The epigram that has been taught to every 2nd grade American child since the Revolutionary War made its way back into the public discourse on Monday as citizens celebrated Presidents Day by protesting Congressman Chris Collins’ lack of receptivity to their requests for open discussion. These people of the 27th district of New York State feel they are being unjustly represented, as Christopher Collins has refused to hold a town hall meeting to speak with his frustrated constituents. He has refused to do so on the grounds that large meetings are not the best use of time, claiming instead to prefer personal conversations or discussions with small groups as more useful means of listening to people’s concerns. The protesters laughed when speakers brought up this point, shouting that Congressman Collins need only tell them a time and a place and they would gladly meet with him. Their outrage stems from the fact that though he claims to value small group meetings, this is a method he does “not actually seem to be implementing,” as stated by his neighbor and an organizer of the protest, Jenna Wozer.
Protesters stuck post-it notes to the door of Collins’ office: a public display of the seeming futility of attempting to have meaningful communication with him.
Eight local activist groups came together to demand a town hall on the basis of “tradition,” saying that meeting with representatives is a way of maintaining the “values of democracy and accountability.”
“It is a shame that we have to go to these lengths to be heard,” shouted one demonstrator associated with the new activist organization BuffaloResists.
Jenna Wozer, a neighbor of Chris Collins, spoke out against his refusal to adequately address the concerns and questions of disgruntled constituents:
“We’re here today because Representative Collins has been unreachable by any other means. We’ve tried calling. We’ve tried emailing. We’ve tried talking to staffers. We’ve even put up billboards, yet there has been no response. It is very frustrating. All the while Representative Collins has found plenty of time to carry water for the Trump Administration. He’s found time to defend the plans to build a wall. He’s found time to defend the unconstitutional travel ban…And yet he has no time for us.
We demand you hold a town meeting…You have a responsibility to hear us out. You have a responsibility to explain your views and your actions to us. We are your constituents. We are not professional protesters imported in from George Soros.”
Citizens at the demonstration professed concerns over Collins’ plans for the Affordable Care Act, his lack of response to what they view as unworthy cabinet appointments (especially that of Betsy DeVos), and his seemingly unfettered willingness to go along with whatever the Trump Administration proposes (especially the travel ban).
But many of the protestors, though clearly concerned about, or even opposed to, Collins’ recent actions in regard to these issues, assert that the main and most pressing problem is Collins’ unwillingness to meet with them and discuss his views and ideas. They suggest that all they want from the Congressman is a fair forum in which they are allowed to vocally and directly voice disagreements, and in which they feel that their voices are being heard and taken seriously.
“Do not dismiss us as left wing activists,” one protestor urges, “we are concerned citizens, concerned constituents, constituents that you were elected to serve.”
Many speakers shared stories of their attempts to contact the Congressman, which resulted in letters and emails that often ignored the question or concern altogether, instead giving a generic response, which Jenna Wozer says “felt more dismissive than not getting a response at all.”
“Do your job! Face us! and “Democracy!” are just some of the chants that bounced around the crowd.
The demonstration dispersed rather quickly after three counter-protestors joined the crowd with Trump-Pence 2016 and Collins for Congress signs. A few people in the crowd were disturbed by the counter-protestors’ presence, and angrily yelled questions at them, which were answered only with a persistent chant: “U.S.A. U.S.A. U.S.A.” One of the counter-protestors said he didn’t “like democracy,” and he felt that the protestors had either been paid by George Soros or were not actually from the 27th district.
Another counter-protestor expressed concerns that the crowd was really more anti-Trump than anti-Collins, citing the fact that many of the signs referred to the President rather than the Congressman the protestors purported to be demonstrating against. He wondered why the protestors came to demonstrate on a holiday, when the office was closed, rather than when employees of Collins could address their concerns, though he admitted that perhaps the Congressman should talk to these people.
And the final counter-protestor ended the public discourse of the rally with the notable remark: “Them people need to get educated.”
People meandered back to their cars, and the same sun continued to shine on all sides as two groups separated once again, just as polarized as ever, but still making the effort to participate and believe in a democracy that allows us to speak, allows us to disagree, and allows us to move forward as one human race attempting to do the best we can for future generations.