Town hall meetings are a common way for members of the US Congress to connect with their constituents while they are in their home districts during a recess. Because Congress members cannot meet individually with all of their constituents, they often host public events like town hall meetings (or district office hours) so that they can interact with many constituents at once. The town hall forum is a time-honored tradition that dates back to the colonial era and is a basic part of democracy in the United States.
The goal of attending a town hall meeting is twofold: to engage your member of Congress directly about an issue that is important to you and to get your member of Congress to take a public stance on that issue. Town hall meetings provide an excellent opportunity to educate policymakers, to learn where they stand on the issues, to share your views, to offer your assistance, and, ultimately, to influence your policymaker’s position.
Come prepared to ask a short, pointed question and press your elected official to give you a clear answer (we have sample questions for you to use). Be polite, but be direct and persistent. Your member of Congress should feel as though they’re under pressure by constituents.
Find a town hall meeting in your area. Use Town Hall Project's search tool to locate upcoming events in your area (and check back frequently for updates!).
Know your Member of Congress' position. Visit your their website, Facebook page or Twitter feed and read their latest press releases, speeches, newsletters, and/or tweets to find out how they've voted recently and which issues they are currently following. You can search for your Member of Congress on www.house.gov or www.senate.gov.
Prepare a question. Write down 1 or 2 brief questions that you would like to ask your Member of Congress (samples provided below). Make it focused on a specific subject or legislation. While you want to avoid a long introductory statement, it is important for you to share your name, town where you live, where you work, and what you do.
Be brief. Practice asking your question(s) until you can get through it in 25 seconds or less.
Day of the Meeting
Arrive in advance to get a close seat, and make sure you have your questions ready.
Sign-in if asked to do so by the congressperson's staff. Introduce yourself to the staff and offer your business card or other contact information.
Ask if you need to sign-up in advance to ask a question.
Sit in the front of the audience. If microphones are set up in the aisle, sit as close to the aisle as possible so you can quickly get to the microphone when it is time to ask questions.
Silence your cell phone and any other electronic devices.
Town Hall Sample Questions
Be prepared to ask one question during the meeting. Start by briefly introducing yourself (where you live, what you do) and say that you are here because you are concerned about a specific issue (i.e., NIH funding or health reform).
Health Reform-Related Questions:
I am an endocrinologist who takes care of people with diabetes and other endocrine-related diseases. Can I tell my patients that everyone who has coverage today will still have coverage under a new health reform law?
I am an endocrinologist who takes care of people with diabetes and other endocrine-related diseases. It is absolutely critical that people like my patients not have to deal with pre-existing condition exclusions. What is your plan to protect them?
I am a member of the Endocrine Society. The Society has developed several key principles for health reform, including access to affordable and adequate health care, maintenance of preventive services, protection of women's health, and support for health delivery models that incorporate coordinated care. Can I share these with you and can you talk about your position on these core principles?
I am a member of the Endocrine Society. The Society is the world's largest and most active professional society for endocrinologists and those engaged in endocrine science. The Society opposes the provision in the American Health Care Act that would eliminate the Prevention and Public Health Fund. The Prevention Fund has allowed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to expand effective prevention programs, such as the evidence-based Diabetes Prevention Program, which saves Medicare $2,650 per enrollee. What is your position on the prevention fund?
I am a member of the Endocrine Society. Ensuring that all women, regardless of their socioeconomic status, have continued access to health services, contraception, and preventive screenings is a top priority for the Society.
We strongly oppose provisions in the American Health Care Act that prevent Americans from choosing to receive care from physicians and other qualified providers based on site-of-service, such as Planned Parenthood clinics. What is your position on women's health care?
I am a researcher funded by the National Institutes of Health. Do you think funding for medical research should be a federal priority?
Biomedical research faces deep cuts. Members of Congress seem to agree these cuts will be devastating, but they can't agree on how to avoid them. Do you understand how these cuts will be harmful to this community and your constituents, and what are you planning to do to protect the NIH?
Can I count on your support for increasing funding for biomedical research?
President Trump proposed a budget that would cut the National Institutes of Health by 20 percent. I am outraged. How are you going to help protect funding for medical research?
After the Meeting
Share your business card. Give your business card to your Member of Congress and his/her staff and ask how you can assist on these types of issues.
Share your experience on social media. All Members of Congress are active on social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter.
Write a post on their Facebook wall.
Send them a Tweet to reiterate your message or thank them for addressing your concerns. See http://www.tweetcongress.org/tweeters to find your member's Twitter handle. Remember that hashtags increase your visibility. For example:
“Thank you @CongressmanX for your support of @NIH! #CutsHurt”
“Thank you @CongressmanX for meeting with me to discuss how @NIH budget cuts could affect #diabetes #research #cutshurt”
Tell us. Let the Endocrine Society know you participated, what you asked, and what the response was. Send us an email or write to us on Facebook and Twitter to share your experience! Contact Jessica Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org.