Indivisible, the grassroots movement to hold members of Congress accountable in the age of Donald Trump, has produced a guide for those faced with dodging congressmen, such as several in Arkansas.
U.S. Sen. John Boozman and U.S. Rep. French Hill have been particularly adept at being accessible, while being inaccessible, through the dodge of the “tele-town hall.” It’s a controlled, hard-to-access, hard-to-ask-challenging-questions format.
Indivisible’s advice summary:
Tele-Town Halls are when an MoC literally phones it in—speaking to a few select and carefully screened callers while remaining in D.C. and, quite possibly, wearing pajamas. But you can turn the next Tele-Town Hall in your favor.
* Do not accept the Tele-Town Hall format—demand better from your MoC and counter-program their Sham Town Hall with a real one of your own.
* When you call in, be warm, polite, and vague to beat the screening process.
* Compile and share a list of all the questions you and your group tried to ask.
More from Indivisible, led by former congressional staffers, on why the tele-town-halls are shams and how they work:
* The questions and comments shared during Tele-Town Halls are heavily screened by staffers.
* MoCs usually participate in Tele-Town Halls from their offices in D.C., where their staff can help feed them talking points behind the scenes. Ever wonder how your MoC is able to move so deftly from topic-to-topic during these calls? It’s because their staff is constantly feeding them talking points and briefing materials when they aren’t screening your questions.
The process works like this: first, a junior staffer screens your questions. Then, they use a call-in software program to flag questions that the MoC should definitely answer (hint: they’re usually softballs) and to highlight ones they should absolutely avoid. Next, another staffer checks the flagged calls to see which ones are coming up and finds the appropriate talking points for their MoC. Finally, the MoC takes your call and responds to your question by reading the talking points their staffer just handed to them. Literally, they are sticking to the script.
MoCs can do almost anything they want during a Tele-Town Hall. Are they streaming reruns of Lost on their laptop? Are they making anagrams out of “Donald Trump” on the back of a napkin? Are they in their bathrobe and pajamas? Nobody knows.
Why do MoCs use this format? Maybe they planned their event back when “Hotline Bling” was still cool. We’re not sure. Most of the time, we know that they do it because many MoCs are surprisingly bad at talking to people. MoCs are at their best when they’re able to stick to a small set of talking points. Tele-Town Halls allow them to do that in secret while giving the impression that they’ve thought more about your questions and concerns than they actually have.
UPDATE: U.S. Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers will have a real town hall at 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 10, at the Bryan Lecture Hall at Arkansas Tech.