Email #130: public events, telephones & Facebook

I would like to thank you for three very tiny steps forward you have made concerning your availability to constituents.

When I first met your district supervisor Debbie Garrett at an Open Door meeting in January, she said that your public appearances could not be publicized due to security concerns. I don’t know if Debbie was improvising. She seemed startled to see a dozen people at the meeting–though, to her credit, she has adapted admirably since that number has more than quadrupled at subsequent meetings. But her claim was unconvincing. And now it is clear that it was untrue. Your appearances at Staunton’s Gypsy Hill Park and at Buena Vista’s Southern Virginia University were both announced in advance–though the first was cancelled when the House vote on the ACHA was delayed and then itself cancelled, and the second appearance was for a Veterans event, and so very unlikely to draw protesters.

Still, you seem somewhat more willing to be seen in public, sometimes even with some advance notice. Thank you.

Secondly, when I met your communication director Beth Breeding in February, she announced that you would soon be holding “telephone town halls.” These of course are not town halls but conference calls that, according to your office, involve about a thousand listeners each. At the time Beth guessed you might conduct “two or three” in the next year, a peculiarly low number I thought, but you have instead been holding them on close to a weekly basis. At least that is what you have stated. Since media outlets aren’t invited and transcripts aren’t provided, these are closed events. They are also scheduled during dinner hours and not announced in advance. Perhaps, given your new willingness to announce your physical appearances, you might correct this for your conference calls too. I would also hope you would invite local radio stations to record and then report on them afterwards.

Still, unannounced, inconveniently scheduled conference calls in which you select questions yourself and allow no media attendance is better than nothing at all. Thank you.

Finally, you conducted a live, 30-minute event on Facebook in which you selected and read aloud questions from the Comments sections. While a worthy experiment, this created even less of a dialogue than your conference calls. On the phone you can simply press a button and silence your questioner, but on Facebook the questioner is limited to just a few initial words and cannot even attempt a follow-up. You also said that you were avoiding “traditional” town halls because they can become “shouting matches.” Sadly, that occurred to comic effect during the Facebook event. Many constituents added to the Comments as you were speaking, most with insightful questions, but some typed insults at you, calling you a “clown,” etc.  While there seemed to be very few of your supporters participating, several who did typed similar insults at other commenters. The scroll was extremely distracting and created a virtual “shouting match” worse than any “traditional” one.

Still, you are at least trying to create the appearance of availability. Thank you.

Despite these three small steps, however, you continue to not schedule any town halls, even though Congress is currently on a two-week recess to provide exactly that opportunity. You also continue to ignore my requests for a private meeting. Someday I hope to shake your hand, sit down, and have a conversation. As far dreams-come-true, isn’t that ridiculously modest?

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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