Whatever Senator Feinstein says, her speaking engagement on August 29 was not a town hall. In fact, public participation was actively discouraged at every turn, and as a result, constituents like us who would have prefered to participate in the evening’s policy discussion are instead forced to focus on the ways we have been shut out.
The event was not, as far as we could tell, promoted outside of the Commonwealth Club network—certainly the senator did not inform her constituents of this chance to meet with her in person (for a fee). As a result, the vast majority of the audience was Club members. “Hardly,” as one reporter put it on Twitter, “a cross section of San Francisco” let alone California.
After several requests, a form was provided to suggest questions online. It was shared only by the Commonwealth Club on the event’s Facebook page and with a few Indivisibles who had been asking for it (to the best of our knowledge). Her staff told us the senator would share this link with as many constituents as possible. She did not.
The day of the event, we arrived early, along with some friends who were not able to get tickets, to protest the fact that our senator was holding a sham town hall. Security (politely) asked us to take several steps away from the building in order to hold our signs and distribute our fliers on “the public sidewalk.” And if we drifted across that line we were (politely) scolded. There was no obvious reason for these restraints other than to suppress our participation.
Those of us privileged enough to have obtained tickets attempted to bring in our red and green agree/disagree cards in order to politely and non-disruptively express our opinions during our representative’s remarks. Event staff (quite rudely this time) confiscated them, apparently fearing that allowing the audience to participate in this way would be pandemonium.
Instead we were invited to “express ourselves” in writing on little question cards. The moderator chose a few of these to read (or paraphrase), but for all we know, the rest may have gone directly into the trash. Such an action would certainly have been in line with the tone of the evening which was that we should sit down, shut up, and be grateful to be allowed to listen in on a conversation between elites.
In April, at her real town hall, one of Sen. Feinstein’s constituents expressed appreciation for an event at which many different voices were heard and then asked his senator to “continue to meet with us like this.” Last night barely counted as a meeting and it certainly wasn’t “like this” or “with us.” She failed to meet her commitment, and If she doesn’t rectify that at her next recess, she will have let down not only her most engaged constituents, but the entire state. And if she doesn’t answer to the people who elected her, she will have let down democracy itself.
Call your senator today and say:
If Senator Feinstein intends to fulfill the duty she was elected to do, she must engage directly with the people of California—hear their concerns and answer their questions—at an open town hall, as she promised in April she would do. Her August event was not a town hall. I demand that she hold one in September.