As the healthcare system is once again under political attack and not being dealt with as adults who want better for our country should, I found this post unfinished from a few months back. The current topic not withstanding (please do your research before taking side) it is not easy to be a politician, on either side of the aisle. We must take into account what we ask for and what we expect and how much we want to contribute before we condemn people who have to answer to so many:
Taking my seat in the balcony of the Howland Center in the second city of Duchess County, I watched the crowd await the arrival of US Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney for his afternoon town hall in Beacon, NY. Familiar local faces filled the seats as I made my way to a balcony perch. I first met Rep. Maloney at a local food justice event several years ago. A smart and charismatic man, I expected a polished political stump for these trying times.
He entered the hall and got down to business quickly as he had another event about 20 minutes away immediately following ours. It’s hard not to get caught up in the politics of the situation when you are at one of thee events, but I kept my distance and watched as he handled the crowd. I say handled because it felt as though most of those who came to talk, did not come to listen. In any discourse this is a problem.
Maloney covers a district that should be the standard in state by state gerrymandering. Albeit it a rather strange line drawn over a river and through the woods, he covers a vast political landscape. As he stated that day, those who voted for him (a Democrat) voted for Donald Trump. His is not an easy mission, but it is based on finding common ground versus pushing a one sided agenda.
I had to laugh when he said to the very liberal crowd, “this (Beacon) is the only placed I get yelled at for being too conservative.” He addressed each persons concern with care but as he didn’t solve the problem on the spot I watched people grow impatient. Their inner children came out.
As time was being drained with the same questions logically bearing the same answers from the congressman, he asked for our assistance in allowing him to cover as many peoples issues as possible. He asked for a limit to the length of questions. The next person up immediately disregarded the request. A government worker afraid for the fate of his much needed department expressed his growing concern for his job and the jobs of his peers. It did not fall on deaf ears.
Trying to regroup, Congressman Maloney pushed his game show style Q&A once more, joking that it worked EVERYWHERE except here. People tried but once they had the mic, it was hard not to unload. Fully aware of who I am I know I can go on when given a pen or a keyboard, no doubt any one who knows me would agree, and actually this is not quite long enough of a description of how long I can go on, but then I would be going on. In a room like this however you understand editing. Being able to get your point across is key. You’ve lost the plot—and the audience—when your time is consumed by stories so personal that they are hard for others to relate to.
Congressman Maloney showed grace and understanding as he allowed for each person to have their say. As questions already answered were repeated and the contract between speaker and audience—agreed to by both sides several times—started to falter again, the last question from the balcony not far from me broke from the format once again, and you could sense Sean ready to pounce and cut it off. Rightfully so, no one followed through with their side of the agreement for nearly an hour, turning a town hall into a showdown of opinion. But keeping his composure, Maloney allowed the young man to continue. And there is the rub. As a politician how do you cater to the needs of your constituents when each one has as many opinions as there are moments in the day? How do you filter the opinions into actionable tasks for the government to pursue, all the while taking into account that the congressman one district over has to deal with a potentially different set of issues with as many tentacles? Forget the congressman across the country, you’ll deal with him later. So as the young man began to speak in similar tone and verbiage as the other members of the audience, and even I who was a fraction the distance away from him than Maloney couldn’t tell his age, looking to be about 20 with the confidence of such youth, shifted ever so eloquently to the topic of autism, for which he was on the spectrum, and what would become of funding and support he was given in our local high school, we all realized this young man was barely eligible to vote. At the end of civil but stubborn town hall, having reiterated positions many times over on several topics, and having given all of his patience, the next generation of voters was heard, having waited for his moment, as all citizens want to be allowed, to make his voice heard. I do not envy our representatives. I expect more form them than they want to be held accountable for sure, but I do not envy their position one bit.