Call for Congressman Goodlatte Town Hall in Harrisonburg

Mar 2, 2017

This weekend, area protesters will again assemble in Harrisonburg and Staunton. But the protests will be less about resisting President Trump than they will be about something closer to home... or rather about bringing Congressman Bob Goodlatte closer to home for a visit. WMRA's Christopher Clymer Kurtz reports.

The Indivisible movement's founders say that what began as a tweeted Google Doc is graduating into a nonprofit entity with 4,500 local groups rallying against the "Trump agenda."

"You're resisting, and it's working," their website says.

But Harrisonburg Indivisible organizer John Schaldach says that this local group is less about resistance. He was out of town earlier this week, so we talked on the phone.

JOHN SCHALDACH: This group has really defined itself more in terms of defending a common set of values that's shared by the people in the Valley. We see many of the policies of the Trump administration as opposing those values and certainly isolating individual members of our community, and so we're pushing back against those things, but we're not anti-Trump. We're for our community. We're for the values here. We're for the diversity of the Harrisonburg community.

The simultaneous rallies scheduled for tomorrow in Harrisonburg and Staunton are co-organized by several local Indivisible and other organizations as calls for 6th District Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte to hold an in-person town hall meeting in Harrisonburg. Goodlatte hasn't held such a meeting since 2013. 

SCHALDACH: There are a number of issues right now, the issues of the day, that are complex enough that they really require constructive, in-person dialogue. And that dialogue is important both so that we can hear and understand his position but also so that he can hear ours, and so that we can flesh out some of the complexity of these issues.

A statement from Goodlatte says that he appreciates the input from constituents and meets "regularly with groups or individuals," and is "looking at their town hall meeting requests." He has hosted telephone town halls that he says "allow me to reach thousands of people at once and take questions from callers as they all listen."

Those tele-town halls, however, have more to do with theatrics than anything, says Schaldach.

SCHALDACH: The tele-town hall charade is almost insulting. What happened for me and for many people I know is that there was no advance warning, simply my phone rang and there was a recording of Goodlatte saying the town hall is about to begin. That was the announcement of when it was going to be. That's just not a sincere attempt to communicate with his constituents. He gives lip service to being accessible and he's done some things that look like accessibility but they aren't.

CLYMER KURTZ: Putting myself in his shoes, to come to a town meeting would be opening myself up to what's been happening elsewhere, with people who are really upset and angry. Why would he want to subject himself to a bunch of people who aren't liking what he's doing?

SCHALDACH: I don't think that's what would happen in Harrisonburg. I mean, we're the Friendly City for a reason. My sense from the Harrisonburg Indivisible group is that we're interested in actually being able to pose questions to him and hear the answers. We're not interested in shouting him down. It's his job to represent his constituents and the way he needs to do that is to show up and talk to us.

But Goodlatte hasn't done that, and so Schaldach has begun compiling and posting videos of constituents asking their town hall questions and inviting Goodlatte to town.

[Medley of audio samples from constituent videos]

● Do you have grandchildren? Can we talk? Share some thoughts?
● I called your office yesterday in DC to talk about the Russian situation. I've written you two or three times. I've not heard back from you.
● Representative Goodlatte, Don't you care about clean air and clean water, too?
● I'm one of many, many people in the Valley that feel you no longer represent us. We need to talk to you, and we need to talk to you face to face that you can understand who we are and what our values are. How else can you represent us?
● I would love the opportunity to speak with you in person, Mr. Goodlatte. When will you be making a public appearance near Harrisonburg?
● When will you be visiting your district?
● You probably haven't had much of a chance to look at my emails. I asked about you coming for lunch.
● I live in Harrisonburg, and I currently have health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, and I would really like to know what your plan is for me and the 20 million other people out there that are like me, what we're going to do when you repeal it. Hope to see you in a town hall soon. Thanks.

Tomorrow's (Saturday, March 4) rallies calling for an in-person town hall meeting with Congressman Goodlatte are from 1:00-3:00 on Harrisonburg's Court Square and at the Augusta County Courthouse in Staunton.

For WMRA News, I'm Christopher Clymer Kurtz.