Last week, I attended my first town hall hosted by Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz. I’ve attended and spoke at several other public meetings in the last few years (mostly relating to climate change, air quality and public land/Bears Ears) but this was one was right in my backyard and I was excited! I received a mailer inviting me to it at home address, but I also found out about it on Facebook. Over 1,500 people had RSVP’ed with interest from over 3,000! Because of the massive expected turnout, I arrived at the venue, Brighton High School, two hours early to wait in line so I could get a good seat.
While I waited, I started reviewing my notes on Jason Chaffetz’s record and wrote down possible questions if I got an opportunity to speak. I decided to focus on his record on public lands – this legislative session, he introduced a bill to sell off 3.3 million acres of public lands, but yanked it after public outcry. He’s been pressuring President Trump to roll back Bears Ears. As my elected representative, he does not represent my views, and I struggle to understand some of the decisions that he and other Utah politicians make.
At 6 pm, they opened the doors to the auditorium and the seats filled up fast. The police shut the doors, shortly after they opened, due to safety concerns. There were plenty of extra seats and the crowd started the first chant, “Let them in, Let them in!” The tension in the room was palpable, and my heart started to race as people stood up and yelled.
Before Chaffetz arrived, I was surprised at the apparent disorganization of the event, especially since they knew how many people would arrive. Usually at a public meeting of this size, there is a moderator, a podium with a microphone and a sign up process or lottery system for people who want to speak or ask questions. I believe that this was an intentional oversight, so Chaffetz could look like a victim to the angry mob of people who were yelling at him. The truth is, people had no choice but to yell. Without a microphone, yelling was the only way anyone could ask a question!
Instead of having a formalized system to take questions and hear from as many of his constituents as possible, Chaffetz would point at people in the crowd to take questions from them. He was only able to answer a handful of questions before leaving at 8:15, while the event had been advertised to go on until 9. To put his effort into context, at the Bears Ears Public Meeting, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell listened to speakers (while attendees often booed loudly) for three and a half hours.
I believe a lot can be accomplished when we come together and understand another person’s point of view. That’s how democracy works. But Chaffetz never came to listen. After the event was all over, Chaffetz went on the news and said the attendees were “out of state radicals,” there because of a “a paid attempt to bully and intimidate.” Representative Chaffetz, I am your constituent, you sent me an invitation to this event. You are the one who is bullying and intimidating the voters in your district by accusing us of being paid protestors from out of state
Attending these events is never fun or easy. It takes a lot of time and preparation to come informed. There are literally hundreds of things I would rather do with my day or evening. But it is incredibly important that we continue to organize and show up in big numbers in the weeks, months and years ahead. One voice can change the world. Will it be yours?