Town hall meeting

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This article is about an event where politicians talk with constituents. For the form of municipal decision-making, see Town meeting.
A town hall meeting in West Hartford, Connecticut

Town hall meetings, also referred to as town halls or town hall forums, are a way for local and national politicians to meet with their constituents, either to hear from them on topics of interest or to discuss specific upcoming legislation or regulation. During periods of active political debate, town halls can be a locus for protest and more active debate.[1]

Despite their name, town hall meetings need not take place in a town hall. They are commonly held in a range of venues, including schools, libraries, municipal buildings, and churches. A number of officials have also experimented with digital formats for town halls. Town hall meetings organized by national politicians are often held in a variety of locations distributed across a voting district so that elected representatives can receive feedback from a larger proportion of constituents.

Historically, no specific rules or guidelines have defined a town hall meeting.[2] Any event that allows constituent participation with a politician may be called a town hall, including gatherings in person, group phone calls, or events on Internet platforms such as Facebook or Twitter. Attendees use town halls to voice their opinions and question elected officials, political candidates, and public figures.[3][4] In contrast to town meetings, a type of direct democratic rule that originated in colonial New England,[5] attendees do not vote on issues during town hall meetings.

In the United States, town halls are a common way for national politicians to connect or reconnect with their constituents during recesses, when they are in their home districts away from Washington, DC.

History[edit]

Town hall meetings can be traced back to the colonial era of the United States and to the 19th century in Australia.[6] The introduction of television and other new media technologies in the 20th century led to a fresh flourishing of town hall meetings in the United States as well as experimentation with different formats in the United States and other countries, both of which continue to the present day.

United States[edit]

The American town hall meeting, as a place for public debate or discussion of current events with constituents, began in the 17th century, before the founding of the country. Some political organizations track publicized town hall events by politicians across the United States.[7]

Town hall meetings in the United States have long served as important political rituals for leaders to maintain their legitimacy. Ever since Andrew Jackson pledged to raise the working class over the wealthy in his successful 1828 presidential campaign, candidates seeking political office have used such rituals of political communication to display deference to ordinary people as the ultimate power in representative government.[8]

Notable town hall events include the 1858 debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas.[9] Since then, presidential town hall meetings have become nearly as common as stump speeches.[10]

On March 16, 1977, President Carter attended a televised town hall meeting in Clinton, Massachusetts. Bill Clinton made town hall meetings a part of his campaign.[11]

Interest in town halls fluctuates depending on the level of public interest in the topics being discussed. Controversial or confusing issues that are prominently discussed in the news have led to more town halls being held.[12] Since the 2000s, town halls held by political candidates have announced and enforced rules on crowd behavior and the scope of questions that may be asked.[3][4]

21st century meetings
Detailed article: List of significant United States town hall meetings

In 2009, Tea Party groups opposed to the proposed health care reform legislation began attending town halls to express their disagreement with the legislation. The large and vocal crowds led some representatives to cancel or scale back their town hall events. Representative Brian Baird canceled his live town hall meetings after receiving death threats, choosing to hold a telephone conference call with his constituents instead.[13]

Town hall meetings by teleconference or online grew in popularity. Obama held some as sitting President, starting in 2011. Federal agencies have held town halls on Twitter since at least 2013.[14][15] Some politicians have held AMAs on Reddit, which have similar formats.

In 2017, constituents opposed to repeal of that same health care act began attending town halls to express their disagreement with abolishing the legislation. In districts where elected representatives have not scheduled town halls, some constituents have publicly petitioned for meetings.[16][17] Creative requests for town hall meetings include humorous flyer[18] and sticker campaigns[19] as well as songs.[20] Some constituents have held mock town halls, using a cardboard cutout or empty chair, to stand in for elected representatives who decline to meet with them.[21][22][18]

Australia[edit]

Australian town hall meetings have been held by state politicians since at least the 19th century.[6]

Canada[edit]

Canadian town halls have been forums for provincial politicians to discuss issues of the day since at least the 20th century.[23] During the 1993 elections, televised town hall meetings were one of a number of initiatives mainstream media adopted to center ordinary citizens at the heart of their campaign coverage. These efforts, which also included panels of voters to offer comment in print and on radio shows, have been collectively praised as an "international best practice."[24]

Japan[edit]

In 1979 Shunichi Suzuki, then governor of Tokyo, held a town hall meeting, its name and format inspired by President Carter's 1977 televised town hall.

Format[edit]

The purpose of town hall meetings is for local and regional officials to hear the community's views on public issues.[25]

There have been no specific rules or guidelines for holding a town hall meeting.[2] The format of the meetings can vary. Usually, the person holding the meeting (e.g. member of Congress) makes some opening remarks. Sometimes others (e.g. local leaders) will address the audience, as well. The main part of a town hall meeting tends to occur when the floor is opened up to questions and comments from the audience. Attendees generally present ideas, voice their opinions, ask questions of the public figures, elected officials, or political candidates at the town hall.[3][4] Sometimes, the town hall meeting is televised or recorded. In recent years, town halls held by political candidates have announced and enforced rules on crowd behavior and the scope of questions that may be asked.[3][4]

Some have explored alternative formats for town hall meetings, such as an “electronic town hall”.[26] The Congress Foundation commissioned a report on online town hall meetings, which found they grew in size and importance starting in the mid-2000s. [27]

Venues[edit]

Despite the name town hall, meetings need not take place in a town hall. They commonly take place in a range of venues, including: schools, libraries, municipal buildings, churches, etc. Generally they are held in a public space and there is no charge to attend. In a given district, town hall meetings that are organized by the district's congressional representative are often held in a variety of places across the district.

Other uses of the term[edit]

The term is also used to describe informal, corporate gatherings used to share information such as business results or personnel changes (Example).

If the turnout is large, and if the objective of the particular town hall meeting is to give as many people as possible an opportunity to speak, then the attendees can be broken down into smaller discussion groups. Each smaller group, in that case, appoints someone to summarize discussion of their group. Many companies also have such meetings.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Halfway through: ROP's Reflections on Town Hall Madness - Rural Organizing Project". Rural Organizing Project. 2009-08-27. Retrieved 2017-02-18. 
  2. ^ a b Bryan, Frank M. (2003). Real Democracy: The New England Town Meeting and How It Works. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0226077963. Retrieved 2012-10-25. 
  3. ^ a b c d Roberts, Robert North; Hammond, Scott John (2012). Presidential Campaigns, Slogans, Issues, and Platforms (2d ed.). ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9780313380938. 
  4. ^ a b c d Williamson, Melanie (2010). How to Run for Political Office and Win. Atlantic Publishing Company. pp. 150–151. ISBN 9781601384089. 
  5. ^ "Dorchester Atheneum". www.dorchesteratheneum.org. Retrieved 2017-02-18. 
  6. ^ a b Quick, John; Australia (1919-01-01). The legislative powers of the commonwealth and the states of Australia, with proposed amendments. Melbourne, Vic. : C. F. Maxwell; [etc., etc.] 
  7. ^ Town Hall Events for national congresspeople, Legistorm
  8. ^ Lind, Colene J. (2014-01-31). "Democratic Deference in a Republican Primary". In Hart, Roderick P. Communication and Language Analysis in the Public Sphere. IGI Global. ISBN 9781466650046. 
  9. ^ Mansky, Jackie. "The History of the Town Hall Debate". Smithsonian. Retrieved 2017-02-18. 
  10. ^ Maggs, John (2004). "The Format That Saved Clinton". National Journal: 2996. 
  11. ^ Hart, Roderick P.; Sparrow, Bartholomew H. (2001-01-01). Politics, Discourse, and American Society: New Agendas. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9780742500716. 
  12. ^ Kaplan, Thomas (2017-02-13). "Angry Town Hall Meetings on Health Care Law, and Few Answers". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-02-18. 
  13. ^ "The Tea Party at the Election" (PDF). 
  14. ^ "Twitter Town Hall Tips from the VA". DigitalGov. 2015-12-18. Retrieved 2017-02-23. 
  15. ^ "Twitter Chat Guidance for Federal Agencies". DigitalGov. 2013-10-16. Retrieved 2017-02-23. 
  16. ^ "Protesters will hold town hall meeting for Gardner, but he'll be absent". Colorado Springs Gazette. Retrieved 2017-02-21. 
  17. ^ Moran, Jay. "Rally seeks town hall meeting with Collins". Retrieved 2017-02-21. 
  18. ^ a b "Voters Shame Cowardly Reps with Town Halls Hosted by Cardboard Cut-Outs". Common Dreams. Retrieved 2017-02-21. 
  19. ^ "'Missing' Stickers Placed on Milk Cartons After Lawmaker Dodges Town Halls". www.mediaite.com. Retrieved 2017-02-21. 
  20. ^ Indivisible Martin (2017-02-18), Dear Brian Mast - from the People of Martin County, retrieved 2017-02-21 
  21. ^ "Constituents host 'Texas Town Hall without Ted Cruz'". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2017-02-21. 
  22. ^ TEGNA. "Cory Gardner's Cory Gardner-less town hall". KUSA. Retrieved 2017-02-21. 
  23. ^ Forest, Pierre-Gerlier; Marchildon, Gregory P.; Mclntosh, Tom, eds. (2004-01-01). Changing Health Care in Canada: The Romanow Papers, Volume 2. University of Toronto Press. doi:10.3138/9781442672833. ISBN 9780802086181. 
  24. ^ Ward, Ian (1995). "Bringing the voters back in: A Canadian model for Australia?". Australian Studies of Journalism. 4: 29–49. 
  25. ^ "New England Town Hall Meetings". 
  26. ^ "Minerva: An electronic town hall". 
  27. ^ Online Town Hall Meetings - Exploring Democracy in the 21st Century. Congress Foundation.