On March 10, members of Wilco Indivisible and another TX-31 constituent with a baby visited the Round Rock office of their US Representative, Congressman John Carter, to discuss legislative concerns with his staff. Here, lightly edited for length, emphasis (in bold type), and clarity, are letters from some of them describing their experience.
“Dissent does not equal disrespect”
Dr. Christine Mann writes,
Why does Representative John Carter and his staff continue to avoid meeting with his constituents?
Recently, I organized a group of about 40 friends and acquaintances with the purpose of breaking into small groups and visiting the office of our Congressional representative John Carter to discuss topics of interest. The idea was to have a dialogue with them through a series of meetings on specific topics.
We had a successful first meeting in February on the ACA. A group of 14 women met with senior staff for about an hour. The meeting was emotional yet respectful.
Subsequent to that meeting, I requested a second meeting with another set of group members to discuss a new topic. I was notified by email that the office would not be setting up further meetings with my “group” as they knew our concerns and did not need to hear any more. A request for clarification went unanswered.
As the office has an open door policy, I took a separate group for an unscheduled visit to discuss gun laws. We were greeted by an intern who graciously listened to our concerns, as the rest of the staff was out to lunch. All involved calmly related their concerns on this subject, and the intern took notes to pass on.
When the senior staff arrived, one staffer abruptly decided to end the meeting and told us to leave. She stated that groups like this would need to make an appointment.
I asked to make an appointment and was told that I would not be allowed to do so. When I asked why, she stated that I had been “disrespectful” to Representative Carter on social media. She would not provide an example of this.
Access to our government representatives is vital to our democracy. It is the right of every citizen to criticize their government. Dissent does not equal disrespect.
What type of message is Representative Carter sending to his constituents when his staff asserts that he does not want to hear what we have to say? Isn’t that exactly what he is supposed to do as our Representative in Congress?
“This is not what democracy looks like”
Kristin Blanchard writes:
Some of us have been to his office once before as part of a group appointment to talk about the specific topic of healthcare. That meeting was a very respectful and non-confrontational; however, a staffer subsequently banned our group leader, Christine Mann, from making appointments to discuss other topics with different groups of constituents, claiming that Carter’s office staff has met with our group “multiple times.”
Since we have other issues we want Rep. Carter to hear about, we decided to just go to the office today with Dr. Mann in a small group of 4 women and a baby. Our topic was gun control. We arrived at the office a little after 1 p.m. and were buzzed in by an intern. He was very polite and proceeded to take notes and ask questions as we each briefly talked about our concerns.
After about 20 minutes, another staffer came in from lunch and initially seemed to take our visit in stride. Dr. Mann was the last of us to speak, and when she was just about finished, that staffer came over and said we would have to leave. When we asked why, she asked if we had seen Dr. Mann’s social media pages—as though that were a terrible thing. Well, yes, we have. All of us have social media, and most of us belong to multiple groups including Indivisible, MoveOn.org, ACLU, SPLC, political parties, etc, etc, etc. I’m pretty sure we’re allowed to belong to these groups and also express our opinions as individuals.
I was completely blown away by her approach to us in what had been a very civil and respectful discussion with the intern, who has great instincts for how to work with constituents.
As I said to her, we can disagree. What can’t happen is our being prevented from voicing our opinions to our elected representatives in a Catch-22 of you have to make an appointment, but if we don’t like your opinion, you can’t have an appointment. After she picked up the phone to request assistance in getting us to leave (as though we were conducting a sit-in or being otherwise obstreperous) we realized what we were dealing with and left. This is not what democracy looks like.
“I am so disappointed”
Another constituent, who requested to remain anonymous, documented her experience of the meeting in an open letter to Rep. Carter:
Dear Judge Carter,
I’m writing you an open letter because I am deeply troubled by my recent first-time visit to your Round Rock offices. I feel that you owe an apology not only to me, but to all of your constituents who want to communicate with you and are unable.
I have never been to your offices before. I haven’t bothered to keep up with politics or candidates since GWB’s second term. The recession was happening; I was trying to put myself through community college out of pocket because I was too terrified to take out loans (spoiler alert: didn’t work – paying for college up front sadly isn’t a reality for blue-collar folks like me) and keep my head far enough above water to pay rent, buy groceries, and take care of my mom who was having health troubles at the time.
I’m older now. I’m married to a great guy, I have a beautiful almost-11-month-old son whom I had with me when I visited your office. I’m able to work part-time and stay home to raise him during the week, which I know is a blessing, regardless of the amount of coupon-clipping, thrift-shopping, and corner-cutting I have to do to maintain that privilege.
This also means that I have time to reflect on the past 10 years of my life and how the national and local politics have affected my family and I. I’ve come to a point where I feel like it’s imperative that I be involved and civically engaged. I have time – now that I’m not working a 50 hour week and constantly scrambling to make ends meet – to pay attention to the political narrative. To vote. To call my senators. To visit my representative — or so I thought.
I am so disappointed.
I visited your office with a small group of women whom I did not personally know and had not previously met. I heard about their intention to visit through a resource group. It was a terrific opportunity to me because I suffer from moderate social anxiety, which makes public engagement and meetings difficult. Going with a group of people was a perfect buffer and provided a chance for me to personally express my views without risking a public anxiety attack and embarrassment.
When we first arrived we were greeted by a very polite intern that was very courteous and receptive to our concerns. We had a pleasant conversation with him for the first few minutes of being in the office. However, while we were in the midst of wrapping up our visit and clarifying our points and concerns, a group of regular staffers returned to the office from their lunch break.
One staffer interrupted our conversation with the intern (please tell him thank you from me, he was extremely helpful and courteous) and told one of the women I was with, without explanation, that we would all have to leave immediately. Furthermore, the staffer told this woman that because they’d already met with her once she would not be permitted to make any more appointments.
When I tried to ask this staff member why I had to leave as I had never been to the office before, the staffer ignored me point blank.
This is NOT okay.
What’s more, the staffer walked away from the desk and could be seen and overheard on the phone saying they were about to call Round Rock PD on us.
As a father and a grandfather yourself I expect you to understand how aghast I was at being threatened with police force when I had a small child with me, at a place where I went mistakenly assuming I would feel safe and welcomed.
At no point in time were any voices raised. At no point in time was there any modicum of hostility from our group. And yet this person refused to acknowledge or talk to those of us who had never been to the office before, even to answer the most basic question of whether we could make an appointment to come back.
Another staffer appeared shortly thereafter who did at least make eye contact and try to explain to me that they couldn’t meet with our group any longer due to “conflicting appointments” — although she could not explain to me why we couldn’t continue to talk to the intern. And again, when I asked to schedule a meeting I was told I needed to call and go through the “official channels.” I do not understand this. Does your staff not have access to their calendars at their work stations? What is the purpose of disallowing people to make appointments in person?
I feel completely alienated. The entire reason that I opted to visit your office is so that I could be seen and heard as an individual — a real person with a real family and real concerns. Sending an email, online chatting, and phone calls are not a replacement for talking to somebody face to face.
How can I support you when you and your staff will not acknowledge, see, or talk to me as an individual? How can you purport to represent me and my concerns after an experience like this?
A concerned citizen
Rep. Carter turned down Wilco Indivisible’s request to attend a local town hall event last month that more than 300 constituents attended. His staffers later told the organizer that the event looked like a Democratic rally, as if that were a valid post hoc justification for not meeting with constituents.
The US was founded on patriotic dissent and the freedom of citizens to have our say in the way our government works. To refuse to meet with constituents at all, to refuse to hear their concerns on more than one topic, or to deny them a voice based on the fact that their politics don’t align with the “winning side” is about as far as one can get from the founding ideals of our nation. Real patriots listen, even when they don’t agree.
Are you a TX-31 constituent who’s been able to meet with Rep. Carter or his staffers in Washington, Round Rock, or Temple? Drop us a line at Wilco.Indivisible@gmail.com and let us know how your visit went. If you’ve been denied the opportunity to visit or schedule an appointment, let us know about that, too.