Activism Guide: How to Attend a Town Hall Meeting
What is a town hall meeting?
Most Members of Congress hold “town hall” meetings a several times each year to meet with constituents and give updates from Washington, D.C. They are usually held in a public setting and are free to attend. Town halls provide fantastic opportunities to gain face-to-face access to your U.S. Senators or Representative while they are back in the district. Town hall meetings typically consist of two parts: your Member will speak for about 15-30 minutes about activities in Washington. Then, your Member will open the floor to questions from constituents. This is your opportunity to ask your Member about a particular immigration issue or piece of legislation.
Find out the dates & locations
To find out when town hall meetings in your Congressional district will be held, monitor your Member’s Congressional website, sign up for your Member’s email alerts, or periodically call for event updates. Members usually hold town hall meetings in different areas around their district. While it’s best to attend the one closest to your home, don’t hesitate to also attend meetings in other parts of your district.
Before you ask a question:
- Make sure to have your question prepared in advance. Limit yourself to ONE question and try not to let the questions posed before yours influence what you say.
- Raise your hand immediately when the Congressman asks for questions. The longer you wait, the more competition you will have for the microphone.
What should you ask?
- Avoid yes or no questions or questions requiring a commitment. If the media is present, Members will be more likely to resist making spontaneous commitments.
- If you ask questions about specific legislation, be prepared to quickly explain what the legislation does. Thousands of bills are introduced each Congress and Members of Congress don’t have them all memorized.
- Ask a question based on an action. A good way to phrase a question is to base it on an action. (“What will you do legislatively to solve X?” or “What have you done to hold President Obama accountable for Y?”) Doing so makes it harder for the Member of Congress to give an answer using only talking points.
- Do your homework! Don’t hesitate to do some extra research on your Member of Congress before the town hall. If you feel they voted incorrectly on a bill or issued a statement in which you disagree, those are great points to bring up when you are given the microphone. (“Could you tell me why you voted against the X bill last week, which would have done Y?”)
Your question will be best received if it is phrased respectfully and tactfully. Rude or off-color language will ensure a more guarded response from the Member of Congress and could even turn the audience against you.
Don’t leave early.
- Stick around after the meeting. If you aren’t given the chance to ask your question during the meeting, or you have additional questions, hang around afterwards. Most Members of Congress stick around for a few extra minutes to take additional questions one-on-one.
- Find a staff member. If your Member does not stick around after the town hall, or you have trouble accessing him/her, locate the Congressional staff and speak to them instead. They can take your comments, answer questions, and refer you to appropriate staff members.
- Bring business cards. Bring a business card to give to the staff member to help him or her follow up with your question.
- Network with other attendees. If anyone else in the audience asks questions about immigration that are in line with your views, talk to them after the meeting is over. That’s a great opportunity to get them involved in activism.