In a small room at Radford library, I and six other citizens experienced democracy at our local level.
A single piece of paper taped to the edge an open door marked the meeting room. The time for this meeting was 10-noon, a most inconvenient or impossible time of the day for most people to attend.
The “staff” was only one woman. She said she would take us one at a time. We all looked at each other and said we’d rather have a group meeting, as we were interested in hearing what each had to say. She was quick to push information sheets and pens in front of us before she even introduced herself.
One gentleman got straight to his point, saying he’d fill the sheet out after. He said the only thing he could agree with President Trump on, was the need to fix this country’s infrastructure. But, he said, where is the money going to come from, especially if the “wall” will cost billions?
Second, a younger man with a Chinese wife, expressed his dismay with the way president Trump was injuring relations with China, by aggressive, bullying comments that show no understanding about how to conduct diplomacy that requires respect, a crucial part of the Chinese culture.
Next, an older woman, who had a son born on a military base in Libya. His passport listed his country of birth simply as Libya. She asked the staff member what would happen if he left and tried to re-enter the country?
The staff person said she couldn’t speak for Congressman Griffith, but she would get that question to him.
It was becoming clear that this meeting provided no answers to our questions and issues. The staff member was there to only write down scant notes about our questions and repeat the mantra, “I can’t speak for the congressman, but I’ll be sure he gets your question.” It was frustrating. And I believe, a calculated method of operation to keep the public at arm’s length.
As our little group was bonding, we began to ask what happens with this meeting? Do you have a conversation with Griffith about our meeting? No, she would have a conversation with her supervisor who would pass along information to Griffith. Finally, a woman asked, “Does the congressman even really care about us? Because I don’t see that he does. (Former) Congressman Rick Boucher had meetings that he attended all the time and was always available to us.
We all voiced that Griffith seemed nearly impossible to have actual contact with. The staffer assured us, “I promise you that Congressman Griffith reads… (here I was sure she was going to say “reads every letter and question on your information sheet”, but instead she said) …bill that he votes on.” I was stunned. “I would hope so,” I said.
We got back to what other people had questions and comments about. I addressed the flip-flop on his immigration stance, quoting his own words from his own website, posted during the Obama administration, which criticized the “burdensome and nitpicking” procedures for those immigrants seeking the ‘American Dream.’”
After Trump came to power and issued the immigration ban, I received Griffith’s latest newsletter saying the opposite; that he supported the ban and we needed to clamp down on who we allow in this country.
I also spoke against the support Griffith voiced for the EPA nominee Scott Pruitt, notorious for his lack of caring for the environment as attorney general in Oklahoma. Then we all voiced our dismay at Griffith’s determination to push for the coal industry instead of the well-being and health of environment and local populations in these mining areas.
His vote against the Open Stream Rule, which supports the dumping of mining rubble that includes toxic heavy metals shown to cause serious health problems for children and adults. We spoke against his support of opening our National Parks to oil and gas drilling.
The future of our education system with the appointment of Betsy Devos was addressed with deep concern; now a secretary with absolutely no public school experience but a large donation record to the Republican Party.
The last person to share wanted to ask what was going to happen to her if the Affordable Care Act was cancelled. She said it was working great for her and that she “loved it.”
Even with rising premiums, it was still less than half of what it would cost on the open market. If it was killed, she said, “It would kill her.” How would the new plan deal with pre-existing conditions like diabetes? Again, no answer, just “I’ll be sure he gets that question.”
The main benefit of this hour and 15 minutes was meeting other people, exchanging emails and signing up as a group (not individually, as the staff member wanted) to meet with Griffith in person; “When he has some office hours, after the session, we’ll get in touch with you.”
But my main realization is how removed Griffith has made himself from his district; how hard it is to have actual face time with him or even have a staff member at these meeting that could at least explain policy to his constituents.
All we had was a secretary type-figure, and no answers to any of our questions or concerns. I’ve heard Congressman Griffith commutes back home to Salem on the weekends. So please explain to me why he couldn’t schedule an open meeting for an hour or two on a Saturday? I think the answer is he feels he doesn’t have to talk to us.
He has his conservative base, acquired by aggressive gerrymandering, and he has intentionally arranged his time in office to avoid the regions in his district that might disagree with his positions.