Photos by Anne C. Savage.
For the past several months, Dexter-area residents in Michigan’s 7th Congressional District have been trying in vain to get Republican Congressman Tim Walberg to hold a public townhall in their area so that they can share their views and have a direct dialog with him. Since last November’s election, he has held only tightly controlled telephone townhalls and a single event in Hillsdale that was equally controlled by him and his staff.
This past Saturday, Walberg was in Dexter to attend a men’s prayer breakfast. The Indivisible group Indivisible Dexter arranged a space in a nearby church and invited Walberg to meet with them directly after his breakfast meeting. He declined. In response, Indivisible Dexter organized a protest in front of the church where Walberg was present. On a freezing cold morning, activists trudged a quarter mile from an offsite parking area and over 100 of them lined the road in front of the church.
They held signs and were respectful of the church and the men’s group meeting there. Their message was simple: Meet with us, hear us, talk to us.
Then, when his breakfast meeting had concluded, Tim Walberg did just that. He came out and held an impromptu townhall in the 14°F cold on the front lawn of the church.
During the dialog, Walberg defended the Republican plan to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, what he calls “The Better Way Plan”. When asked directly if he would vote for a plan that would uninsure 12 million Americans or more, Walberg said, “No.”
The following exchange is illustrative:
RESIDENT: But [these people need] insurance that they can afford, Congressman. They’re going to get a tax credit that is literally going to be 10% of what they’re going to actually be able to afford. So you’re giving them a 2-foot rope to climb out of a 10-foot hole.
WALBERG: You don’t know that. You haven’t seen the full plan.
RESIDENT: Well, the plan that they’re introducing is that way, sir.
WALBERG: No it isn’t. We will not, we will not take people off insurance and put people in a setting that they cannot afford. That’s our commitment. The reason why we say it’s the “Better Way” proposal is it’s the better way proposal. Right now, if we left, and in fact, what’s been said, you’ve heard it said by the Speaker of the House and others, we could simply let the Affordable Care Act to continue to work itself out. It’s melting down.
This last statement elicited laughter and shouts of “No, it isn’t!”
When asked about Donald Trump’s plan to cut a Great Lakes clean-up fund by a whopping 97%, Walberg said he’s hopeful that this proposal is just a “placeholder” item that will be eliminated in the final budget proposal and vowed to fight to preserve the fund.
He was also asked about Trump’s cabinet picks including an EPA administrator who doesn’t believe that global climate change is caused by humans, Walberg said he thinks that only part of climate change is caused by human activity and said, “I’m delighted with who he’s appointed so far.”
Before it was over, Walberg committed to holding a townhall in Dexter “in the next 30 days”. He claimed that the Secret Service and Capitol Police are asking members of Congress to avoid public events or announcing public appearances in advance because his life could be in danger. This is belied by the many townhalls happening around the country. Here in Michigan Republican Justin Amash and Democrat Debbie Dingell have help well-publicized public appearances and townhall meetings.
This was a huge achievement for the Indivisible group from a city with just 4,160 residents. They were able to get Tim Walberg to participate in an open exchange. Admittedly it was only 20 minutes long and was held outdoors in the frigid cold. Still, it shows the power of activism, showing up, persisting, and resisting. They not only got a commitment to hold a more formal event, they got press both before and after their protest.
Kudos to the organizers of Indivisible Dexter. THIS is truly what democracy looks like.