant reporters, as well as your elected official, in your posts and tweets.

Deep DivesKyle Shepherd