Email #75, Subject: my multiple meeting requests

Thank you so much for updating your website software to send automated form letters to anyone who makes a meeting request. I received my first this weekend:

“Thank you for contacting Congressman Goodlatte’s office with a scheduling request. Your request has been received. Staff will be in touch with you as soon as possible regarding your inquiry.”

I now know that my requests are being recorded by a machine. This is literally the least you can do.

Thank you also for holding a telephone town hall last week. While no substitute for a face-to-face meeting, this is at least a step in the right direction. However, since you did not give any warning when the conference call would take place, I was finishing dinner with my family and so ignored my phone when it rang. After cleaning up, I checked my messages and was able only to catch the last five minutes. This was extremely and unnecessarily frustrating. I called several of your offices afterwards to ask whether the lack of an announcement was an oversight or was intentional, but no one would give me any kind of answer.

As I told your Communication Director Beth Breeding when I spoke with her in your DC office the previous week, it is very difficult to take seriously the multiple assurances I’ve received that you are interested in communicating with constituents. Whenever I phone, someone always takes down my contact information and tells me that someone else will call me back. No one does.

When I spoke to your District Scheduler Jennifer Faulkner about scheduling a meeting with you, I asked when I should I expect her to call me back with an update. She said two weeks. I waited slightly over two weeks before calling again. When I did, it was clear that she’d had no intention of ever calling me. Her estimate had only been a means to get me off the phone. I tried to press politely, but she would not comment on any steps she had taken to arrange a meeting on my behalf, and she indicated no intention of taking any future steps.

I asked Jennifer other questions, but she would not answer those either. When I posed similar questions to Beth, she said she could not answer any of them too. Debbie Garrett said the same thing when I spoke to her in person last month and again last week during her open door meetings in Lexington. Every person I’ve ever spoken to on the phone or in person has said they can’t answer any of my questions or speak for you in any way. Only you can speak for yourself, and you are never available.

As I’ve said so many times before, I don’t care if it’s a private meeting, a small group meeting in a conference room, or a town hall that could accommodate the increasingly large number of constituents who, like me, want answers to legitimate questions. But your staff appears to have been instructed to insulate you, and no amount of my telephoning or emailing or even traveling three hours to DC has gotten me any closer to speaking with you.

I have tried to be polite, patient, and persistent. In exchange I have been put off, misled, and given empty rhetoric. While your various staff members usually respond with a pleasant tone and even a smile, the accumulated effect says the opposite. It appears you have no intention of ever meeting with your constituents and are unwilling to admit it for PR reasons. If that impression is false, correct it by responding personally to my many, many meeting requests. Since Congress is away from DC this week for district work, could I have a few minutes of your time?

Chris Gavaler

Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an associate professor at W&L University, comics editor of Shenandoah, and series editor of Bloomsbury Critical Guides in Comics Studies. He has published two novels: School for Tricksters (SMU 2011) and Pretend I’m Not Here (HarperCollins 2002); and six books of scholarship: On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa 2015), Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury 2017), Superhero Thought Experiments (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Iowa 2019), Revising Fiction, Fact, and Faith (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Routledge 2020), Creating Comics (with Leigh Ann Beavers, Bloomsbury 2021), and The Comics Form (Bloomsbury forthcoming). His visual work appears in Ilanot Review, North American Review, Aquifer, and other journals.

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