Availability is one of the hottest topics I can discuss on the campaign trail right now. Rural voters are hungry for interaction and they only ever see if from Republicans. The earlier days of well-organized American politics saw candidates going door-to-door and meeting with the people of their district to hear about their problems to discuss the best solutions said candidate can offer.
We caught a glimpse in the 2008 Barack Obama campaign at how powerful the internet can be at motivating and moving crowds of people to actively participate in the political process, but it is no longer 2008 and we’ve both lost sight of the importance of human interaction and the technology has grown beyond the ability to generally target voters of the opposing party. We’re faced with a new question: how do you reach out to a group of voters detached from real news outlets, living in a bubble of their preferred alt-news sources online, and blanketed with word-of mouth falsities from family and friends relying on the same incorrect sources?
We’ve all seen situations time and time again, around the dinner table, on a date, mingling with fellow parents the park. You quote a study, they quote what someone they trust has told them otherwise. You quote an average or statistic, they respond with a misunderstanding of what an average is or a misinterpretation of said statistic. As a case in point, I once posted an article on the importance of vaccines to group immunity (the idea that the more people immune to a disease, the harder it is for those infected to pass it on to another person) and had a woman re-post the article with the comment, “See? This is exactly why we shouldn’t immunize our children. It causes autism.” If she had actually opened and read the article prior to sharing it, she would have realized it debunked her very statement.
While the issue itself is quite problematic, we are all bound by our drive to do what is right. If we are in mutual agreement over that one single ideal, it should be a very simple decision for everyone to find the correct answer when we’re stripped from undue and unequally-weighted influence and given all of the facts we need in order to make a fair and balanced decision.
We have turned to public shaming online, which has completely separated the human connections from all of our relationships. As Democrats, we need to be the first party to go back and put a face on ourselves. Let them see our human side. Let them see our human compassion. Let them know we care about them. Let them know we agree there’s much more we can do to help those in need. We need to go shake hands. Meet people. Do away with the stadium stump speeches. Favor and prioritize town halls in small towns, making connections with people outside our voting base. We know the cities will vote for us.
The Texas 25th is notorious in the state of Texas, and to educated voters nationally, as one of the many Republican-represented districts in which we never have interaction with our US Congressman. In this case, it’s Roger Williams, and he hasn’t held a public town hall or public forum in Austin in nearly a decade.
If you often keep your ear to the ground, you’re probably aware there’s been a pandemic of publicly deprecating republican congressmen and women hosting or attending town hall events, who’ve chosen to walk in-step with the Trump-Pence administration. This is happening because the people feel the intolerant and classist approaches of the administration to public policies are out of touch with actual public ideals. Largely, relationships between voters and those elected officials supposing to represent them are crumbling as the result.
Why are they crumbing? I’m glad you’ve asked. In a world where the prevalence of social media and air travel have guaranteed no district is greater than seven hours from DC by air and only split seconds by Tweet, we should have a much more robust and accessible relationship with our elected officials. Unfortunately, and regardless of a growing number of opportunities to connect, it’s not happening.
I can point to a number of factors. First, we can test the “Numbers Game” defense, in which many elected officials would note statistics like how each congressional district contains about three quarters of a million residents. It begs the question: by what scale, and in what volume, could one person possibly connect and have meaningful interaction with such a high volume of constituents?
We can also look at how constituents are dissuading web-based interaction via the oh-so-famous comment sections of virtually every social network. Internet Celebrity Rule Number One: Never read the comments. If we’re so venomous with our words when hiding behind the filter of a computer and phone screen, how an we expect to have decent human interactions with people of differing belief systems? It’s so incredibly easy now to simply click ‘like’ and ‘share’ and assume we’ve done our party to change the world. Many active political operatives have a term for it: ‘slack-tivism’. That being said, you’ve possibly increased the viewership of a piece of content to other like-minded individuals, but you haven’t swayed a single new mind, and therefor a single vote, with your action.
Our elected officials are supposed to be our scarecrows, protecting our fields from the vultures, the foragers, and the animals. Instead, we’ve elected many a weak and meek aging white males and females who act as the crows trying to pick our fields bare while we have our backs turned. Change of this behavior doesn’t start at the town halls, it starts in living rooms and doorsteps with handshakes, open hearts, open ears, eye contact, and relationships. My family isn’t the perfect role model for a group that works well at listening and understanding alternative viewpoints. It is because of that hostile environment I’ve learned so drastically how important it is to grow those skills and abilities needed to build a relationship with someone you don’t fully understand. Without that relationship of mutual respect, you’ll never be able to build a bill, an ordinance, or a strong government.
Many elected officials spend more time in state and national capitols than they do in their home towns, home districts, and home states. In the same way we’ve put term limits on presidents to ensure no one man or woman retains too much detached status and unchecked power over our union, our congress-people, governors, mayors, city council-people, and school board members need humbling reminders of what it means to be a constituent. Whether this is in the form of hard term limits or mandatory breaks from elected office, something needs to be done to break from the status quo of the detached leadership we currently have. I’m personally a proponent for a limit of two consecutive terms in any elected office and a four-year cooldown if that office doesn’t currently hold a formal legal term limit. For example, a congressman or woman would only be able to stay in office for two consecutive two-year terms before taking at least a four-year hiatus to spend in their home district or get elected to a different office. This should effectively limit the number of life-long politicians we have living outside of their district and managing to stay in office simply based on the actions they take to better the lives of special interests that help them drastically out-fundraise their competitors.
Activism and involvement is at an all-time high. We see town hall and democratic meeting attendance has increased ten, twenty, one hundred-fold in 2017. The people have made themselves available to their elected officials, albeit with pitchforks. We must capture the strength of this movement and not lose sight of the end-goal that elected officials need to remain involved in our lives and unafraid of the consequences of their decisions when in office. A congressman, like Roger Williams, wouldn’t be afraid to attend a town hall event if he wasn’t blatantly aware his decisions in office have been selfish, self-serving, and detrimental to his constituents. It should go without saying, but we must demand better representation, either from our current politicians or by doing anything possible to empower representatives interested in providing for their electorate and not their corporate investor/donors.