Representative Democracy is Getting a Workout

Apr 19, 2017

Constituents gather to pose questions to a Photo of VA 9th Congressional District Representative, Morgan Griffith
Credit Robbie Harris

Representative democracy has been getting a work out, thanks most recently to a citizens group called “Indivisible.”  The citizen action organization takes a page from the Tea Party handbook, which formed for the very same reason:  to oppose a president and to have its concerns heard by political representatives.

But as Robbie Harris reports, in Virginia’s ninth congressional district, that’s easier said than done.

During a surprise rain storm, Nick Plymale was putting up a sign at highway motel in Blacksburg to let people know this is the place for tonight’s meeting of the group known as “Indivisible.”

“We’re a non partisan group but we have a lot of Democrats obviously; we have a lot of moderates and some Republicans. We have people from all walks of life," Plymale says.

“We are an anti-Trump movement. That’s the general goal but really, when we get down to these levels, we’re just trying to make our voices heard.  It’s not so much a cry to disrupt the Republican party. It's a cry from the other side saying ‘I’m still here and I want my voice to be taken into consideration as well.'"

That cry has gone out to the New River Valley’s congressional representative Morgan Griffith.

In a phone conversation, Virginia’s ninth district Republican congressman said, “It’s not that I won’t meet with ‘Indivisible’  but I won’t do it in a format that’s not conducive to getting things done.”

Griffith has met with people who’re part of Indivisible in small groups. And he meets often with constituents from all over his district, saying “If you want to have a meeting, I’m more than happy to set up a time.”

It's not so much a cry to disrupt the Republican party. It's a cry from the other side saying 'I'm still here and I want my voice to be taken into consideration.'

It’s 6:30 pm on a Monday night and more than 200 people are here for this 90 minute public forum.  But since one of them isn’t Morgan Griffith, they’re addressing their questions to a large photograph of the Congressman.

Sue Hossack is a retired software engineer attenfing the forum. She says, “we had his headshot put onto a big poster board  but not in a jokey way. This is the headshot off his website and this is just so we can see that’s who we are asking the questions of. The whole point of this is, we want-- I’m a constituent in his district --and we want him to hear my questions and my concerns.”

Griffith told RADIO IQ News he prefers group phone calls because they reach more people. In fact, 1,400 were on a recent call

“Stop and think about it.  The bricks and mortar town hall concept came about when you didn’t have telephones, email… and so people are able to communicate through electronic means. So what we’re doing is updating so we can reach and maximize the time we spend with these folks."

Carol King is a Craig County food service director who serves on  several committees in the Indivisible organization. “I’ve heard people who are on these call in town halls and they get cut off it’s not a very good way to communicate and not everybody can go to his office," King says.

"Most of us work. There’s 120,000 people in this district. We’re all going to go and see him?  This is a pretty good representation of this district and he really should come and listen.”

Jonathan Petters is a research data manager. He adds, “it’s an opportunity for people to give rapid feed back to the rep about how they feel about things that you cant get in smaller, more controlled environments.”

And that makes this story seem one sided when it comes to the issues, because a blow up of a photo of a congressmen doesn’t add to the discussion. But if Griffith had come to forum, what would Petters say to him?

“I would really thank him for showing up. I would say, I’m not going to speak for others but personally, my primary concerns are conflicts of interests by our president who is in a position  to improve his financial situation….”

That concern and all the others raised at the forum by the New River Valley Indivisible organization will be sent to Congressman Morgan Griffith.  The group is planning to hold another town meeting here in Virginia’s ninth congressional district next time the U.S. House is in recess.   

Here is a video of Indivisible's Town Hall